Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

Articles By: John Grosso

Lent during a pandemic brings new practices

CONNECTICUT—The season of Lent, often seen as a time of sacrifice, of giving up something, may just feel like too much to ask after a year of isolation, mask-wearing, and losses of friends or family members.

The season between Ash Wednesday and Easter represents Jesus’ 40 days fasting in the desert before beginning his public ministry. But the tradition of self-denial and giving to others as a way of imitating Christ may just feel like too much right now, faith leaders say. Instead, those leaders say, Christians may need new ways to look at these 40 days and find new practices to deepen faith and give personal meaning to the season.

“I do think that Lent is a really great time for us to recognize that there really is … fatigue from sacrifice. We’ve given up hugs and we’ve given up visits to Grandma,” said Patrick Donovan, executive director of the Leadership Institute in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport.

“I think last year we were in such shock and we were in duck-and-cover mode. We experienced Lent and we didn’t realize it,” he said. In 2020, Ash Wednesday fell on Feb. 26, about two weeks before the country went into lockdown because of COVID-19.

After being afraid to go to the grocery store, learning to wear masks, living professional and social lives on Zoom, not being able to go to a movie or ballgame, “we’re just exhausted,” Donovan said.

“We are an impatient country … and we don’t like to sacrifice. We are a nation of excess, a people of excess,” he said. Lent is a time to pay attention to how faith is practiced, he said. The message can get lost if by giving up eating meat on Fridays but having shrimp instead.

Instead, Lent is about “eating simply and giving what you might have spent on dinner into the rice bowl for Catholic Relief Services, which is on the table,” he said.

Donovan said giving up something for Lent has actually brought his family spiritual gifts. Katie, 12, for instance, gave up watching YouTube, “which is huge for her,” he said. Their conversation was about “when you’re not doing YouTube, what are you going to be doing?” he said. “For Katie, it’s about filling it with something else, so she’s reading a book, she’s playing with the dog, she’s painting. … She’s not as distracted as she was.”

His 13-year-old son, Liam, shoveled a neighbor’s sidewalk, unasked, when it recently snowed. “He knew it was the right thing to do,” Donovan said. “I have to believe that the conversations we’re having at home about Lenten sacrifice motivated him to do that. It’s really a good time to really practice what we hope to be the rest of the year.”

Donovan’s Lenten practice has been aided by a new puppy, “getting up in the morning and spending 30, 40, 50 minutes outside in the cold in silence. … My Lenten practice right now is to keep that up but begin to fill it with prayer.”

“I think part of the challenge is this Lent is a call for innovation. We’ve got to get creative with our sacrifice,” using our time to do something like checking on a neighbor, he said.

The Rev. Mary Barnett, priest-in-charge of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity in Middletown, said the pandemic has been so hard on people that “sometimes we have a harder time feeling pleasure and finding some bit of that, and that too can be part of our relationship with God, and it’s not just giving things up.”

She suggested to “be good to yourself and really think about what’s good,” filling a need by spending time with a loved one.

“I feel like paying attention to the signals your body gives you rather than just your brain is really helpful,” Barnett said. “It’s important to listen to how sad we are and the losses we’ve had. It’s really hard.”

The Rev. Ryan Lerner, the chaplain at the St. Thomas More Chapel and Center at Yale University, said the pandemic has posed the question of “what does it mean to take up one’s cross … when the cross enters into our life in a way that we would not choose? … All of us have been asked to sacrifice or called to sacrifice in ways we never would have chosen or never would have imagined.”

But Lent gives us the opportunity of “letting go of those things that we sometimes cling to that clutter up our lives, to make room for God,” Lerner said.

Cultivating “a sacrificial spirit … frees us up. That is a positive thing,” Lerner said. “To be in dialogue with God, to recognize God’s presence in our lives and to give to others, whether it be our time, our attention, our prayers.”

Lerner and three others from St. Thomas More sprinkled ashes on people’s heads on Ash Wednesday. “The first real in-person thing we’ve done may be the only thing for the foreseeable future,” he said. Besides Yale students, faculty and staff, “we also had students from the University of New Haven and Southern who also came,” he said.

He said receiving ashes is more than just a tradition. “Go out with that ash on your forehead. How are you going to be ambassadors for Christ?” he said.

And he urges Christians to stay flexible and be present to opportunities to give to others. “It’s easy to be stuck to your calendar and your schedule,” he said.

