Articles By: erik shanabrough

Advent calls for watching and active waiting

BRIDGEPORT— Advent is a season that call for watching and active waiting to prepare for the gift of God in our lives, said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano during his online Mass from the Catholic Center chapel on the First Sunday of Advent.

In his homily based on the Gospel of Mark (13:33-37) “33 “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come,” the bishop reflected on the practice of spiritual waiting that opens us to God’s presence at Christmas and throughout the year.

“You and I can put that waiting to good purpose if we intentionally choose in the next four weeks to spend significant time in prayer and reflection… In formal prayer or when we’re in the car or on a walk, we can reflect on the blessing and beauty God has given us and how he is meant to be center of our lives,” he said.

Advent begins a new spiritual year by reminding us that we must wait “for the coming of Christmas with joyful praise for the in-breaching of the son of God into human history,” he said.

The spiritual work of Advent is “to become empty intentionally so our longing for God can grow deeper,” he said, adding that Church tradition teaches us to do that through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

The bishop began his homily by commenting that his friends would be the first to say that patience is not a virtue that he has ever been able to cultivate in life.

“Waiting for something or someone is very hard for me to do,” he said, observing that drive, determination and perseverance can also be good things helping us to address challenges we can control in our lives.

However, many things in life are not under our control, and needless worry and energy is misspent when often the only thing we can do is wait, he said.

“Chief among them is blessing what God wishes to give us, and it’s always given in God’s time– not mine or yours. This is the Important spiritual stance of being a disciple—we must watch and wait upon the Lord and his great goodness.”

The bishop said that in the spiritual life there are two kinds of waiting, passive and a more active, alert kind of waiting.

“Passive waiting is a surrender to a circumstance we can’t change,” he said, observing that it can also be a “difficult waiting” such as when someone is ill or dying and you can only remain present to them during their sufferings.

However, “waiting for Advent, for the blessing of Kingdom is an active waiting,” he said, adding that we can’t sit around because Jesus has urged us through his teachings to work toward the kingdom’s fulfillment in the world.

“There is also work to be done inside in your spiritual house and mine in this act of waiting– to take stock and turn our attention and our prayer and our imaging to make sure there is a place that will welcome not simply the Christ Child but welcome the King whenever he comes.”

The waiting of Advent is not simply preparing ourselves for Christmas but also for the second coming when Jesus returns triumphantly “at a time, and place and hour of God’s, not ours.”

Reminding the faithful that Advent is a penitential season, the bishop said that prayer and fasting hold the key to preparation.

“Fasting is not simply denial of food, but it is used to re-orient all things around us to their proper place , so that our possessions don’t possess us,” he said.

Likewise prayer should interrupt our routine so that we can put God at the center of our lives.

“It’s easy for you and me to put aside our prayer for a mistaken good whatever it may be. Active waiting calls us to actively engage in a relationship with God that at times we can take for granted,” he said.

Advent is the time for “putting ourselves in the presence of the Lord and allowing him to inform, form, transform us like as piece of clay as Isiah reminds us, “ he said.

“There’s an old saying that ‘Good things are worth waiting for,’” said the bishop, noting that Advent asks us to prepare for “the best of things–the Kingdom… Let us be watching, let us be alert, let us be active and let us wait as he asks us to,” he said.

Before giving the final blessing, the bishop said that one good way to deepen our prayer and engage in active waiting as we begin Advent is to join in the weekly Rosary every Sunday at 7:30 pm. For information on the Sunday Family Rosary visit:

Court lifts restrictions on congregation sizes

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In a 5-4 decision issued just before midnight Nov. 25, the Supreme Court lifted the pandemic restrictions on congregation sizes at houses of worship imposed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, and two Orthodox Jewish synagogues in separate filings appealed to the nation’s high court, claiming the governor’s executive order violated their free exercise of religion and was particularly unwarranted during a time when area businesses were open.

Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, along with Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

This summer, the court, in another 5-4 decision with a different bench, one that included Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, upheld Nevada’s limits on congregation sizes, denying a request by a Nevada church for permission to have larger gatherings, like those permitted in the state’s casinos, restaurants and other businesses.

“I am gratified by the decision of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court who have recognized the clear First Amendment violation and urgent need for relief in this case. I am proud to be leading the Diocese of Brooklyn and fighting for our sacred and constitutional right to worship,” said Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio in a Nov. 26 statement.

The bishop noted the governor’s restrictions “were an overreach that did not take into account the size of our churches or the safety protocols that have kept parishioners safe. Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens have adhered to all COVID-19 safety protocols to attend Mass and receive the Eucharist. Our churches have not been the cause of any outbreaks.”

He stressed that the diocese took its plea to the nation’s highest court “because we should be considered essential, for what could be more essential than safely gathering in prayer in a time of pandemic.”

“Now, with the benefit of the Supreme Court’s ruling,” he said, “we look forward to continuing the fight in the lower courts to ensure that these unconstitutional restrictions are permanently enjoined once and for all.”

The New York State Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, tweeted Nov. 26 that the court’s decision was “an important one for religious liberty.”

“While we believe, and the court agreed, that the ‘hot zone’ restrictions on religious gatherings were unduly harsh our churches have been otherwise eager partners with the state in protecting the health of our parishioners, clergy, staff, and surrounding communities during this devastating pandemic.,” the tweet said. “That will continue, as protecting the vulnerable is a pro-life principle.”

“We are proud of the success we have had in keeping our people safe,” it added.

New York Catholic bishops also separately praised the ruling.

Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger who heads the Diocese of Albany and also is apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo, similarly welcomed the ruling and the view that worship is essential.

“We have an obligation to do everything we can to protect one another from the threat that the coronavirus poses. At the same time, we welcome this decision that upholds the First Amendment’s free exercise clause. Food and drink for the soul are as essential as food and drink for the stomach,” he said in a statement.

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan Nov. 26 tweeted his congratulations to Bishop DiMarzio and the Brooklyn Diocese “on their victory for religious freedom in the U. S. Supreme Court. Our churches are essential.”

“While we have been and will continue to adhere to all safety protocols to protect our communities, it is also important to protect that fundamental constitutional right, religious liberty,” he added.

The Diocese of Brooklyn filed an emergency application with the U.S. Supreme Court Nov. 12 for an injunction against the governor’s executive order limiting in-person congregations at houses of worship to 10 or 25 people but allowing “numerous secular businesses to operate without any capacity restrictions.”

The Brooklyn Diocese first went to federal District Court in October to seek emergency relief from Cuomo’s new restrictions, announced Oct. 6, on houses of worship in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases in densely populated ZIP codes he identified as “hot zones.” He said the state was creating three zones — red, orange and yellow — each with different restrictions, including on the size of congregations.

Some Catholic parishes in the Brooklyn Diocese were in the red zone, meaning their churches were forced to reduce capacity to a maximum of 10 people inside at one time, and some were in the orange zone, where only 25 people at one time can attend Mass. A yellow zone designation meant a 50% capacity.

The Orthodox Jewish synagogues in New York took their appeal to the Supreme Court Nov. 16, stressing they had complied with previous restrictions, but the newer limits would not allow them to conduct services for all of their members.

On Nov. 20, Cuomo urged the Supreme Court not to get involved in the state’s battle with two synagogues, saying that because of “continued progress in containing COVID-19 spread,” the restrictions no longer applied.

