Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

Articles By: Renee Stamatis

Parishes step up participation in ACA

During the COVID-19 lockdown, Father Norbert Siwinski O.F.M., pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Church in Bridgeport, discovered parishioners he never had before—from all over the world.

As part of his strategy to reach out to his faith community through Facebook and live-stream Masses in English and Polish, he touched many more people worldwide.

“Now, I have two parishes—in Bridgeport and our online visitors,” he said. “It’s so nice for me, like a big family. There are people from Texas and Arizona, where they don’t have Polish-speaking parishes, who come to pray with us.” Not to mention visitors from as far away as Lithuania, United Kingdom, Germany and Russia. In fact, the St. Michael Facebook page has 1,000 followers.

The enthusiasm he brings to his job as pastor for the past two years is evident. He came to America after being the pastor of a German church outside Cologne for 14 years. Father, who is half Lithuanian and half Polish, grew up in Poland.

A year ago, St. Michael’s celebrated its 120th anniversary, and for most of that time, it was a Franciscan-run parish, which today attracts visitors from all over the state, including German-speaking people who come to Father for their confessions. The only other German-speaking priest is in Boston, he says.

Father Norbert is especially proud that his parish raised more than 80 percent of its goal for the Annual Catholic Appeal.

“It was a really hard year for our parish because of COVID-19, and we had to find new solutions,” he said. “We couldn’t celebrate in the church, so I started doing Facebook live-streaming every day with evening Mass and prayer services. We are a Polish-American church, and this has become a meeting place for Polish-speaking people and many visitors come to be with us online.”

St. Michael’s also has a YouTube channel with sermons and songs, which Father calls, “a piece of home for Polish people in America.”

“For me, the Annual Appeal is very important; it is part of our identity,” he said. “While we are a Polish-American family, we are also part of the diocese. We have our own traditions and liturgy, but we belong to the Diocese of Bridgeport.”

Participation is key

Joe Gallagher, chief development officer of the diocese, said that over 11,270 generous donors have made over 13,700 gifts to the appeal, raising $7 million.

Gallagher said that Mass attendance restrictions with the limited ability to attend services in person is effecting the Appeal performance in dioceses across the U.S.

“Many dioceses are seeing a 30 percent reduction in the overall goal achievement, we have achieved 77 percent of the goal and it continues to grow,” said Gallagher who believes the response has been above the national average because of the bishop’s leadership during the crisis.

“Participation is key, not just for this year but for the future,” says Gallagher. “Our bishop has made it clear that we’re all in this together and that we’re facing extraordinary needs. There is still time to join those who have responded to the bishop’s call and given so generously,” he said.

For Gallagher who joined the diocese in August, this year’s ACA is his first and he says he is encouraged by enthusiastic response by donors and the parishes who are nearing or have already achieved goal. He said the leadership of pastors is one of the most significant factors in a parish’s response to the ACA.

St. Elizabeth Seton, Ridgefield

Father Joseph Prince, pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Ridgefield, who will be celebrating his 50th anniversary as a priest next year and 25 years in his parish, believes his faith community has an astute awareness of the mission of the universal Church.

“It’s not only that we think and care about our own needs in the parish, but our people also stand up to help meet the needs of the people in the universal church,” he said. “They are always generous and ready to contribute in any way possible. They are just lovely people.”

Father, who was ordained in India and served three years in that country before coming to America, said his parishioners are very active in charitable works and they volunteer regularly at the Dorothy Day Hospitality House in Danbury. They also have an active outreach in the community, collecting coats and clothes for the needy, contributing to food panties and conducting a Christmas gift drive for Blessed Sacrament Parish in Bridgeport.
“They are always looking to help people and extend Christian charity to others,” he said.

St. Elizabeth Seton Parish raised more than 82 percent of its goal in the Annual Catholic Appeal. Father said, “I just really want to thank my people for their wonderful love and affirmation of my ministry in the parish and give special thanks to Bishop Caggiano for all he has done.”

Despite the limits on Mass attendance and the need to live-stream, Father said that the offertory is holding steady and many people are giving online or through the mail.

Reflecting on the role of the parish priest during times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, “We are always there for them. Before every Mass and after every Mass, we greet people. We are present in their lives and always ready to serve them in any way possible.”
St. Margaret Mary, Shelton

Father Ciprian Bejan, pastor of St. Margaret Mary Church in Shelton, applauds his parishioners for raising 113 percent of the parish goal in the Annual Catholic Appeal.

“They are very generous; they give generously even though they are not wealthy people,” he said. “And they understand the importance of giving.”