Members of St. Thomas More also were given a Lenten kit including a booklet containing daily Scripture readings through Easter, a small jar of sand as a meditative tool, the Catholic Relief Services “rice bowl” for almsgiving and a copy of “Sacred Space for Lent 2021,” with daily prayers by the Irish Jesuits.

Aside from giving up something himself, which he doesn’t disclose, Lerner said he is praying throughout the day at the liturgically appointed times.

“As priests and religious, we make a promise to pray the liturgy of the hours. It’s very easy on a busy day to blast through it in the morning,” he said. “You’ve got to carve out a little bit of time during the day.”

The Rev. Joseph Marcello, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Trumbull, said this Ash Wednesday “had the biggest turnout in anyone’s memory. … It was hundreds and hundreds, probably well into the thousands,” he said.

Marcello used Q-tips to mark a cross in ashes on each person’s forehead. “Several people told me with tears in their eyes that this was the first time they had been back in church since the pandemic began,” he said.

Lent has given people the opportunity of “returning to a ritual that has been a constant in their lives, connected with people on a very deep level,” Marcello said.

“I think that as the pandemic subsides, as people get their vaccines, a lot of people are waiting for a tipping point, a moment to come back, and Ash Wednesday is the perfect time for that,” he said. “As we reapproach the normal that was taken from us a year ago, very few things connect with folks as deeply as Mass, liturgy, worship and prayer.”

The parish has had several “drive-through food drives. We have had an unbelievably strong response to those,” Marcello said. “We’ve delivered truckloads upon truckloads” of food, dry goods, baby supplies and other items, he said. “I’m just really encouraged to see that our parishioners, a goodly number of them, have not turned in on themselves, isolated, [but] have really stepped up.” Non-members also have dropped off items at the church, he said.

To the Rev. Ximena Diaz-Varas, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Torrington, Lent is an opportunity to perform “acts of kindness, being that person of God for others. … What is that thing that is going to help them be aware of the presence of God, which is basically what Lent is about.”

While it is good to make a sacrifice, “Giving up chocolate with nothing behind it is not going to make us closer to God,” she said. But small acts of kindness, such as reaching out to someone who lives alone, “will help us to see God working in this time, even in this pandemic, even in winter with storm after storm,” she said.

“I also have found that people are just on edge and we need to be kind to one another, and we need to be graceful with one another,” Diaz-Varas said. “Sometimes we feel we need to do huge things, but it really begins with our own heart. … If we all start with our heart we can change the world.”

The Rev. Frederick “Jerry” Streets, pastor of Dixwell Avenue United Church of Christ in New Haven, said parishioners have talked about “what it was they wanted to do for Lent,” trying new approaches to Bible study and prayer.

“They pray regularly, but they’re going to try to pray in a different way.” For some, “that meant getting on their knees, which they haven’t done in a long time,” he said.

“There’s a broader interest that people have in nurturing their sense of their spiritual life in the midst of such grief and sorrow and vulnerability,” Streets said. “The Lenten season has a way of making it more acute because of the emphasis on repentance and transformation.”

Streets said maintaining connections among parishioners, even if online, has been critical. He said he had been reading about the 1918 flu pandemic and “one of the things that was happening was that local newspapers … were publishing weekly meditations and sermons and spiritual advice.”

Now, he said, in addition to the weekly services on YouTube, there is Bible study and a general meeting in which people can share their experiences and information. At a recent meeting, “people were giving information about their COVID experience,” Streets said. “They were sharing their experience about overcoming their anxiety about getting the shot and the side effects, if any … and those stories were very helpful to people.”

New Haven’s Mayor Justin Elicker and Health Director Maritza Bond have been online guests at the meetings as well, he said. “All of these are means of helping people to stay connected, but it’s also a means of getting resources to live their life.”

Written by Ed Standard, Originally posted in the New Haven Register

CRS’s Lenten Rice Bowl Helps Feed 150 Million

WINDSOR TERRACE — Madagascar is an island nation off the African continent’s east coast. But even though water surrounds it, this country is not immune from drought.

Families rely on small farms and gardens to grow their food, but harvests shrink in the dry years. Consequently, one in two children on the island is undernourished, according to Catholic Relief Services, which aims to change that.

CRS’s annual Lenten Rice Bowl program helps fund efforts that teach islanders how to help their soil retain more water. They also learn to rotate crops and other sustainable techniques.

“It’s what I call ‘best practices,’ ” said Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut. “This is where, I think, CRS is making a profound difference. As Catholic Christians, we talk about protecting life; it starts in the womb, and it stays with us in every fabric of our natural lives. Well, this is part of that.”