He also said his order was not focused on gatherings because they were religious but because they could potentially be “superspreader” events. He also stressed the order could even be seen as treating religious gatherings more favorably than plays and concerts which have similar risks.

The court’s unsigned opinion blocks the state from enforcing these limts on attendance while the Brooklyn Diocese and the synagogues continue their battle with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. The case could potentially return to the Supreme Court for a final decision on its merits.

The justices in the majority said the governor’s order did not appear neutral and seemed to single out “houses of worship for especially harsh treatment.”

Because of this, they said the order was subject to strict scrutiny, which it failed, because there was no evidence that synagogues and churches contributed to COVID-19 outbreaks and less restrictive rules could have been used.

In a separate opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch said: “It may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike,” referring to the lack of restrictions on businesses in the same areas as the churches and synagogues.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh also filed his own opinion noting the court’s ruling was only a temporary fix until the 2nd Circuit can rule on it. The appeals court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case in December.

He also said if the houses of worship challenging the restrictions do not return to red or orange zones, then the high court’s action “will impose no harm on the state and have no effect on the state’s response to COVID-19.”

A dissent filed by Sotomayor, joined by Kagan, said these cases were “easier” than challenges in the summer by churches in California and Nevada opposing church attendance size because, they said, the New York order treated houses of worship more favorably than comparable secular gatherings.

In the meantime, Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry in California are seeking intervention by the Supreme Court in a new challenge to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 restrictions.

The church in its early Nov. 25 filing with the court argued Newsom’s limits on houses of worship are “draconian” and, like the Brooklyn Diocese and the synagogues, say they threaten religious liberty.

By Carol Zimmermann @
Photo by CNS photo/Will Dunham, Reuters

Draw Closer to Jesus During Advent

CLEVELAND (CNS) — The pandemic and new limits on daily activities present a special time for a renewal of faith and the opportunity to deepen appreciation for Jesus in daily life, bishops across the country said in messages for the Advent season.

This year as families are separated, several bishops said, Advent also can be a much-needed quiet time to recognize how the birth of an infant, Jesus, changed the world and his followers are invited to follow his example to help bring peace in a tumultuous era.

Likewise, bishops encouraged prayers for essential workers including those in health care, education and often overlooked service sectors as well as for those who died or became ill because of COVID-19 and the family members and friends caring for them.

In a bit of a twist, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri, wondered if God was using the effects of the pandemic to achieve good.

“What if we were able to take advantage of this shuttering of our busy lives to observe Advent as our church has always encouraged us to do: a time of reflection, a time of quieting, a time of stillness, to make room for Christ in our daily lives?” he asked in a message posted on the diocesan website.

He invited families to celebrate traditions such as lighting the candles of an Advent wreath at daily dinner, blessing the Christmas tree with prayer, and gathering to reflect in front of a Nativity scene to nurture their faith “as we look forward to the great feast of the Incarnation, the Son of God becoming one of us.”

Advent is a time to “experience the loving presence of God in a fresh and profound way,” Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix said in a recorded message on “The Bishop’s Hour” radio program that aired Nov. 21 on Relevant Radio.

The four-week period leading to Christmas Day can be a time during which God prepares “our heart to receive the beloved Son again,” Bishop Olmsted said. “He may do so in little ways that we may hardly notice at the time.”

Bishop John E. Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, echoed that message in a column in the December issue of Cross Roads, the diocesan magazine, saying that “while Christmas celebrations this year will be different, the event we celebrate remains the same.”

“Perhaps it is more meaningful than ever to remember, Emmanuel, God is with us — he never has and never will abandon us,” Bishop Stowe said.

Each Advent is an invitation to “ponder what it is that we still await,” he explained. Jesus, he said, “has come and shown us the way.”

Despite Jesus’ example of unity, the bishop said, “We have not always followed the ways indicated by the Messiah, especially as he demonstrates that we are one family with one Father in heaven.”

Bishop Stowe expressed regret that as the “terrible year” of 2020 ends, the times have been “made worse by ever-growing division over so many matters, even as a pandemic should have brought us in to the greater unity needed to survive.”

Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship,” offers inspiration to overcome divisiveness and “provides a particularly appropriate meditation for this time of watching and waiting,” he said.

“The pope knows that this darkness is passing and, as Christ’s representative, he is and must be a messenger of hope. Despite the bleakness around, God continues to sow seeds of goodness,” he said, crediting the work of those responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

The bishop also invited the faithful to practice charity during Advent which can open hearts to “greater awareness of the great worth of each human being” on the way to helping light the darkness.

A brief video message from Bishop Gregory L. Parkes of St. Petersburg, Florida, on the diocesan website focused on preparing for celebrating the birth of Jesus. He encouraged the faithful to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.

Bishop Parkes invited people to register on the site to receive a series of daily reflections, “Courageously Living the Gospel,” being offered by the diocese at Bishop Parkes, the Benedictine Sisters of Florida and the Benedictine monks of St. Leo Abbey will be among those offering the reflections.

Meanwhile, a special Year of the Parish and the Eucharist will open in the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama, as Advent begins.

Bishop Steven J. Raica said in announcing the observance that chancery offices will publish resources for parishes and other ministries for observing the year. The time is being designated so that the Catholic community is “united in the worship of God,’ he said.

“Amid the disorientation, distress and uncertainty, we need to rediscover the value of being together with the Lord, our sure hope,” he said in a Nov. 17 statement. “Like the early Christians, we say: ‘Sine dominico non possumus’ (cf. Martyrs of Abitinae) — ‘We cannot live without the Lord’s day.’

“In a time when so many Catholics no longer appreciate the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, as evidenced by recent well-publicized polls and studies, we endeavor to encounter Christ anew in this great gift that he left us, which is celebrated in the Christian assembly,” he said.

In Australia, Auxiliary Bishop Richard Umbers of Sydney in an Advent message to children said the birth of an infant, Jesus, changed the world and that everyone is called to celebrate such a special event.

“God is love and he showed us this great love through giving us his son at Christmas,” Bishop Umbers wrote. “Jesus is the greatest gift we could ever receive and we get to celebrate this every year when we gather with family and friends in small and big ways at Christmas.”

He asked children to recall the best gift they ever received and how the person who gave that gift gave it serious thought, “preparing for it, buying it or making it, wrapping it and delighting, also in seeing you open the gift.”

“That is exactly what we are called to do every Advent so that on Christmas Day we can give something special to Jesus, God’s son,” the bishop said.

“My prayer is that this Christmas we can bring the love of God into our lives,” he concluded, “and learn more about this little baby who became our King, our Savior and is the Greatest Love of all.”

By Dennis Sadowski @
Photo by CNS photo/Tom McCarthy Jr., Catholic Review

Offering thanks during a pandemic

A Thanksgiving reflection by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano

Thanksgiving Day was always my father’s favorite holiday. He loved it for many reasons, not the least of which was for the incredible meal my mother used to cook. I remember those days fondly; we began with a big breakfast, watched the same movie later that morning, and then we would sit at the table for hours. I delighted in that time with my family, in the traditions, and of course, in the food.

I’m sure many of us share very happy memories of Thanksgiving, which makes this year of the pandemic so much more troubling, knowing that we cannot safely gather in large numbers–even in our own homes with those who are dearest to us. In a year of much loss and anxiety, this is yet another heavy burden.

It may seem inappropriate to speak of giving thanks during a pandemic when so many have died, and so many others have become ill. However, I believe that only with a deep and abiding sense of gratitude in our hearts we can hope for better days and persevere before any challenge.