Father said that he conducted a silent appeal. “With COVID-19 and the restrictions, I didn’t really push too much, but I mentioned the appeal to them.”

The success was gratifying, and he attributes it to their appreciation and understanding of what the appeal does.

“During the past two years, I mentioned its importance and what we do and how much can happen when we join our resources on the parish level with the diocese,” he said. “They were made aware about the good things the Catholic Church does with our money.”
He said his parishioners are also very generous with their time in charitable activities and volunteer work in the area.

“We made people aware that in addition to helping others in need throughout the diocese, they also come back to the parish,” he said. “And while COVID-19 has been challenging, with their generosity, we have been able to cover our expenses and parish life continues to move forward without having to worry about the lack of resources.”

St. Margaret Shrine, Bridgeport

Deacon Don Faust, administrator of St. Margaret Shrine, said he is constantly overwhelmed by the generosity of those who form the community of faith at the shrine located about a mile from the Catholic Center in Bridgeport. Presently, the Shrine has achieved 99 percent of its goal with nearly a 30 percent participation rate, one of the highest in the diocese.

“They’re just unbelievably generous, no matter what we ask for,” said Deacon Faust, who is grateful and proud of the response he and Father Giandomenico Flora have received as they’ve presided over the revival and restoration of the Shrine, which now draws visitors from all over the region.

The deacon is also quick to share credit for the Shrine’s high participation rate with super volunteer Angelo Cocco.

“He is just so devoted to the ACA and puts his heart into it. Angelo speaks at all of the Masses, and he is really one of the reasons for our success.”

Deacon Faust said that St. Margaret Shrine has developed into a caring and diverse worship community with about 375 people attending Mass each weekend. Masses are held outside when the weather permits and in the Shrine’s small chapel.

One other reason for success is the empathy of people for each other and an awareness that many are in need.

“We have a number of people who are suffering, even here at the Shrine. When we determined our goals last year, we allotted additional money for outreach to help with tuitions, gifts cards, and the Food Bank. As a result our people know the importance of the ACA and its ability to reach others throughout the diocese, and they’re committed to supporting it.”

Pamela S. Rittman, director of the Annual Catholic Appeal for the diocese, said the demand for services increased significantly during the COVID-19 crisis, and it continues today because of job losses, homelessness, the death of loved ones and the need for counseling.

“This is where the Annual Catholic Appeal is so important,” she said. “A gift of $5, $20 or larger, no matter the amount, makes a difference.”

Rittman said “When we think about Thanksgiving and what we are grateful for and when we look forward to Advent and Christmas in these challenging times, remember there are many people who are in worse situations, who depend on the diocese for their daily meal, for online Masses and prayer services, and for faith and formation programs. Parents of children who receive tuition assistance from the Bishop’s Scholarship Fund or who are now in need of funding receive help from the Appeal. It is a vital ministry to assist our parishioners and community as Christ calls us to do so.

Please help Bishop Caggiano assist our neighbors and friends and a make a pledge at www.2020ACABridgeport.com, text the word APPEAL to 475.241.7849, or call 203.416.1470 and someone will help you make your special gift. Does your company participate in a matching gift program? Your gift may be doubled or tripled. Please call the Development Office at 203.416.1312 for instructions on how to make the most of your generosity.

By Joe Pisani

Bishop issues Decrees on Confirmation and Cathedraticum

BRIDGEPORT—On Tuesday May 4, 2021 Bishop Caggiano issued Decrees on the Cathedraticum assessment for parishes and Confirmation on Pentecost Sunday.

His Cathedraticum decree announces that the current tax assessment (commonly known as the Cathedraticum) for parishes (including quasi-parishes and shrines) of the diocese has been modified in this way: “Proceeds from the sale of any parish property will be classified as ordinary income for the fiscal year in which the proceeds are received, subjecting it to the diocesan tax assessment. In addition, solely for the fiscal year 2021-22, the method by which the assessment is calculated will be modified based on a three year average (fiscal years 2018, 2019 and 2020).”

The Confirmation decree delegates Pastors (or those equal to Pastors by law) of the Diocese of Bridgeport to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation, on anyone eighteen years or older who is properly instructed and has already been baptized and received Holy Communion. This special grant is only for the above-mentioned faithful who will be present at the celebration of Pentecost Sunday in their respective parish, in accord with c. 885, §2

Click to read the decrees in full:

Cathedraticum Decree
Decree for the Sacrament of Confirmation

Technology grant is life-saver for Blessed Sacrament

BRIDGEPORT—When Father Skip Karcsinski looks back on the challenges Blessed Sacrament Church confronted during the COVID lockdown, he says they would have been insurmountable if his parish did not receive a grant from Foundations in Faith to overhaul its technology and communications systems.