According to CRS, donations to Rice Bowl help 159 million people in more than 100 countries.

This year, CRS Rice Bowl highlights its work in Madagascar, El Salvador, and Timor-Leste, a new nation founded in 2002 on the island of Timor, north of Australia.

For example, back in Madagascar, Valerie Aimee Raharisoa, 32, tends a garden on land her family has used for generations. Family members help each other manage their plots. The mother learned new methods to grow vegetables through Rice Bowl-funded programs, which gave her harvests a boost. In an interview shared by CRS, she expressed pride in how her garden helps her children avoid malnutrition.

“What makes me happy is when I go to my garden, and I see all the things that I’ve planted grow,” she said. “When I see flowers or the greens or when I see the first seeds sprouting, it’s like I’ve transferred a kind of power from my hands to the plants.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops created CRS in 1943 to be an agile humanitarian organization to help people in long-term crises, such as drought, and sudden emergencies like hurricanes or earthquakes. The USCCB has conducted the Rice Bowl project through CRS since 1977.

Bishop Caggiano is a native of Brooklyn and a former auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Brooklyn. He currently serves as chairman of the CRS board for the USCCB.

He said this year’s Rice Bowl carries added urgency because donations in 2020 fell 47 percent below previous years. The COVID-19 pandemic gets the blame, he said.

CRS records show the average total donations over the past five years were $11.5 million, with about $8.6 million for food programs worldwide and $2.9 million to help food ministries in the U.S. diocese. According to CRS’s preliminary estimates, 2020 yielded about $5.3 million.

“This year,” Bishop Caggiano said, “life is not back to normal, but the hope is people would still participate in the Rice Bowl project because it gives them the opportunity to help fund needs all over the world.”

As in years past, CRS provides materials on its website (crsricebowl.org) to help people of all ages use Rice Bowl activities to enhance their Lenten observances. Included is the opportunity to donate alms to help fund CRS food programs around the world.

“Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the three disciplines to prepare for Easter, so it makes sense,” Bishop Caggiano said.

Father Charles Keeney guides Rice Bowl efforts for the Diocese of Brooklyn. He is director of the Propagation of the Faith for the diocese, which gives him a unique perspective on the annual Lenten program’s effectiveness.

“As far as I’m concerned, the two things really go hand-in-hand,” he said of building the faith and the CRS efforts. “Both help the Church with corporal or spiritual works of mercy. But the actual Rice Bowl program is major because it does help CRS, in particular, with food programs.”

Father Keeney said 75 percent of Rice Bowl proceeds fund food programs in about 100 countries outside the U.S. The other 25 percent goes to domestic efforts. Recently, Father Keeney sent $500 checks from Rice Bowl to 11 food ministries in the diocese.

And, Bishop Caggiano said, giving alms adheres to the Gospel verse Matthew 25:40 — “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

“The people in these countries are grateful for whatever CRS does,” the bishop said, “but they learn, and they pass it on to others, and that’s our Catholic faith doing that.

“The Lord has asked us to do it, and with his grace, it will have a profound impact.”

Father Keeney confirmed that most people helped by CRS are not Catholic, which concerns some people.

“Some complain, ‘You’re helping Muslims, or Hindus, or whoever,’ ” he said. “But we don’t help people because they are Catholic.

“We help people because we’re Catholic.”

Originally Posted in The Tablet

Ashes mark beginning, not end, of new life

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Ash Wednesday and Lent are a time to recall that new life emerges from the ashes and that spring blossoms from the bleakness of winter, said a noted Italian theologian.

And when people fast from media overload, as Pope Francis has asked people to do for Lent, they should be directing their attention to the real people around them, Servite Father Ermes Ronchi told Vatican News Feb. 16.

Instead of being “glued” to the internet, “what if we were to look people in the eye the way we look at our phones, 50 times a day, looking at them with the same attentiveness and intensity, how many things would change? How many things would we discover?” he asked.

The Italian priest, who was chosen by Pope Francis to lead his annual Lenten retreat in 2016, talked with Vatican News about how to understand Lent and Ash Wednesday during a global pandemic, particularly when many people have already lost so much.

He recalled the natural cycles in farm life when wood ashes from heating homes over a long winter would be returned to the soil to provide it with important nutrients for the spring.

“Ashes are what is left when nothing is left, it is the bare minimum, the almost-nothing. And it is from here that one can and must begin again,” he said, rather than stopping in despair.