Perhaps we should let this most difficult year be an occasion to reflect on the full meaning of Thanksgiving in our lives. In my view, Thanksgiving is a holiday that draws upon deep Judeo-Christian religious roots. As Christians, ours is a faith of thanksgiving for the many gifts and blessings that God has given us. Everything we have, we owe to God’s love and providence. For Christians, a spirit of thanksgiving should be the foundation of every day of our lives.

In fact, the Eucharist, which we receive during the celebration of Holy Mass and we believe to be the source and summit of our Catholic faith, is derived from the Greek word, eucharistia, which means “thanksgiving.” This means that every time we attend Mass, we are invited to thank God the Father, through Jesus His son, for the gifts in our life, and the priceless gift of eternal life to come.

On a personal level the pandemic has disrupted our lives and caused us to feel anxiety. Yet we must not lose sight of the growing number of those who have felt the economic consequences of job loss that has led to growing homelessness, hunger, and even despair. As we experience this unexpected vulnerability, let us pray that it deepens our bonds with our sisters and brothers across the globe who have long faced daily uncertainty, including chronic unemployment, food instability and a lack of medical care.

It has also been a year in which many Catholics remain afraid or unable to attend Sunday Mass and those who do attend abide by significant restrictions designed to keep all safe. These precautions are necessary, but they are not easy, and I am very grateful to see such universal cooperation with the protocols that we have put in place to safeguard life.

We are also encouraged by the response of so many who have come forward to help those in need. In our diocese Catholic Charities has performed extraordinary works of service, parish volunteers have reached out to those who are most vulnerable, and our dedicated teachers and staff have kept diocesan schools open to safeguard our children. Likewise, every day, we witness the courageous and inspiring response of other faith traditions and all people of good will to help those in need.

As people of faith we believe God has remained present to us since the pandemic began. How can we look upon the faces of our brothers and sisters on the front lines of health care who each day run into the breach and not be overwhelmed with gratitude for their goodness and their courage? How can we look upon those who comfort the sick and their families and do everything possible to save lives without profound thankfulness for their very witness? How can we not see the face of God in them and all those who have acted with courage and compassion?

We must not forget that even in our moments of profound suffering and grief, the love of God, made manifest in the Eucharist and in the love of our brothers and sisters, will triumph over every challenge. We know that God does not desire for us to suffer. However, when we do, he is present with us, holding us in the palm of his hands and promising us that he will never let go. Knowing that God will always keep his promises, even in the face of all that I have just described, I remain overwhelmed with a deep sense of deep gratitude that God will bring us renewal and new life.

My friends, I know that there are many challenges ahead during the coming weeks. Yet I invite you to join me in pausing today not only to look forward in patient hope for the vaccines that will save millions of lives, but to remember that our God has not and never will abandon us.

As we sit down with loved ones this Thanksgiving—or perhaps gather together virtually—let us find reasons for gratitude, for therein lies our hope. Let us also pray for our own families and for those struggling with the hardship of separation this year, and most of all for those who are afflicted with Covid-19, and for the many in our midst who have suffered the loss of loved ones.

In this spirit of remembrance and gratitude, I wish you and your family a very healthy, blessed, and happy Thanksgiving.

Baptism is our Pledge of Allegiance to Christ the King

BRIDGEPORT— Baptism is our pledge of allegiance to Christ, and it requires a life of service and love, said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano in his online Mass on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

“We Come here Sunday after Sunday to renew our pledge of allegiance to Christ, the King of all things,” said the Bishop on the 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year before the beginning of Advent.

The bishop said the Gospel of Matthew (25: 31-46,) “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me,” conscripts us to a higher calling “to serve the one true king by serving others, to become his eyes, hands, and feet in the world.”

“We honor and serve the Lord by being his agent of change, hope, peace, forgiveness and love. If we fail to do that, we fail to honor him and our allegiance can become hollow,” he said.

The bishop began his homily by recalling that when he was a boy, he had “the great privilege” of being taught by the Dominican Sisters of Kentucky at St. Simon and Jude Parochial School in Brooklyn.

“The Sisters ran a tight ship and our day started the same way,” he said, noting that first thing every morning the students put their coats away, said morning prayer, and then turned to the American flag and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, “Words we know very well and have recited thousands of times.”

However, he said he didn’t begin to understand the full import of the pledge until he was older, and every evening on the TV news there was a report on the number of soldiers killed in the Vietnam War.

“I began to recognize the holy catechism that the pledge is, and what it means to those who have sworn their lives to protect the country and pay the ultimate price.”

The bishop said that allegiance is given to an authority that sustains us throughout our lives, and to honor that authority we are called to serve generously.

Likewise, he said that as we gather in prayer and worship, “We recognize that there is someone far more important to whom we must pledge our allegiance–to a king unlike any other who recognizes our poverty and suffering.”

However, It’s not good enough to give God just “the part of our lives that we want to give,” but to give him every aspect of our lives and to hold nothing back in our allegiance to Christ, he said.

“We honor Him through the sacraments, but do we speak about him and allow him to animate all we do in the ordinary moments of our life, so that the name of Christ is on our lips often?”

The bishop said that Jesus, who shared our humanity, invites us to share a place in his kingdom, and that he has led the way through his own death and resurrection.

“Baptism is our pledge of allegiance, the beginning of our road to discipleship as members of the kingdom of love and reconciliation by which we enter into the mystery of life,” he said.

Just as we pledge allegiance at civic and sporting events, we should not be afraid to tell the world we’re Christians and we owe Christ everything, the bishop said. We should be prepared to “serve him like the brave men and women in the armed forces, suffering and sacrificing to the point of giving our lives.”

In his weekly spiritual challenge, the bishop called for an examination of conscience as we approach Advent and urged us to ask ourselves a basic question, “As we end the year together, do we recognize the authority under which we live? How often do we acknowledge the authority of Christ over you and me?”

Before giving the final blessing Bishop Caggiano wished everyone “a blessed, happy, safe and healthy Thanksgiving celebration. And as we begin the new liturgical year together next week, we pray for a year of blessing and healing that the pandemic will come to an end for us all.”

Bishop’s Online Mass: The Bishop’s Sunday Mass is released online every Sunday morning at 8 a.m. and available for replay throughout the day. To view the Bishop’s Sunday Mass, recorded and published weekly, click this link or visit the YouTube Mass Playlist.

For information on the Sunday Family Rosary every Sunday at 7:30 p.m. visit:

Bishop promulgates Funeral Norms

BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has issued a decree formally promulgating the new Funeral Norms and the Norms for the Order of Christian Funerals in the Diocese of Bridgeport, which are now available in their entirety online (see links below).

The norms will go into effect as the Liturgical Law of the Diocese of Bridgeport on the First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2020. They will be subject to future revision five years from the date of publication.

The bishop issued the decree today (November 22, 2020 ) on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Prior to the promulgation the new Norms were presented to the Presbyterate of the Diocese for review and have been duly approved by the Council of Priests.

The 22-page document was created after a two-year process coordinated by the diocesan Leadership Institute and the Liturgical Commission. It offers a comprehensive guide to all norms and considerations in a Catholic funeral including music, the homily, flowers, words of praise, the participation of family members and the responsibility of clergy and funeral directors, and all those involved in the funeral rites.