So many problems that had been endurable before quickly reached crisis proportions with the pandemic, or as Father Skip puts it, “COVID changed everything.”

The parish phone system was completely outdated and couldn’t receive or leave messages. A former employee, now deceased, who had worked at the church 18 years ago had recorded the prompts … and nothing had changed in almost 20 years.

Because the outdated parish technology was linked together, Blessed Sacrament needed a complete overhaul of the phones, alarm system, office computers, software, Internet, doorbells, security system and cameras…not to mention the website. In addition, the pandemic made it necessary to live-stream services and conduct religious education classes online with Zoom. The list was a long one, and the project took nine months.

“That’s how bad our situation was,” he recalls. “They asked me, ‘How can you possibly function like this?’ You see, we are a very hands-on parish, and our people prefer to visit in person rather than use the phone. We functioned well enough until COVID. This grant changed everything. It was providential and allowed us to continue to serve our people during very difficult circumstances.”

Blessed Sacrament is the first church in the Diocese of Bridgeport to receive the Francis Xavier Technology & Communication Enhancement Grant for missionary parishes, from Foundations in Faith, which is supported by the We Stand With Christ Campaign.

Kelly Weldon, director of Foundations in Faith, said: “This was a huge success for us. The Blessed Sacrament team dug deep and embraced technology and all the learning and changes that go along with a significant upgrade. They were willing to step out of their comfort zone and the results speak for themselves.”

Weldon said that because of the pandemic, pastors had to shift gears quickly and embrace a lot of new technology that would let them connect with their parishioners and bring Mass into their homes. Those who had never before filled out an online form suddenly found themselves live-streaming Mass to hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

“Our parishes with financial burdens—our missionary parishes—did not have the technology they needed to do this,” she said. “And Joe Sindelar, vice chairman of Foundations in Faith and the board advocate of the St. Francis Xavier Fund, recognized the importance of getting Mass live-streamed everywhere in the diocese.”

The project was undertaken by Liz Tamarkin and her company Newfound Consulting LLC, which assessed the scope of the upgrade and implemented the changes with the parish team.

“Each grant application begins with an in-depth interview to get to know the parish community, how they like to communicate, and understand where the parish is currently with their technology infrastructure and use,” Tamarkin said. “I have been amazed at how these pastors push forward with things like phone systems that haven’t worked in years, staff members without computers, or a church with a broken sound system. The SFX Fund allows these burdens to be lifted and makes it easier for the pastors and their administrative team to serve their community.”

Father Skip said everything that interfered with the life of the parish because of COVID was greatly remedied by the grant and the new technology.

“We even had a couple of Zoom retreats, which have been great fun, and the children are still receiving religious education online, which is overseen by Karen Soares-Robinson our director of religious education,” he said.

And while the children adapted quickly to the technological changes, Father Skip concedes that he and his staff “needed a lot of tutoring and mentoring and some personnel help, which the grant provided.”

The parish was also able to bring on a retired educator, Natalie Foust, to work with ParishSOFT, a church management software that interfaces with the diocese.

“We are coming along, and we needed a lot of patience,” he says, “so we’re very grateful to Liz and her team.”

Father Skip, who has been a priest 42 years and pastor for nine, said he is especially grateful for the grant from Foundations in Faith and the patience of the people who completed the work over a period of nine months.

“They were troopers,” he said. “It was more involved and complicated than they anticipated.”

“I compliment the SFX committee on looking at a full approach to helping these parishes move forward, which includes training and support,” Tamarkin said. “They understand that putting new hardware in place will only benefit the parish if the pastor and staff understand how to integrate it into their daily use. They also understand that ongoing training and support allows the parish team to grow in their use of the technology. I’ve really enjoyed seeing eyes light up when a team member learns how much time their new skills are going to save them or how to collaborate with their team to work together.”

And what about that antiquated phone system?

Tamarkin said that the new phone system allows people to call at any time and get the information they need from the auto-attendant on everything from Mass and Confession times to cancelations and parish events, in both English and Spanish. They can also leave messages for the parish staff, which is especially important when office hours are limited.

Tamarkin and her team have now begun work at St. George Church in Bridgeport, which will be followed by St. Mary of Stamford Parish.

The St. Francis Xavier grants are available to “missionary parishes,” which Weldon defined as those that are vibrant in their communities with strong pastoral and lay leadership, and excellent ministries and outreach. They are in urban environments and dealing with socioeconomic burdens.

