Elias Lutheran Church in Emmitsburg was the birthplace of L’Arche Frederick Maryland back in February of 2009, with Jeanne Kuhn of Quirauk School Road introducing a small group to the idea of a community of L’Arche that would welcome adults with intellectual disabilities. Father Jon Greenstone was present that day, as well as Therese Kennedy and four or five other interested persons. L’Arche was to be an inclusive community with people with and without disabilities choosing to share life, have fun together, share a spiritual life, and some of them to live together in homes we dreamed of starting. It would be a part of L’Arche International, a worldwide community in 156 locations in 38 countries, featuring communities with homes, activity centers, workshops, or socially supportive gathering places, depending on the arrangements possible in the given locale of each one.
Some months later, Jeanne Kuhn convened a larger group of professionals from the wider Frederick County area at Mount St. Mary’s, with the help of Father Jim Donohue who had been as a seminarian himself an assistant at a home of L’Arche in Stratford Ontario. “Assistant” is what L’Arche calls the support professionals who have a helping role in each community but who, indeed, find themselves helped, often deeply, by the relationships they share with friends with intellectual disabilities.
The group of professionals at the November 2009 meeting included members of the faculty and staff of the Mount; a social worker from Rock Creek School, Bill Derbyshire, who is a Thurmont resident; Sister Frances, a Daughter of Charity; and numerous representatives of related professions from the Frederick Community, as well as several people experienced with communities of L’Arche in other areas of the United States. A planning group emerged, which Jeanne Kuhn faithfully led with the help of her husband, Jim. A planning group with monthly meetings, minutes, and gradually a structure of contact with L’Arche International, a representative of which encouraged the group to conduct social events in Frederick, where there would be a larger disability community.
Through Pam Zusi, the former director of Development for Mount St. Mary’s, the emerging L’Arche community found a welcome with St. Katharine Drexel church community for social events to be held monthly at St. John’s school gym. Therese Kennedy, one of the founding members from the little group at Elias Lutheran Church, had many friends among the disability community and encouraged them to attend events, among them Lauren Vignola of Thurmont who has been a lively participant up to the present. Therese continued with L’Arche until her death in 2017.
These social events continue to the present and have had 10 years of strong community impact. Mount St. Mary’s students help with or lead many of the events. Currently, a schedule can be found on our website at larchefederick.org. All are welcome.
L’Arche has hired a community leader, Megan Guzman, and recently has purchased a home at 1818 Lawnview in Frederick. Soon, that home will welcome three adults with intellectual disabilities and three support professionals to live together.
A part of our fun together has been creating the annual Let it Shine Variety Show, showcasing the talents of adults with intellectual disabilities and their friends by offering a stage show. This year’s show was held on October 15 at the Frederick Community College theatre.
L’Arche Frederick is open to anyone interested in participating or helping. We are happy to see L’Arche growing and thankful for all the support.
L’Arche Frederick friends enjoy a Friday Night Gathering in April 2022 at St. John’s Regional Catholic School.