The introduction to the newly revised norms states, “From the beginning of the Church, Christian funeral rites and burial have been an important spiritual and pastoral practice. Our Catholic faith understands death as the entrance into eternity. It expresses a hope in the resurrection of the dead won for us in Christ’s Death and Resurrection. We also recognize the value of prayer for the deceased and show reverence for the body which remain Since the Christian response to death stands as a witness to Christian belief regarding life here and hereafter, our rites and ceremonies connected with Christian death and burial unite us to the paschal mystery of Christ’s victory over sin and death and must remain consonant with this belief.“

The decree states that with the provision of the new Norms, any and all customs until now practiced, as well as all existing liturgical norms regarding funerals are abrogated.

Click for Bishop’s Decree for the Promulgation of Funeral Norms

Click for Funeral Norms for the Order of Christian Funerals

Click here for resources about Catholic Funerals and pre-planning.

Click here for information on the Norms, educational resources, and more.

Friends and fans turn out for Montelli book-signing

TRUMBULL — It was a day to pay tribute to a beloved icon in the history of St. Joseph High School — Coach Vito Montelli, whose story, “God, Family & Basketball,” written by sports writer Chris Elsberry, was recently published.

Former players, teachers, colleagues, students and friends showed up with their families last Saturday so “Coach” could inscribe their books at a book-signing in the school gym as the line of people snaked out into the parking lot.

During his 50-year career, he won a Connecticut-record 11 state titles, coaching the St. Joseph High School boys basketball team,

“It was terrific. It was great,” Coach Montelli said of the day. “People called if they couldn’t make it. There were dozens of former players from recent years.”

Among the well-wishers was Tom Roach, retired teacher from St. Joe’s who Montelli hired as his first JV basketball coach, along with Jim Olayos, director of athletic advancement at Notre Dame-Fairfield High School and former athletic director at St. Joe’s, whose book, “The Kindness Formula,” was recently released.

“Some of the faces that I saw and some of the calls I got afterward meant a lot,” Coach Montelli said. “You always have those. When you’re friends with them, you know darn well that if you need a favor, certain ones are going to rise to the occasion all the time. That is always true.”

The Montelli story is first and foremost a story about his faith in God and how it inspired his life as husband, father of six children, and coach.

As his youngest son Tommy told Elsberry: “It’s his core. It’s the most important thing to him, followed by his family. And to many people’s surprise, basketball is important, but it’s a very distant third. This was something that was ingrained in us at a very young age, and it’s something that he tried to teach his players as well.”

As Coach Montelli explained it: “I was satisfied that it was me, my family and our faith. My wife Dolores of 62 years and I watch the Mass every morning on EWTN, and we say the rosary right after it, and then I start my day.”

Her nickname, he says, is Magee although he’s not quite sure why he gave it to her. However, he is sure of one thing: “She’s the brains in this outfit.”

Gifts and talents are given by God to be given away in love

BRIDGEPORT—Our gifts and talents are meant to be shared with others and to give glory to God, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano said in his homily during Mass for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Speaking from the Catholic Center chapel in his weekly online Mass, Bishop reflected on the parable of the master and the servants and how they used their talents in the Gospel of Matthew (25: 14-30), “For to everyone who has, more will be given. “

The bishop said that our goal in life should be “giving our talents away so that others may have greater life—that’s what Our Lord did on the Cross.”

Pointing out that the Gospel offers a counter-cultural correction to contemporary attitudes that “My life is about me, “ the bishop said we often jealously guard our gifts and talents as a way of distinguishing ourselves from others and making a place in the world.

“It gives us a leg up if. Talents are paths for us to excel and get ahead, make a name, find a place, become comfortable,” he said, but he added that the Gospel issues a grave warning and challenge about using our talents only for our own good or recognition.

The heart of Christian and human life is the basic recognition “that everything is a gift—the next breath, the next beat of the heart, the next day…,” the bishop said. “The Lord reminds us when we stand before him giving the sum of our entire life back to him, what will we show? What fruit will we have born because of the gifts and talents he has given to you and me?”

The number of individual talents and gifts we’ve been given is not essential, “because all gifts are given so that they can bear fruit not just for me to use, but for the good of all of God’s people. They are given by God to be given away in love,” he said.

Whether people experience success as a result of their talents in arts, business or other activities, we all have an obligation to use the talent we have to care for others and to help them unlock their own gifts, he said.

“How often have we used our gifts for the glory of God to make his presence known in the world and to give argument that God is real and alive in you and me, and calls all people to come to love and serve him?” he asked.

The Gospel even challenges those who have a natural gift of empathy for the suffering of family member and friends to expand their circle of recognition, the bishop said.

“Have we shared our empathy with others we don’t know, even those we don’t’ like and don’t like us? Have we used that gift for the greater glory of God and love of neighbor whoever the neighbor may be?”

Most moments in life are not about using our talents on a large stage, but simply sharing our gifts with people we encounter, said the bishop, who urged everyone to make an accounting of how they have used our own talents and gifts.

“The day will come when you and I will stand before the Lord, some of us given five talents, some of us two, some, one. The question we must all ask ourselves in the end is what will we offer back to God in the moment we stand before him? Let us pray it will be many talents.”

Before giving the final blessing, the bishop reported that the coronavirus situation continues to deteriorate and the number of infected has become alarming. Acknowledging that “We’re all tired of things we’ve been asked to do for these long months,” the bishop urged all to do what they can to prevent the spread of the virus and protect those who are most vulnerable.

Bishop’s Online Mass: The Bishop’s Sunday Mass is released online every Sunday morning at 8 a.m. and available for replay throughout the day. To view the Bishop’s Sunday Mass, recorded and published weekly, click this link or visit the YouTube Mass Playlist.

For information on the Sunday Family Rosary every Sunday at 7:30 p.m. visit:

“It was a day like any other, except it was a day like no other”

BRIDGEPORT—“If we wish to be ready to die, we need to learn how to live as Christians every day,” Bishop Frank J. Caggiano said in his homily following the Gospel of Matthew,(22;1-13) “13 Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

In his online Mass from the Catholic Center chapel on the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, the bishop said that Christian vigilance in the face of the uncertainty of life is an invitation to live more joyfully, knowing that our final destination as baptized Catholics is in the fullness of God’s love.

He said the awareness that death could come any time should not lead to “morbid preoccupation with dying, but a reminder that death is part of our life and the way we find passage to a new and greater life. It is the promise of our destiny as baptized members of the Mystical Body of Christ.”

The bishop began his homily by remembering an April afternoon he and his mother returned from his family’s country home in Pennsylvania. His father was at the table playing his usual game of solitaire, and the bishop, who needed to get back to the parish, asked him to drop his clothes off at the dry cleaner.

“It was a day like any other, except it was a day like no other,” the bishop recalled. Shortly after arriving at the parish he received a phone call urging him and his mother to go to Coney island Hospital, where they learned that his father had died suddenly coming out of the dry cleaners.

“I’ve never read these lines of the Gospel the same way since that day,” said the bishop, emphasizing that none of us knows the time or place of our own passing.

“That was my father’s day. I pray he was prepared and ready. All of us have similar stories when death, the great mystery, appears in in an unexpected way– at a time not of our own choosing–to friends, neighbors and someone dear to us. The Church asks us to give it consideration; that you and I have a destination which takes us before the Lord, the moment when we offer back to him the great gift of the life he has given us.”

The bishop said that last week’s Gospel of the beatitudes offer a road map for how to live in the fullness of life during our journey on earth.

