Homeless advocate, peace activist Emmett Jarrett dies

The late Rev. Emmett Jarrett, of New London's St. Francis House, during a 2003 protest at the Norwich offices of former 2nd District Congressman Rob Simmons.

New London - Emmett Jarrett, an Episcopal priest known for his love and kindness to all, died Saturday the way he lived - at peace, in a home filled with books, religious icons and a community of family and friends.

"We were all there with him. He shared his life and his love of life, and he shared his death with us all. It was a privilege and an honor,'' said his friend, Paul Jakoboski, vice president of Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center.

Jakoboski has lived for the past 18 months at St. Francis House, the home at 30 Broad St. that Jarrett and his family opened to any and all.

Jarrett, 71, helped organize the New London Homeless Hospitality Center Inc. and was a popular figure in the antiwar movement. For years he was a regular at peace vigils at the base of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, participated in three Peace Pilgrimages across Connecticut and was arrested several times while protesting the war in Iraq.

But he is most remembered as the man who opened St. Francis House on Broad Street 10 years ago. It was an experiment by Jarrett and his wife, Anne Scheibner, to create an "intentional Christian community." It was a place to pray, a center for peace and justice ministry, and a home that welcomed the homeless, those in transition and those looking for a more spiritual life.

"To me, he was the closest thing to Jesus Christ,'' said Judy Mann, a member of Temple Emanuel in Waterford who met Jarrett 10 years ago and helped him start the homeless shelter.

"He emulated goodness in everything he did. He had an angelic aura all around him. He was the most peaceful man I ever met,'' said Mann, director of volunteer services for the New London Community Meal Center Inc.

Jarrett, who was known as "Father Emmett" to most of those who knew him, had a background in English, wrote poetry, served in the Army from 1959 to 1962 and became an ordained Episcopal priest after "meeting Jesus on the Taconic State Parkway.''

His wife said he had some kind of spiritual experience on the highway in upstate New York and decided to devote his life to living in what he called a "beloved community," where people are committed to paying attention to what's happening to the poor and the marginalized around them.

"He wanted to bring peace to a world that has lost its way,'' his wife said.

Jarrett served Episcopal churches in Boston, Silver Spring, Md., and Stone Mountain, Ga., before coming to Connecticut to be closer to his wife's family in Stonington.

Dick Marks of Silver Springs, who arrived last week to be with his friend during his final days, said Jarrett had an uncompromising view of Christianity that was not just "something you do turning out every Sunday morning.''

"He changed my spiritual outlook," said Marks, who has known Jarrett since 1987. "He made me much more concerned about our neighbors and all people around us."

Nora Curioso's first encounter with Jarrett was in 2006 when Jarrett and others were carrying coffin-shaped boxes through Norwich to protest the Iraq war.

"He felt people should see the coffins of soldiers that the government was not letting us see,'' said Curioso, who works at St. Francis House. "I think his legacy will live on not only in New London. ... Homeless people around the county were touched by him, even if they never met him."

Cathy Zall, executive director of the Homeless Hospitality Center, said she met Jarrett in 1999 when she read a letter he wrote in an Atlanta, Ga., magazine about "intentional Christian communities."

Zall, who lived in Old Lyme at the time, called him. "I was instantly sucked into the vortex of him,'' she said.

Jarrett challenged people to live with more concern for others than for themselves, Zall said. "He could have been a high-paid rector in a big Episcopal church, but wanted to live according to the Gospel - among people who needed him,'' she said.

Jarrett, who allowed homeless people to live on his porch and offered his home to anyone in need, was diagnosed with bile-duct cancer in December 2008. Up until a few days before his death he was active and attending community events, including the Homeless Dance fundraiser last month at Ocean Beach Park.

In addition to his wife, Jarrett is survived by a son, Nathaniel, and a daughter, Sarah.

An all-night vigil will start at 7 p.m. Wednesday at St. James Episcopal Church. The funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at the church, followed by burial at Cedar Grove Cemetery.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

The Rev. Emmett Jarrett, left, leads a group of participants along Bank Street in New London during the Pilgrimage for Peace en route to Niantic on Sept. 10, 2006. Jarrett died Saturday at age 71.
The Rev. Emmett Jarrett, left, leads a group of participants along Bank Street in New London during the Pilgrimage for Peace en route to Niantic on Sept. 10, 2006. Jarrett died Saturday at age 71.

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