Ashes smudged or sprinkled on the faithful are then “not so much about ‘remember you must die,’ but ‘remember you must be simple and fruitful.’”

The Bible teaches “the economy of small things” in which there is nothing better than to be “nothing” before God, he said.

“Do not be afraid of being fragile but think of Lent as the transformation from ashes to light, from what is leftover to fullness,” he said. “I see it as a time that is not penitential, but alive, not a time of mortification, but as revitalization. It is the time the seed is in the earth.”

For those who have suffered great loss during the pandemic, Father Ronchi said that strain and struggle also leads to new fruit, like a gardener who prunes trees “not for penance,” but “to bring them back to the essential” and stimulate new growth and energy.

“We are living in a time that can bring us back to the essential, rediscovering what is permanent in our life and what is fleeting. Therefore, this moment is a gift to be more fruitful, not to castigate.”

No matter what measures or restrictions may be in place due to the pandemic, people still have all the tools they need, which no virus can take away: charity, tenderness and forgiveness, he said.

“It’s true that this Easter will be marked by fragility, many crucifixes, but what is being asked of me is a sign of charity,” he added. “Jesus came to bring a revolution of tenderness and forgiveness without bounds. These are the two things that build up universal fraternity.”

Lent is time to grow in faith, hope, love, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As Christians pray, fast and give alms during Lent, they also should consider giving a smile and offering a kind word to people feeling alone or frightened because of the coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis said.

“Love rejoices in seeing others grow. Hence it suffers when others are anguished, lonely, sick, homeless, despised or in need,” the pope wrote in his message for Lent 2021.

The message, released by the Vatican Feb. 12, focuses on Lent as “a time for renewing faith, hope and love” through the traditional practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. And, by going to confession.

Throughout the message, Pope Francis emphasized how the Lenten practices not only promote individual conversion, but also should have an impact on others.

“By receiving forgiveness in the sacrament that lies at the heart of our process of conversion, we in turn can spread forgiveness to others,” he said. “Having received forgiveness ourselves, we can offer it through our willingness to enter into attentive dialogue with others and to give comfort to those experiencing sorrow and pain.”

The pope’s message contained several references to his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship.”

For example, he prayed that during Lent Catholics would be “increasingly concerned with ‘speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation and encouragement, and not words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn,’” a quote from the encyclical.

“In order to give hope to others, it is sometimes enough simply to be kind, to be ‘willing to set everything else aside in order to show interest, to give the gift of a smile, to speak a word of encouragement, to listen amid general indifference,’” he said, again quoting the document.

The Lenten practices of fasting, almsgiving and prayer were preached by Jesus and continue to help believers experience and express conversion, the pope wrote.

“The path of poverty and self-denial” through fasting, “concern and loving care for the poor” through almsgiving and “childlike dialogue with the Father” through prayer, he said, “make it possible for us to live lives of sincere faith, living hope and effective charity.”

Pope Francis emphasized the importance of fasting “as a form of self-denial” to rediscover one’s total dependence on God and to open one’s heart to the poor.

“Fasting involves being freed from all that weighs us down — like consumerism or an excess of information, whether true or false — in order to open the doors of our hearts to the one who comes to us, poor in all things, yet full of grace and truth: the son of God our savior.”

Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, presenting the message at a news conference, also insisted on the importance of “fasting and all forms of abstinence,” for example, by giving up “time watching TV so we can go to church, pray or say a rosary. It is only through self-denial that we discipline ourselves to be able to take the gaze off ourselves and to recognize the other, reckon with his needs and thus create access to benefits and goods for people,” ensuring respect for their dignity and rights.

Msgr. Bruno-Marie Duffe, secretary of the dicastery, said that at a time of “anxiety, doubt and sometimes even despair” because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lent is a time for Christians “to walk the way with Christ toward a new life and a new world, toward a new trust in God and in the future.”

Legatus names Bishop Frank International Chaplain

ANN ARBOR – Legatus International has named Bishop Frank J. Caggiano as its International Chaplain. Headquartered in Ann Arbor, MI, Legatus is an international membership organization of Catholic CEOs and presidents who have committed to study, live, and spread the Catholic faith. In his new role, Caggiano succeeds Bishop Sam Jacobs, Bishop Emeritus of Houma-Thibodeaux, who served from 2010–2020.