“We will be prepared for death and should have no fear of the hour, if we are about the work of faith to make love real, live hope in concrete ways, and proclaim the truth in and out of season. if we are willing to live what we believe as best we can each today to use the time before us,” he said.

“Our eyes should not be fixed on the moment or the place where death comes, but fixed on living every moment of living life well in the grace of the Holy Spirit, and else falls into place.”
The bishop issued his weekly spiritual challenge to those who prayed with him by noting that St. Francis of Assisi, his patron, admonished his followers “to live each day before the sun sets as if it were your last without another one to follow.”

“If you and I did that, how many grudges would we no longer carry? How many times would we say the words we were meant to say? How many times would we find time to reach out to those we’ve been meaning to see?” he asked.

“St. Francis’s insight prepares us not only for our death but for life in the mind and heart of Jesus,” he said.

Before the final blessing the bishop invited all to join in the Sunday Family Rosary “particularly at this time that continues to be challenging. We hope the Lord will hear and answer our prayers.” To participate in the Sunday Family Rosary at 7:30 p.m. visit:

The Bishop’s Sunday Mass is released online every Sunday morning at 8 a.m. and available for replay throughout the day. To view the Bishop’s Sunday Mass, recorded and published weekly, click this link or visit the YouTube Mass Playlist.

President of USCCB Issues Election Statement

WASHINGTON – Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued the following statement on the 2020 presidential election:

We thank God for the blessings of liberty. The American people have spoken in this election. Now is the time for our leaders to come together in a spirit of national unity and to commit themselves to dialogue and compromise for the common good.

As Catholics and Americans, our priorities and mission are clear. We are here to follow Jesus Christ, to bear witness to His love in our lives, and to build His Kingdom on earth. I believe that at this moment in American history, Catholics have a special duty to be peacemakers, to promote fraternity and mutual trust, and to pray for a renewed spirit of true patriotism in our country.

Democracy requires that all of us conduct ourselves as people of virtue and self-discipline. It requires that we respect the free expression of opinions and that we treat one another with charity and civility, even as we might disagree deeply in our debates on matters of law and public policy.

As we do this, we recognize that Joseph R. Biden, Jr., has received enough votes to be elected the 46th President of the United States. We congratulate Mr. Biden and acknowledge that he joins the late President John F. Kennedy as the second United States president to profess the Catholic faith. We also congratulate Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, who becomes the first woman ever elected as vice president.

We ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, patroness of this great nation, to intercede for us. May she help us to work together to fulfill the beautiful vision of America’s missionaries and founders — one nation under God, where the sanctity of every human life is defended and freedom of conscience and religion are guaranteed.

One woman’s ministry of Holy Articles and Charity

STAMFORD — When Sharon MacKnight was a young girl growing up in Pawcatuck, Conn., her mother would dress her up in her finest clothes on Sunday morning so she could go to 6 a.m. Mass with her father at St. Michael the Archangel Church. It was the highlight of her week, and years later, the source of many fond memories.

When Sharon made her First Communion, her aunt Marion gave her a statue of Our Lady of Grace, which she still has after 70 years.

“She’s got a few bumps and bruises, but she’s still with me,” Sharon said. “Wherever I’ve lived, from Connecticut to California, she has traveled with me. From the East Coast to the West Coast, and now she’s in my bedroom on my bookcase, watching over me.”

For the past eight years, she has instilled that same love for holy articles in families and young people at St. Mary of Stamford Parish at 566 Elm Street. Each week, as part of her ministry, Sharon sets up a table after Mass and sells rosaries, medals, bracelets, Bibles, spiritual books and statues, many of which she has brought home from pilgrimages to Marian sites such as Fatima and Lourdes and the Holy Land.

She purchases the items with her own money, sells them and donates all the proceeds to the parish, as an act of love and gratitude.

“This is a way of thanking Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary for watching over me in my professional career and my private life,” Sharon says. “I always wanted to be a wife and mommy, but that wasn’t in the plan. The reason I can do this is I have no family, and I’m a saver. My parents, George and Helen, grew up in the Great Depression, and from the time I was a little girl, I learned to save and that’s what I did.”

“Our parish community is blessed to have a parishioner like Sharon MacKnight. She has consistently given of herself for the benefit of our community,” said Fr. Gustavo Falla, pastor. “We thank God for Sharon’s commitment and pray that many will be inspired by her dedication.”

He said that Sharon “gives 100%” to the parish and also in her work at the Bennett Cancer Center in Stamford.

“At St. Mary’s, which is now officially merged with St. Benedict’s, Sharon is not just the religious goods sales lady, but also the photographer, the shopper and the friend.”

After graduating from Stonington High School, Sharon enrolled in Colby Junior College in New London, NH, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree to become a registered medical technologist.

“Over 48 years, I worked in labs at different hospitals, and the reason I am doing what I am doing now is to thank the Lord for guiding me every day of my life because I dealt with people’s lives every day and helped physicians make the right diagnoses for people,” she says.

During her career, she worked at Hartford Hospital, Mercy Hospital in San Diego, and for 42 years at Stamford Hospital, where she was the supervisor of the hematology department.

Sharon is also the church photographer for the St. Mary-St. Benedict parish, where she has been a member for 35 years.

“When I asked Father Falla if I could bring my religious articles in the back of the church, I had no idea what would happen,” she says. “People coming into church have to walk by me. I sell statues, rosary beads and Bibles, and I believe I have helped people increase their faith in the Lord. You just can’t imagine. One Sunday alone, I sold five statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Lourdes.”

And many of her statues come from pilgrimage sites around the world because Sharon loves to travel and goes often to Portugal, Spain, France and Israel.

“I purchase religious articles wherever I go and donate everything to St. Mary’s,” she said.

She often goes on pilgrimages with Fr. Arthur C. Mollenhauer, J.C.L., the judicial vicar of the Tribunal of the Diocese of Bridgeport, and assists him in arranging the tours.

“One year ago, I was in Lourdes, France and a few days before that in Fatima, Portugal, and then we traveled to Barcelona and visited Our Lady of Monserrat,” she said. Last February they began a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they had to cancel a trip to Oberammergau, Germany, to see the famous Passion Play which has been held every decade since 1634.

Over the years, she has developed a clientele among parishioners, many of whom come back and ask if she can find a particular item for them. Each week, she can have up to 20 customers. In addition, she is responsible for a religious articles display at the parish center with items in a glass case. When people come in during the week, they are able to purchase items through the parish office, which is particularly important since there are no longer any religious stores in the area.

“Sometimes people want something, but don’t have the money yet,” she says, “so I say ‘Take it and give me the money when you can.’ Nobody is going to cheat the Lord. I don’t even write it down because I know when they have the money, they will give it to me. I trust them.”

Spanish Bibles are very popular, along with gifts for First Communion, Confirmation, weddings and birthdays. With Christmas approaching, there will be a selection of nativity scenes and holiday items from the Holy Land.

Very often, little children come up to her table and are mesmerized by the display, especially the statues of the Blessed Mother. They also love the St. Benedict bracelets and rosary beads.

“People often sacrifice to buy things, but it helps the church during the pandemic because collections are down,” she says.

Most importantly, she says, “Religious articles are a way for people to worship Our Lord and honor the Blessed Mother. It encourages them to pray to God, especially during our troubled times.”

