Patti Holland and family have deep roots at Emmaus
Patti Holland Emmaus Ministries Volunteer

By Liz Allen
When members of the Holland family help Emmaus Ministries, they go the distance – from Erie all the way to Pittsburgh.

Patti Holland traces her family’s connection to Emmaus back to the days when her mother-in-law, the late Mary Holland, a school nurse, met Sister Mary Miller, who was the principal of St. Andrew School.

When Sister Mary became the director of Emmaus Soup Kitchen in the 1980s, Patti started to volunteer at the soup kitchen on Christmas Eve so that her husband, Dave, could carry on the family tradition of taking their four sons, David, Andrew, Tim and Adam, out to lunch and to do their Christmas shopping.

Eventually, David and the boys joined Patti at the soup kitchen on Christmas Eve. Then, David’s aunt, Marty Schaaf, known as “Fafa,” who was a regular volunteer at the soup kitchen, asked Patti if she would like to volunteer on a regular basis.

Patti, who was already a reader at the Neighborhood Art House through the Hooked on Books program, agreed to work at the soup kitchen once a month and it quickly became “a family affair,” she said. “What better way to give back and to have our kids learn to give back?” says Patti.

Marty greeted guests at the door. Chuck (now deceased) and Lita Schaaf, Dave’s aunt and uncle, joined the group. Cousins, more in-laws and friends pitched in. When two of the Hollands’ sons married, the new daughters-in-law became part of the volunteer contingent, too. Marty, who just turned 91, can no longer volunteer but her spirit remains with the group.

A few years ago, Emmaus decided to serve its holiday meal a few days before Christmas. So the Hollands no longer are stationed at the soup kitchen on the night before Christmas. But they are there faithfully on the first Wednesday of every month, ready to greet and serve newcomers and regular guests.

A “big guy with a sweet smile” stands out. So does the family with six children who sometimes eat at Emmaus. “They are so polite,” Patti says. “I love it when they leave and say, ‘Thanks so much.’”

Sometimes, the guests even end up calling Patti and the others “Sister.” It’s a compliment to be considered a member of the Benedictines who have worked at Emmaus, including real-life sisters Sister Clarie Marie Surmik and Sister Lucia Marie Surmik, Patti says.

Patti also likes the fact that Sister Mary doesn’t just look after the soup kitchen guests – she cares about each volunteer.

“When she talks to you, she really looks at you and she listens to you. She cares about the people who are helping, too. There is always that compassion for you,” she says.

Patti grew up in Pittsburgh, the oldest of six children, and met Dave when he was at Gannon and she was a nursing student at St. Vincent Hospital.

Patti’s 90-year-old mother, Jean McGuire, still lives in Pittsburgh. She is so impressed by Sister Mary and the work of Emmaus that she regularly sends along donations with a personal note. “When she met Mary, it was like she was meeting a movie star,” Patti says.

The rest of Patti’s family members in Pittsburgh also make it a point to help support Emmaus. “Even some friends know we don’t want a gift; they send it to Emmaus.”

Family and friends are also sensitive to two special dates for the Hollands – Feb. 27, the birthdate of their youngest son, Adam, and July 11, the day they lost Adam five years ago. In remembrance, they know how to acknowledge those two dates and that heartbreak. They give to Emmaus.

LIZ ALLEN enjoyed trading stories with Patti Holland about being the oldest of six children – four girls and two boys.