As International Chaplain, Caggiano begins a five-year term in which he is charged with overseeing the theological content of Legatus programs, providing guidance to chapter chaplains, and helping members advance spiritually. The International Chaplain is an ex-officio member of the Legatus International Board of Governors. Under Caggiano’s care is the entire Legatus organization which includes over 100 chapters throughout the United States and Canada and comprises 5,000+ members. 

Caggiano has long been connected to Legatus having celebrated Masses at the organization’s biannual Summit and its New York City Gala. The Bishop is also a steadfast supporter of the Legatus Fairfield County Chapter (CT) which chartered under his guidance in November 2016. At his January 2021 meeting with Legatus chapter chaplains, Caggiano encouraged his fellow chaplains, “We are now living in a missionary country and Legatus members are poised to be very effective missionaries through their witness of life and as messengers of salvation. I am looking forward to working with you to serve our chapters and members as they rise to the call of heroic holiness.”

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Legatus has continued to experience growth, chartering new chapters in Albany, Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami in 2020. Legatus Executive Director, Stephen M. Henley, is enthusiastic as the organization embraces the coming year with Caggiano, “Legatus is blessed to have Bishop Caggiano as International Chaplain, empowering our chapters and members with Christian ethics and values as they navigate the mission field as ambassadors for Christ in the marketplace.” 

Founded 34 years ago by entrepreneur and Domino’s Pizza founder Thomas S. Monaghan, Legatus is focused on the commission which Pope St. John Paul II gave to the organization in 1988: “The world needs genuine witnesses to Christian ethics in the field of business and the Church asks you to fulfill this role publicly with courage and perseverance.” By living out the Faith in their business, professional and personal lives, Legatus members represent
a powerful lay ministry in the New Evangelization and in the building up of the Body of Christ in accord with the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church.

Diocese welcomes expanded capacity order

BRIDGEPORT—The State of Connecticut has removed the cap of 100 people for indoor religious gatherings, making it possible for larger churches in the diocese to expand their capacity at each celebration of the Mass.

Governor Ned Lamont issued Executive Order No. 10 on Thursday, February 4, removing the previous cap of 100 people for indoor religious gatherings. Under the modification of the state mandate, restrictions on religious gatherings have been eased to permit indoor capacity of up to—but not to exceed—50 percent.

In a memo to all priests, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano welcomed the modifications and emphasized that the easing of restrictions must be accompanied by maintaining existing safety protocols including wearing masks and providing seating that observes recommended social distancing—six feet of space in all directions between individuals or groups not from the same household during a liturgical celebration.

While larger churches in the diocese will be able to include more people at Mass, smaller church structures will likely not benefit from the expanded capacity change because they lack the space for adequate social distancing between pews.

The bishop said that in effect, this change means that every Church building will have its own, specific “maximum” capacity number dependent upon the actual seating capacity of the building. For most parishes that can seat people in every other pew, maximum capacity will likely range between twenty and twenty-five percent because of the social distancing restrictions that remain in place.

“If we wish to be successful in our future attempts to invite more people to return to Sunday Mass, it is imperative that we do everything in our power to maintain the safety of our people,” said Bishop Caggiano as he thanked pastors and priests for their patience and cooperation.

The Connecticut Catholic Conference, representing the Catholic dioceses of the state, issued a statement welcoming the expanded capacity policy.

“We view this new lifting of the cap on attendance at worship as an important step forward welcoming back more of our faithful to Mass and the sacraments. Freedom of religion is the most sacred of our God-given and constitutional rights… At the same time, we remain firmly committed to ensuring that all steps are taken to promote public health and safety.”

The Catholic Conference statement pointed out that Infections and related problems in Catholic parishes have been minimal due to the commitment to safety and the hard work of all concerned.

Holy Hour for Vocations Rescheduled for January 27th

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TRUMBULL- Among the seminarians of the Diocese of Bridgeport, there is a long-standing tradition that takes place at mealtimes. Everyone stands at their chair and, as we say grace together before our meal, we begin with this prayer:

Father, in your plan for our salvation, you provide shepherds for your people. Give your church the spirit of courage and charity. Raise up worthy priests for your altars and ardent but gentle servants of the Gospel. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Perhaps one of the greatest myths about vocations to the priesthood is that they just simply happen. We don’t often think about where priests come from until God forbid, there is no priest there when we need them. But we must begin to think about and pray for vocations before that day ever comes. As Jesus reminds us in the Gospel, “the harvest is abundant but the laborers are few, so pray to the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Luke 10:19).