“Name calling” can tear down or build up

BRIDGEPORT—Sometimes calling each other names is a good thing, particularly when the name is “Saint,” Bishop frank J. Caggiano said in online Mass celebrating the Solmenity of All Saints.

In his homily on the beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew (5:1-12A) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven,” the Bishop said that early Christians called each other “saints,” not because they were perfect or sinless but to encourage each other in the path toward holiness.

“They addressed each other with a name, a title that was an aspiration, an encouragement. In the act of calling one another saints, they are reminding each other of the destination their life was headed.”

The bishop began his homily from the Catholic Center chapel by noting that most children at some point regrettably engage in name calling, usually in a cruel way to put others down and hurt their feelings. He said adult society hasn’t improved on that behavior.

“In a world that has almost perfected the art of tearing down each other and calling each other the most horrible names as if we were children again, don’t you think it’s time to give the world a different path?” he asked.

The bishop said we need the courage and conviction to urge each other toward holiness, and that we have much good example because the saints of the Church—men, women, and children– have come from every tribe and land and have spoken different languages, but have achieved “union with God through the grace of Christ.”

“The church sweeps them all up today and remembers that their arrival is still our destination, and that we together must encourage each other in pursuit of holiness to join their company. We should not be afraid to ask for their help and intercession,” he said. “Many before us have arrived in glory and their prayers and intercession can help us arrive at our place in heaven. “

The bishop said that this week’s Gospel is an invitation to meditate on the beatitudes or “blessings, ” which form the catechism of eternal life.

Describing the beatitudes as “Words from the mouth of Our Savior that concretize God’s love in the world,” he said, “ You and I are his instruments. If we wish to see God, to live in glory, we are to be his instruments in this life. That is the disciples’ definition of holiness—to find his will and have the courage to do it.”

The bishop said that we’ve all known living saints in our lives, yet none of the saints “were perfect and sinless except Our Lady.”

In issuing his weekly challenge to the faithful, the bishop encouraged us to “live the virtues of the beatitudes” by becoming detached in spirit from material possessions and by having compassion for those who are suffering,

He urged the faithful to “be righteous and seek a purity that brings people together rather than divides them,” and to develop a meekness of heart in order “to remain open to the surprise of God” in our lives.

“How do I strive for great holiness? The lord has shown us the journey,” the bishop said, showing us the way by living in the spirit of the beatitudes.

Before the final blessing the bishop reminded people that Monday is the Feast of the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed and asked them “to spend All Souls Day in remembrance of those who have died to life and have been entrusted to the merciful love of God.”
Bishop’s Online Mass: The Bishop’s Sunday Mass is released online every Sunday morning at 8 a.m. and available for replay throughout the day. To view the Bishop’s Sunday Mass, recorded and published weekly, click this link or visit the YouTube Mass Playlist.
For information on the Sunday Family Rosary every Sunday at 7:30 p.m. visit:

Knights of Columbus Founder Beatified

NEW HAVEN, CONN. – The Catholic Church today declared Father Michael J. McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus, “blessed.” He is now one step from canonization as a saint.

Father McGivney was given his title through an apostolic letter from Pope Francis that was read by Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, as part of the Mass of beatification at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford, Connecticut. A tapestry of Father McGivney’s portrait was unveiled in the cathedral sanctuary after the letter was read.

Pope Francis credited Blessed Michael McGivney for his “zeal for the proclamation of the Gospel and generous concern for his brothers and sisters,” that “made him an outstanding witness of Christian solidarity and fraternal assistance.”

The pope concluded that the Connecticut priest “henceforth be given the title blessed.”

The apostolic letter also announced that the liturgical memorial of Father McGivney will be observed annually in the Archdiocese of Hartford on Aug. 13 — the day between Father McGivney’s Aug. 12 birth and death on Aug. 14. Votive Masses in honor of Father McGivney can also be celebrated by priests for Knights of Columbus gatherings with the permission of the local bishop on any day when not superseded by another observance on the liturgical calendar.

Afterwards, Hartford Archbishop Leonard Blair offered words of appreciation to the pope.

The coronavirus pandemic necessitated that participation at the Mass was by invitation-only with the faithful able to watch the event on television or online.

Known in his day as a holy parish priest of the then-Diocese of Hartford, Father McGivney labored tirelessly to improve the condition of his 19th-century immigrant community in Connecticut. He founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882 to provide financial support for widows and orphans and to keep Catholic men and their families close to their faith at a time of widespread anti-Catholic bigotry.

The fledgling Knights of Columbus soon became a major force of evangelization, charity, racial integration and the defense of religious freedom. Today there are 2 million members in more than 16,000 K of C councils located in all 50 U.S. states, Canada, Mexico, and the Philippines, as well as in recently established councils in Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, France and South Korea.

“Nearly a century before the Second Vatican Council, Father McGivney’s vision empowered the laity to serve the Church and their neighbors in a new way — through a greater commitment to charity — and to build effective cooperation between laity and clergy,” said Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “Today’s beatification serves to encourage that vision of lay leadership and fellowship.”

The Vatican announced on May 27 that Pope Francis approved a decree recognizing a miracle attributed to the intercession of Father McGivney, paving the way to beatification.

The miracle involved the healing of Michael Schachle, now 5-years old, from a fatal case of fetal hydrops, which causes a dangerous accumulation of fluids throughout the body of an unborn child. Michael’s parents, Daniel and Michelle Schachle of Dickson, Tennessee, responded to the seemingly hopeless situation by asking friends, family and Knights to join them in prayer for the intercession of Father McGivney. Michael’s subsequent healing had no medical or scientific explanation. Daniel and Michelle named their son Michael McGivney Schachle in thanksgiving for their son’s survival.

An additional miracle attributed to Father McGivney’s intercession will be required for canonization.

In August, the Knights announced that their Museum in New Haven, Conn, will be transformed into the Blessed Michael McGivney Pilgrimage Center to serve pilgrims who travel to New Haven to learn about Father McGivney and pray at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, where Father McGivney’s remains are entombed.

Photos courtesy of the Knights of Columbus

About Father McGivney
Born of Irish immigrant parents in 1852 in Waterbury, Connecticut, Father McGivney was a central figure in the dramatic growth of the Church in the United States in the late 19th century. Ordained in Baltimore in 1877, he ministered to a heavily Irish-American and immigrant community in Connecticut. At a time of anti-Catholic sentiment, he worked tirelessly to offer practical solutions to their many problems — spiritual and temporal alike. With a group of the leading Catholic men of New Haven, he founded the Knights to provide spiritual support for Catholic men and financial resources for families that had suffered the loss of their breadwinner.

Father McGivney died of pneumonia on Aug. 14, 1890 — two days after his 38th birthday — after falling ill amid a pandemic. Recent scientific evidence indicates that the pandemic — like the current one — may have been caused by a coronavirus.

Known by his contemporaries for his devotion to the faith and his embodiment of the characteristics of the Good Samaritan, Father McGivney remains an important role model for parish priests around the world.

In March 2008, Father McGivney was declared a Venerable Servant of God by Pope Benedict XVI, who during his visit to New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral cited the “remarkable accomplishment of that exemplary American priest, the Venerable Michael McGivney, whose vision and zeal led to the establishment of the Knights of Columbus.”

Two recent books tell the story of Father McGivney and his legacy: Parish Priest (2006), his biography; and The Knights of Columbus: An Illustrated History (2020).

