ACA Chair-Couples: ‘We Feel Blessed’

“It was a calling,” say Elena and Steve Schlegel, who have accepted the invitation to be lay co-chairs of the 2017 Annual Catholic Appeal (ACA). “When we were vice chairs this past year we learned about so many wonderful ministries supported by the appeal and met so many dedicated people. We feel that we’ve been blessed to be invited—how could we ever say no?”

The Schlegels both grew up in Fairfield County, although they met while they were working in Boston. A subsequent job move brought them back to the Diocese of Bridgeport. They and their children are now members of St. Aloysius Parish, where the couple were married.

Both credit their parents as examples of dedicated, involved Catholics. Steve, who graduated from St. Joseph High School in Trumbull, remembers the involvement of his parents, Lois and Richard, in the Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport. Richard was on the Merton Center board for several years.

Elena credits her mother, Vi Peters, as the most giving person she has ever met. She sees that as key to her own involvement in the ACA. “If parents don’t do it, their children will never understand the importance of getting involved.”

Elena and the entire family are intensely involved in their faith. She still teaches fifth grade religious education at St. Aloysius, even though their children are in high school and college. Elena and daughter Katherine are Eucharistic Ministers. Steve is considering that ministry as well, and has gone on a mission trip to Puerto Rico with Katherine, which was an “eye-opening experience.”

Steve and Elena are already dedicated to service to the homeless and the disabled. “There are families in Fairfield County who won’t have food tonight,” Elena says. “I don’t think people realize that.”

As the new year gets underway, they hope to get a chance to visit other ministries supported by the ACA. For their first stop, they hope to visit St. Catherine Center for Special Needs and St. Catherine Academy in Fairfield. This, too, is an interest with family ties. Their older son, Jack, volunteers in community service at Loyola University in Maryland and Matthew, a senior at New Canaan High School, heads up a program for special needs kids as part of the St. Aloysius youth group.

As the year progresses, Elena and Steve will be both learning about and sharing with others the many ways the ACA assists the mission of the Church, from forming new priests to caring for those who have retired, working with youth, caring for the infirm and training leaders for the future.

This year’s vice chair couple, Conrad and Carol Calandra, live in Shelton, where they are members of St. Lawrence Parish. Carol grew up in Shelton and received her sacraments at St. Lawrence. A partner at EY working in Manhattan, she is a parish trustee, on the parish council and the finance council. Conrad hails from Brooklyn. He has retired as a college administrator who worked first at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., and then at Southern Connecticut State University.

“I’ve always loved working with and helping people,” says Conrad. “To me the best part of all is giving back. Having my eyes opened to see how we can help is the biggest gift of all.”

“We’re ordinary people, living in Shelton,” adds Carol. “Many people think that, to be of any help, you have to give, give, give. That’s not how it is. I’m a big believer in sharing your time, treasure, and talent. Everyone has something they can share.”

Like the Schlegels, the Calandras credit their families as providing good role models. In Carol’s case, one of the exemplars of lived faith was her uncle, Father Frank Lynch, a priest for the Diocese of Brooklyn. “I saw my uncle give all of himself every day of his life. Role models like that made such a difference in my life.”

Because of that example, the formation of new priests and the care of retired priests—including the recent expansion of the Catherine Dennis Keefe Queen of the Clergy priests’ retirement residence—are high on their list of initiatives supported by the ACA.

With their son, Chris, just graduated from college, the Calandras are encouraged by the diocesan initiatives to encourage youth in their faith. “World Youth Day we filled a plane—two planes! We want to help and be part of that. It’s about having fun and living your faith,” says Carol.

The Choir for Youth, (C4Y) reminds them of the years when their daughter, Kerry, now a kindergarten teacher, sang in the parish choir. “It brought her such joy and such faith,” says Conrad. “Even now when we hear those songs at church, it brings me back. It brings tears to my eyes.”

Carol adds, “When you see the teens in the C4Y, and the joy it brings to them and to others—how can you not want to help?”

As co-chairs for last year’s Appeal at St. Lawrence, the Calandras found the video put together by the Development Office to be a great way to get more people engaged in the ministries and programs of the diocese. “It helped tell stories of the people involved. It made them more real.”

As they begin their commission as vice chair couple, they hope that their personal witness will also get more people engaged in the ministries and services assisted by the Annual Catholic Appeal.

“It’s too easy for people to think, ‘Somebody else will take care of it,’” Conrad says. “If we show people the way, and blessings that come from sharing, it might inspire them. This can be their way to tie their faith to their community.”