On Wednesday, January 27th at 7:00 pm, faithful from around the Diocese will join Bishop Caggiano at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Trumbull to do just that: pray that the Lord sends an abundance of laborers to his vineyard in the Diocese of Bridgeport. During a time of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, we will pray that young men throughout our Diocese will be open to hearing the call that God has placed deep in their hearts to become the living instrument of His love and mercy that priests are formed to be. Perhaps more importantly, we will pray that God gives these young men the courage to echo the beautiful words of our Blessed Mother, “be it done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38)

Originally, the Holy Hour for Vocations was scheduled for early December but was postponed due to inclement weather.

There is no way around it: we need priests! So, we invite you to join us on the evening of January 27th to offer this time of prayer. Together, as the seminarians of our diocese have done each and every day, let us pray with fervent hearts that new shepherds may be raised up for the Church in Bridgeport.

Please observe all necessary social distancing requirements, and remember that masks are mandatory.

Pope Francis receives COVID-19 vaccine

The vaccination campaign against Covid-19 in the Vatican which began on Wednesday continues with both Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI receiving their first doses of the vaccine.

“I can confirm that as part of the vaccination program of the Vatican City State, as of today, the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine has been administered to Pope Francis and to the Pope Emeritus,” said Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office in response to journalists’ questions.

Pope Francis had announced during an interview with Italian television station Tg5 on Sunday that he planned to receive the vaccine this week.

The Pope referred to the vaccination as “an ethical action, because you are gambling with your health, you are gambling with your life, but you are also gambling with the lives of others.”

Private Secretary to Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, Bishop Georg Gaenswein, had also confirmed that the Pope emeritus would be vaccinated.

Story originally found on Vatican News.

Diocese releases Strategic Plan for Catholic Schools

BRIDGEPORT- The Diocese of Bridgeport has released the 2021-2024 Strategic Plan for Catholic Schools: “To Make All Things New.”

This strategic plan focuses on four strategic priorities including ensuring a vibrant Catholic identity,  fostering academic excellence,  and strengthening the operational vitality and financial stability of schools.

The report is the result of a three-year effort by the Strategic Plan Steering Committee composed of diocesan and non-diocesan leaders in areas of education, finance, marketing, and strategic planning who worked collaboratively with the school leadership and consulted with others throughout the diocese.

“My gratitude goes out to all who participated in the planning process and made this strategic plan possible. I am especially grateful to our Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Steven Cheeseman, and his team in the Office of the Superintendent, as well as the members of the Education Commission of the Diocese who spend countless hours supporting our schools with their expertise,” said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano.

The diocesan school system includes 25 elementary and high schools that educate over 7,000 students throughout Fairfield County.

Among the recommendations made in the report is the creation of an Operational Support Network (OSN) to centralize and streamline certain administrative tasks across schools in the diocese, the development of financial and viability plans for all schools, the introduction of new governance models, and a yearly assessment of the Catholic identity in the schools.

“It is my belief that the successful implementation of this plan will lead to long term and systemic change. Through a re-allocation of resources, redistribution of leadership responsibilities, and a reimagining of the ways in which our schools carry out administrative and management functions, our hope is that we can remove much of the burden our school leaders shoulder so that they can focus on nurturing an ever-improving faith-filled academic program,” the bishop said.

Dr. Steven Cheeseman, Superintendent of Diocesan Catholic Schools, said the plan enables the schools to think strategically about their future while remaining student-centered and faith-focused.

“As we look to our future, we must challenge some of the fundamental assumptions under which we operate in order to meet the changing dynamics of our world. We need to ensure that schools can be nimble and agile, and that school-based leadership has the capacity to anticipate and envision the future, maintain flexibility, think strategically, and engage the broader community. Most importantly, as we think strategically about our future, we must always remain student-centered, and faith focused.

He said that as the schools move into the future, one of the biggest challenges remains the financial stability of the diocesan system as it is currently configured.

“With a concern that the true economic impact of the pandemic has not yet been fully revealed, we have to reexamine the financial health of our schools to reimagine how we share resources and services across schools, how we determine funding strategies given the financial strains of our families, and how we determine the number and location of schools needed in the system given demographic shift and community engagement,” Dr. Cheeseman said.

A realistic strategic plan for growth supports the entire diocesan school system and encourages further investment in schools challenged by demographics or other serious impediments, he said.

“The current educational, social, and economic realities represent the context within which this plan was written and require us to take bold action. It is against that backdrop that this strategic plan, To Make All Things New has been developed,” Dr. Cheeseman said.