More information is available at

About the Knights of Columbus
The Knights of Columbus is one of the world’s leading fraternal and service organizations, with 2 million members in more than 16,000 parish-based councils. During the past year, Knights around the world donated more than 77 million service hours and $187 million for worthy causes in their communities. The organization also offers extensive life insurance services to members and their families, resulting in more than $114 billion of life insurance in force. Knights of Columbus Asset Advisors offers investment services to individuals and institutions in accord with Catholic social teachings. From helping children in need, to providing wheelchairs for the disabled, to helping stock food banks, to offering top-rated and affordable insurance products to its members, the Knights of Columbus has supported families and communities for more than 138 years.

The Life of a Parish-Life Coordinator

According to a 2005 study by Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), more than five hundred U.S. parishes were entrusted to someone other than a priest. Many of these church workers, usually called parish-life coordinators, are lay people, including women religious, although most are deacons. Given the ongoing shortage of priests, a 2019 CARA report surprisingly indicated that just 341 parishes are now being administered to by deacons or lay people, a more than 30 percent decline. This can be attributed in part to the closing or merging of parishes, but it also seems to reflect a hesitancy on the part of bishops to embrace lay leadership on the parish level. The concern, as expressed by an instruction released by the Vatican in July, is that the central role of the priesthood in the sacramental and pastoral life of the Church cannot, by definition, be assumed by the laity. Otherwise, the statement explained, pastoral leadership can be seen as merely “functional” rather than sacerdotal. The distinctive roles of the laity and the priesthood must be secured; an “essential difference…exists between the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood.” The appointment of parish-life coordinators cannot be made for “reasons of convenience or ‘ambiguous advancement of the laity.’”

These are not necessarily unreasonable concerns. When it comes to the sacramental life of the Church and the centrality of the priesthood to Catholic historical and theological self-understanding, turning over priestly roles to the laity raises a host of questions. But with no dramatic increase in priestly vocations on the horizon, at least in the United States, parish-life coordinators will remain the face of some parishes, a face that most parishioners seem to welcome. According to CARA, these devoted lay people are usually highly educated and are most often women. That is the case for Eleanor Sauers, the parish-life coordinator for St. Anthony of Padua Church in Fairfield, Connecticut. Fairfield is in the Diocese of Bridgeport, whose bishop is the Most Reverend Frank Caggiano. Sauers was the first—and remains the only—lay parish-life coordinator in the diocese. I recently interviewed her by email. Our exchange has been edited for clarity.

PAUL BAUMANN: Eleanor, you became parish-life coordinator after the death of Fr. John Baran, a much-loved pastor. You were the head of religious education at St. Anthony’s at the time, and it was my impression that you and Fr. John were good friends, and that he was a mentor for you. What was that transition like? How do you see your pastoral vision in light of Fr. John’s ministry?

ELEANOR SAUERS: I became the director of religious education at St. Anthony’s in September 2002. I had come to the parish as a volunteer when Fr. John was transferred there as an administrator. Fr. John had been a parochial vicar at Our Lady of the Assumption parish in Fairfield for seven years, during which time I worked (as a volunteer) with him on the parish council, the youth group, the liturgy committee, and other ministries. John became a close friend to my family during this time.

I left my position in a local insurance agency in 2000, having entered the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education at Fordham. John encouraged me to pursue my studies and became a mentor to me throughout my master’s and doctoral journeys. At St. Anthony’s, I worked with Fr. John, Frank Macari, the music director, and Beth Paris, the pastoral minister for youth. We were a team. Throughout John’s tenure, during his long affliction with muscular dystrophy, and especially during his final battle with melanoma, he and I collaborated on most parish efforts.

When John died in March 2018, I was devastated. Fr. Michael Boccaccio, a semi-retired diocesan priest, was appointed administrator of the parish but I ran the day-to-day activities. The future was uncertain, but the team and I were determined to continue to implement Fr. John’s vision for the parish. That vision was firmly rooted in the collegiality and subsidiary foci of the Second Vatican Council. We respected and treated parishioners as adults. We also recognized that as a small parish we couldn’t offer everything, but whatever we offered had to be done well. Fr. John’s preaching and his welcoming manner, especially his determination to create an environment where the Spirit could flourish, caused the parish to blossom and grow exponentially until his death.

In the months following his death, we maintained parish life as we thought he would, but we were aware things could and would change as soon as the next pastor was named. We were dedicated to keeping Fr. John’s mission alive. Bishop Caggiano met with the parish staff, trustees, and pastoral council twice—the first time in June 2018. He asked us what our hopes were for the next pastor. He also told us that he would eventually be appointing a diocesan priest. We met with the bishop again in December. At that time, he informed us that he was appointing me as the parish-life coordinator.

The months in between those meetings were anxious ones, not knowing what the future would bring. But we decided to “act as if” things would work out for the best and that John’s legacy would not only be maintained but built upon.

My pastoral vision, influenced heavily by my time with John, is one of promoting inclusivity in all areas of parish life. By that I mean welcoming all people and inviting them to share in the life of the parish. In particular, I am interested in reaching out to other communities, particularly communities of color, to help our parishioners and theirs gain new perspectives on what we have in common and new respect for the ways in which we differ. At this moment, recognizing and fighting racism is of paramount importance. I am interested in showing that the Catholic Church is a place where you learn how to get closer to God. I want to share our rich spiritual life as Catholics, and provide opportunities to discuss our faith. My emphasis is always on community and how communal worship and socialization can help form, inform, and transform people.

PB: Did Bishop Caggiano initiate the discussion about your appointment or did parishioners urge him to make you parish-life coordinator? What were your conversations with the bishop like before your appointment? How often do you meet or talk with him now?

ES: In November, eight months after John’s death, the bishop called and asked to meet. When I arrived at his office, he first asked how I was doing, how I was handling things at the parish. He then began to speak of his search for John’s replacement. Eventually, he said he was considering a new form of parish leadership and opened a folder containing several pages detailing the duties and responsibilities of a “parish-life coordinator.” Bishop Caggiano indicated that he knew I had already been doing much of what was entailed in the position. I agreed! He asked me to think about assuming the parish-life coordinator position and get back to him. I immediately answered that I would do it. That response initiated a discussion of items to be handled and how to announce this decision to the parish. It was decided that he would come to the parish on the first Sunday of December to announce his decision to the same group that had met with him in June. The announcement to the entire parish occurred the following Sunday.

Bishop Caggiano has always been cordial and friendly. Our conversations, monthly during the first half-year of my appointment, were pleasant. He always asked about me, the parish, and invariably about what he could do to help. Beyond that six-month period, we have met only during the regularly scheduled pastor and administrator gatherings, which are now held on Zoom.

PB: Did you have to go through a certification program for lay parish-life coordinators? Do you have much contact with other parish-life coordinators across the country?

ES: I did not go through any specific certification program, but my degree work at Fordham included studies of parishes and their organization, the mission and ministry of the Church, pastoral care, spirituality, religious education, and leadership. Fr. John’s mentorship and the practical experience I gained running the parish when he was ill filled in the blanks. Throughout the country, there are hundreds of parishes led by lay people, although it is more common that the leader is a deacon or a vowed religious woman. Unfortunately, I have not had much contact with other parish-life coordinators. As you might imagine, we are all pretty busy.

PB: Is your financial compensation adequate? Does it include benefits such as health care?

ES: The parish compensates me very fairly, commensurate with my responsibilities. My benefits include participation in a pension plan and health insurance.

