Father Emmett Jarrett, R.I.P.

Father Emmett Jarrett of Saint Francis House in New London CT died on Saturday. Emmett was an inveterate spiritual and political radical, an advocate for the homeless and for nonviolence, and a warm, intense man who believed what he said in this video: “God is the power of the people.” Liberal secularists and Christian conservatives alike will dissent from Emmett’s vision, but Emmett didn’t just say it, he lived it; there haven’t been many like him. In the 1960’s and early ’70’s, before his religious conversion and ordination and his launching of what he called “intentional Christian community” in New London — a direction in which I didn’t follow him — Emmett was my teacher in poetry, close reading, writing, and the relationship between radical (then countercultural) politics and visionary experience. I first learned Blake from him, for which alone I’m grateful, but he also took special care of my early efforts in writing, very much including the expository, with a keen eye for weak structure and usage and encouragement for sounding like oneself, and for a natural flow between criticism and creativity. And he knew history and brought it alive, connecting it directly to literature. I was lucky to know him when I did, and I’m glad now I sent him The Whiskey Rebellion when it came out — exploring the evangelical communalism of some of the Rebellion’s antecedents had made me think of him again, with gratitude — and to have had a chance to see him, in ’06, after many years out of touch, when I had lunch with him and his wife Anne, with whom he co-founded St. Francis House. He just really seemed great that day, and tireless, and right where he should be.

“And was Jerusalem builded here,/Among those dark Satanic mills?”

You can find more about Emmett’s work here.

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3 thoughts on “Father Emmett Jarrett, R.I.P.

  1. Hi, Bill:

    I just adventitiously googled Emmett’s name and found this. What a lovely way of remembering a man who meant a lot to many of us in the ferment of early St. Ann’s. Emmett was such an idealist, but down to earth and practical at the same time. And of course, I too owe him Blake.

    I look foward to reading your blog! How neat. Check out mine if you have a minute.

    Elizabeth (Eisenstadt) Evans

  2. I didn’t know he had passed away until Peter Jaeger mentioned it at Saint Ann’s 50th today. Sad to hear it

  3. What an odd (non)coincidence that Father Jarrett lived in New London, CT, where the city council eminent domained Susette Kelo’s and neighbors’ homes in 2005 to build a convention center next to Pfizer’s multi-million “global research facility.” The case went to the Supreme Court, where a 5-4 decision set the precedent for a wave of local-government-sponsored eminent domains against individuals and neighborhoods for everything from Wal-Marts to neighborhood “blight.” The decision served to displace hundreds to thousands of low-and-middle-income individuals from their homes and established neighborhoods.

    I read in one of the New York newspapers in 2009 (WSJ or NYT) that Pfizer was closing its facility. Have not followed up since then, but Mr. Bosworth’s comment today has re-aroused my interest. I wonder what Father Jarrett would say about this egregious violation of property rights.

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