The Strategic Planning Committee developed the To Make All Things New plan based on four fundamental guiding principles:

  1. Above all else, schools must be “Catholic First”
  2. Schools must provide academically superior educational programs
  3. Schools must demonstrate the vitality and financial stability
  4. Community stakeholders, including staff, parents, pastors, and board members must work collaboratively and engage the wider community in support of the school

The Strategic planning process was led by the Education Commission of the Diocese of Bridgeport who work collaboratively with the Superintendent to provide students with an academically rigorous education rooted in the Catholic faith and to ensure the future viability and vitality of our Catholic schools.

Click here to read the full strategic plan.

Bishop resumes Public Ministry after quarantine

BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has resumed public ministry after quarantining for more than ten days following an initial positive test for coronavirus.

“My friends, thank you for your prayers, for your concern, and your support these past few days.  I wish to share with you good news: my quarantine period is over, and with two negative COVID-19 tests, I am back in full swing,” the bishop said after receiving his second negative test for the virus.

“Thank you again for your prayers, and know of mine for you, for your families, and for an end to this pandemic.”

Throughout his quarantine, he did not experience any symptoms and continued to work. However, he followed CDC guidelines to safeguard the lives of others until testing proved it was safe for him to return.

The bishop said he is very grateful for the prayers and well wishes he received from many people across the diocese.  He also asks for prayers for all those who have lost a loved one and those who are currently afflicted with the virus.

Just after Christmas the Diocese announced that the bishop had tested positive for Covid-19 during his regular weekly test of December 28. Consistent with CDC guidelines, he immediately went into quarantine and pursued follow-up testing.

News of the positive test was posted on the diocesan website and quickly spread throughout the region. During his time in quarantine, the bishop received many messages of prayerful support from the faithful

The results of his follow-up tests (PCR and antibody) taken on Wednesday, December 30 were negative and showed no antibodies to the virus. The Bishop was then advised to retake the PCR test the following week until he received a second negative result.

Bishop Caggiano was tested at the COVID-19 testing site located at Queen of Saints Hall in the Catholic Center, at 238 Jewett Avenue in Bridgeport.  The Diocese partnered with Progressive Diagnostics, LLC of Trumbull, a clinical medical laboratory, in response to the urgent need for more testing sites in Fairfield County. Working with Progressive Diagnostics, the Diocese has opened additional test sites at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Wilton and at Immaculate High School Retreat Center in Danbury.

The test sites are open to the general public. For information on Progressive Diagnostics test sites and appointments throughout Fairfield County, contact: https://progressive-diagnostics.com

Diocesan COVID-19 Policy: The Diocese has consistently followed and often exceeded all state and local recommendations and has also added a registration feature to Mass attendance, so that congregations can be notified if any who attended a service later becomes aware of a positive test. As a result, to date, there is no evidence of communal spread as a result of anyone attending Mass in the Diocese. 

For more information, updates, and a complete listing of Diocesan public health and safety measures in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, visit https://www.bridgeportdiocese.org/coronavirus/home/

The Dedication of Our Teachers

The dedication of teachers during this pandemic never ceases to amaze me. Take Margarita Nicolasa Sulugüí, a 4th-grade teacher from Guatemala, for example. I found out about her from Catholic Relief Services, which helps train teachers in her area.

When the pandemic made its way to her community, she decided to start visiting her students at home. Wearing a mask and carrying hand sanitizer, she visits 4 – 5 students per day, spending extra time with those who need additional help. Margarita gives her lessons in an open space – usually outside on a patio, on rocks, or under shady trees. After the visits, she makes herself available by phone for the parents who have questions about the homework. In the words of the parents, “Her visits are very good because we feel supported, we’re happy, we’re not alone.”

Let’s make sure we thank all of our teachers who are doing their best during this very difficult time. My special thanks to the teachers of our Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Bridgeport!

The previous reflection originally appeared on Bishop Frank Caggiano’s Facebook page. Follow the Bishop for daily reflections and weekly videos.

Statement on Violence in Washington, DC

There are few words that can describe the shock I feel to see our Capitol Building occupied by violent and unlawful rioters earlier today. As Americans, we should be deeply disturbed to see such an important symbol of freedom and liberty in our nation violated in such a way. Our nation is better than such behavior.

The peaceful transfer of power is one of the most important and revered aspects of our democracy. We must recommit ourselves to the values we hold dear as Americans: democracy, freedom, and peace. As people of faith we condemn violence in all its forms as a moral betrayal of the Gospel. We also know that our nation needs prayer, now more than ever, so that we may always remain one nation, under God.