PB: What has most surprised you about your work? What has been the hardest part of the job? What gives you the most satisfaction?

ES: I have been surprised that so much of my time is taken up with maintenance of the premises, money matters, and meetings. During the first year I spent a lot of time raising a good deal of money for a diocesan capital campaign. During this second year, our response to the pandemic has taken priority, which now includes taking reservations for attending Mass, sanitizing the church before and after each Mass, and livestreaming the 10 a.m. Mass on the parish website. Raising money is the part of the job that has been hardest. I derive the greatest satisfaction from meeting with individuals and families about their concerns, working with the team to plan liturgical celebrations and plans for the parish, and being with parishioners at Mass. Being visible and accessible is essential to the position.

PB: Weddings, baptisms, and funerals are a big part of any priest’s ministry. Given your limited sacramental “faculties,” how have you coordinated those activities at St. Anthony’s?

ES: Of course, I do not preside at weddings, baptisms, funerals, or Mass. I do give a short reflection after Mass, and I meet with families to plan sacramental services, especially funerals. The priests of the Fairfield University Jesuit Community are our sacramental partners, and they preside at Masses, and at most of the weddings and funerals. A deacon assigned to Fairfield University and to our parish meets with and presides at most baptisms. Collaboration between the parish and the Jesuits has been smooth and fruitful.

PB: In July the Vatican issued an instruction touching on the role of parish-life coordinators. The instruction emphasized that the appointment of parish-life coordinators should be considered a temporary measure. It also expressed concerns about confusing the roles of parish-life coordinators and priests, noting that the sacerdotal nature of the priesthood must remain distinct from the “common priesthood” of the laity. In your experience, to what extent are these legitimate concerns?

ES: The Vatican instruction did not contain any new norms but reiterated previously stated concerns, specifically about evangelization as the means of renewing parish life. Recognizing that geographical parishes are no longer the norm, the document spoke of “reorganizing the manner in which pastoral care of parish communities is assigned,” and called for a greater collaboration with the laity. Yes, the distinction between the sacerdotal priesthood and the common priesthood of the laity was a concern, as was the proper role of the priest as the sacramental leader of the parish. In my experience, however, no parishioner confuses my position with that of the priests who serve our parish. Parishioners view me as the administrator of the parish and as a spiritual leader, but do not view my role as sacramental. People are savvy and can easily distinguish between the two vocations. That said, because we are likely to face a shortage of ordained clergy for the foreseeable future, I think parish-life coordinators will continue to serve the church in many parts of the United States.

PB: I assume that the response to your appointment has been overwhelmingly positive. But every church leader is also subject to complaints. What sort of complaints have you had to deal with?

ES: The response of the parish to my appointment was positive, but there were some people outside the parish who phoned, wrote, or made derogatory comments on social media, especially in the weeks following the announcement of my appointment. Of course, I am not aware of all the complaints parishioners might have. Complaints about pandemic preparations or the cancellation of events are understandable. Overall, I feel very blessed by the parishioners and am so grateful for their support.

St. Anthony’s Parish under Fr. John came to be known as an inclusive community. The parish continues that sense of welcome even during these difficult times. I believe we have continued to create an environment where the Spirit can flourish. We try to meet people where they are on the journey of faith, without judgment. Our parishioners are warm and loving people and their warmth and their joy in being together to celebrate the liturgy is palpable and contagious.

PB: Who do you go to for spiritual guidance yourself?

ES: The liturgy inspires me. My spiritual director has been most helpful, as have the Jesuits from the Fairfield University community. For the past two years I’ve been taking a course at Fairfield, “Aging with Grace,” taught by Fr. John Murray. The class has provided support, challenge, and comfort. I also belong to a long-established prayer group and a women’s Bible study group. And of course, my leadership team is a valued source of support.

From the beginning, the Holy Spirit has been an integral part of my time at St. Anthony’s. I sense the Spirit’s presence every day. I also sense Fr. John’s presence guiding me and the parish. I give thanks every day for the opportunity to serve God’s people at St. Anthony’s.

PB: What are Masses at St. Anthony’s like during the pandemic? What has changed and who shows up? Do parishioners continue to support the parish financially?

ES: Obviously, Masses are quite different now. Because of social-distancing requirements, the church can only seat forty-eight people. In the “good old days” the church held five hundred worshipers. Mass goers are now required to make a reservation in advance, answer questions about their recent travels and how they are feeling, check in when they arrive, and use hand sanitizer before entering the church.

We have only two Masses on the weekend now. Both are on Sunday, one at 10 a.m. and the other at noon. Previously, we also had Masses on Saturday evening at 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. on Sunday. Those who come now are older for the most part, together with a few families, a couple of younger couples, and a few singles. The 10 a.m. Mass is usually full; the noon Mass usually is not.

It is my impression that most people are not ready to be in the enclosed space of a church, regardless of how safe we try to make it. Disasters usually send us into the arms of our family and friends, and to the churches. One of the many disheartening consequences of the pandemic is that we cannot do that now. Another casualty of the pandemic is singing. There is now no congregational singing (we are a singing parish!), no exchange of peace, and no mingling before or after Mass. People must satisfy their thirst for community with waves and brief greetings.

Our parish is so fortunate in many ways, one of which is the financial support from parishioners. Of course, the Sunday collections are down because Mass attendance is so limited. But those parishioners who have continued to contribute have subscribed to GiveCentral, our online system, or send their donations through the mail. Some use the mail slot in the rectory’s front door. Parishioners have been generous. We have been able to maintain our staff, for which I am most grateful. The work does not stop even during a pandemic.

PB: You mentioned that inclusion and fighting racism are two of your pastoral goals. Fairfield is a relatively well-to-do, mostly white suburb. How have you tried to pursue those goals?

ES: In the summer of 2015, after the tragic shootings at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, there was a memorial service conducted at the Bethel AME Church on Grove Street in neighboring Bridgeport. Members of many different congregations—Christian, Jewish, Muslim—from around the area were invited. Twelve parishioners from St. Anthony’s went. It was a powerful experience for everyone involved. What I remember particularly were the words of Rabbi Prosnit from B’nai Israel in Bridgeport. “Disturb me, O Lord…wrest me from my complacency,” the rabbi challenged us. Those words made us all sit up and take notice. Another minister prayed for the shooter and his family. Some in the congregation murmured “Amen,” and “That’s right.” Our little group was amazed and humbled at these expressions of forgiveness.

That evening left a mark on all of us. One of our parishioners has kept in contact with a few Bethel congregants and attends services occasionally with them. Our goal is to engage with other congregations and to build relationships. We also have groups in the parish who are reading about racism and how we can recognize it in ourselves. We must take an honest look at ourselves before we can engage with others. But the goal is to establish lines of communication and dialogue that honor the experiences of others and work together to better all parties.

We are also a member of the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport. We have two delegates working directly with the council. The group’s agenda includes food inequality, racial justice, building bridges among different communities of faith, youth programs, and more. These delegates report back to us, and their information is shared in the parish bulletin.

The parish has a Social Justice Committee that meets regularly and provides information to the parish about various grassroots organizations. The committee is currently focused on climate change. Financially and with volunteer workers, we also support Bridgeport’s Thomas Merton Center, Operation Hope, Mercy Learning Center, and Caroline House, all of which serve people in need.

Originally published at by By Paul Baumann
October 29, 2020