In that spirit, please join me tonight in praying for the United States during this unprecedented and frightening time in our history. Let us pray for peace in our communities, in our capital, in our Country, but most of all, in our own hearts.

The previous reflection originally appeared on Bishop Frank Caggiano’s Facebook page. Follow the Bishop for daily reflections and weekly videos.

We need to persevere until the tide turns

As I begin my seventh day of quarantine, I am grateful to the Lord that I have not developed any symptoms associated with the coronavirus. Unfortunately, a number of dear friends have recently contacted me by text or email and told me that they have received both a positive test result and also begun to experience some severe side effects from the virus. My heart goes out to them and their families. Let us continue to keep everyone who has been afflicted by this terrible disease in our prayers.

Given the fact that many who have recently contracted the Coronavirus fell ill through small gatherings that they attended at Christmastime, I urge everyone to remain vigilant in doing all that we can to protect ourselves and our families against this terrible disease. I recognize that we are all weary of what has become our ”new” way of life: wearing masks, socially distancing and frequently washing our hands. However, in those settings when we do not follow these protocols, precisely in small gatherings with family and friends, is when many have fallen ill. We need to persevere until the tide turns and this terrible disease is vanquished from our midst.

Please be assured of my daily prayers for all of you, your family and friends.

The previous reflection originally appeared on Bishop Frank Caggiano’s Facebook page. Follow the Bishop for daily reflections and weekly videos.

An Update from Bishop Frank

My dear friends, I am so deeply grateful for all the emails and texts you have sent me offering prayers as I begin my quarantine. I deeply appreciate your kindness and support. Thankfully, I remain asymptomatic which is very encouraging.

For those who join me for the electronic celebration of Mass, I am sorry that I will be unable to offer Mass until my quarantine is over. However, be assured of a remembrance in my own prayers as I celebrate Eucharist in private for the next ten days.

Finally, let us continue to pray for everyone who has been affected by the scourge of this pandemic in any way, especially those who are sick and our health care workers who care for them. May the Lord grant the sick a full and complete recovery and continued protection and well-being for all our health care workers.

Best wishes for a Blessed, Joyful, and Healthy New Year to you and your families.

The previous reflection originally appeared on Bishop Frank Caggiano’s Facebook page. Follow the Bishop for daily reflections and weekly videos.

Statement of the Diocese concerning Bishop Caggiano

(Read the updated status of Bishop Caggiano published Sunday, January 3, 2021.)

The Diocese of Bridgeport announced today that Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

Bishop Caggiano is asymptomatic and feels well. However, he will observe a 10-day quarantine consistent with CDC guidelines. As a result, he will not engage in public ministry or attend any previously scheduled events during this time.

Because his ministry takes him to different parishes throughout the Diocese, Bishop Caggiano has been undergoing weekly testing as a safety protocol. His weekly test on Monday, December 28 yielded a positive result (of which he learned on Wednesday, December 30) and he immediately went into quarantine.

On Wednesday, December 30, Bishop Caggiano was re-tested with both the PCR test and the antibody blood test and he is awaiting results.

Bishop Caggiano was tested at the COVID-19 testing site located at Queen of Saints Hall in the Catholic Center, at 238 Jewett Avenue in Bridgeport.  The Diocese partnered with Progressive Diagnostics, LLC of Trumbull, a clinical medical laboratory, in response to the urgent need for more testing sites in Fairfield County. Working with Progressive Diagnostics, the Diocese has opened additional test sites at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Wilton and at Immaculate High School Retreat Center in Danbury. (New sites are expected to open soon.)

The test sites are open to the general public. For information on Progressive Diagnostics test sites and appointments throughout Fairfield County, contact: https://progressive-diagnostics.com

Diocesan COVID-19 Policy: The Diocese has consistently followed and often exceeded all state and local recommendations and has also added a registration feature to Mass attendance, so that congregations can be notified if any who attended a service later becomes aware of a positive test. As a result, to date, there is no evidence of communal spread as a result of anyone attending Mass in the Diocese. 

The Diocese asks for prayers for Bishop Caggiano and for all those throughout the Diocese who are afflicted by the virus, those who have lost loved ones, and for the many people suffering from anxiety related to the pandemic.

For more information, updates, and a complete listing of Diocesan public health and safety measures in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, visit https://www.bridgeportdiocese.org/coronavirus/home/