“We are in constant contact with our missionary parishes about their needs,” Weldon said. “When they express a need that falls under technology and communications, the program is explained to them. This is so important because every pastor and every parish deserves to have the same quality and ability to connect with parishioners and share the good news about the work they are doing.”

Weldon urges anyone who would like to donate or support the St. Francis Xavier Technology & Communication Grants or other initiatives of Foundations in Faith to contact her at kelly.weldon@foundationsinfaith.org.

Diocese offers help to apply for FEMA aid for COVID burials

TRUMBULL—The Diocese of Bridgeport is reaching out to the families who had a loved one die of COVID-19 last year to let them know they can receive up to $9000 for related funeral expenses from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We see this as an opportunity to reach out to the families of the 1600 people we buried last year to inform them,” said Dean Gestal, the Director of Catholic Cemeteries. “We can identify 350 we know died of COVID, and there are obviously many more who will be able to recoup some money for funeral expenses and burials.”

In addition, a letter will go out from Bishop Frank J. Caggiano for pastors to read and publish in their parish bulletins, announcing the FEMA program.

Gestal’s office is also sending letters to the 1600 families that buried a loved one in the Catholic cemeteries during 2020 to explain the requirements to obtain the financial assistance.

He said the Catholic Cemeteries Office of the Diocese of Bridgeport is available to assist with any burial information required to file for this assistance, as well as discuss and plan for future needs. (For more information, visit: bridgeportdiocese.org/fema or call the Catholic Cemeteries office at 203.416.1494 or email dtotten@diobpt.org.)

The new FEMA program provides up to $9,000 for COVID-19 related funeral expenses incurred between January 20, 2020 and December 31, 2020.

You must meet the following conditions to be eligible:

  • The death must have occurred in the United States, including the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.
  • The death certificate must indicate the death was attributed to COVID-19.
  • The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, noncitizen national or qualified alien who incurred funeral expenses after Jan. 20, 2020. (There is no requirement for the deceased person to have been a U.S. citizen, noncitizen national or qualified alien).

FEMA will reimburse families up to $9,000 for COVID-related funeral and burial costs; however, different factors will determine who is eligible to receive the full amount or a portion of the funds.

Before applications open up in April, FEMA recommends those who may be eligible gather the following documentation:

  • An official death certificate that attributes the death directly or indirectly to COVID-19 and shows that the death occurred in the U.S., including the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. (You can obtain one by contacting the State Vital Records Office or vital records office where the death occurred. Sometimes a cemetery, funeral home, or a third-party provider can also request this information).
  • Documents that detail funeral expenses, such as receipts, cemetery contract, funeral home contract, etc. They must include the applicant’s name, the deceased person’s name, the amount of funeral expenses, and the dates the funeral expenses were incurred.
  • Proof of funds received from other sources specifically for use toward funeral costs. FEMA will not duplicate benefits received from burial or funeral insurance, financial assistance received from voluntary agencies, government agencies or other sources.

Immaculate High School to Light The Way for Students at 16th Annual Gala

DANBURY—Immaculate High School will be hosting their 16th annual Gala on May 1, 2021 at 7 pm. This year, the gala will be held virtually and everyone is invited to attend! In lieu of admission or ticket prices, Immaculate is asking everyone to become a sponsor at any level. Sponsorship options can be found at immaculatehs.org/gala. In traditional fashion, Immaculate will be honoring two members of their community with the Nancy K. Dolan Leadership Award and the Distinguished Service Award.

Brian P. McGovern, a member of the Immaculate Class of 1989, is the recipient of the Nancy K. Dolan Leadership Award. Brian stayed active in the Immaculate community after graduating by helping to plan the Class of 1989 reunions and furthered his involvement in 2009 by becoming a member of the school’s Advisory Board. In this role, he was able to lead the initiative to bring better technology such as projectors and laptops into the classrooms. He also the Immaculate Alumni Association, which keeps graduates of the school in close communication with happenings at Immaculate. Brian is presently a General Manager at Miratech, overseeing the company’s industry leading workflow management products that deliver business results across a variety of industries.

John G. Capilli, Sr. is the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award for his commitment to Immaculate High School as a member of the community for the past eleven years. Along with being aparent of Cara ‘14 and Johnny Jr. ‘17, John has continued to serve on the Mustang All Sports Club (MASC), the Annual Golf Outing Committee and is a member of the School Advisory Board. He has also been a generous sponsor of numerous athletics fundraising events, the Tuition Assistance Program, Annual Golf Outing and Annual Gala. John is the Division President of Classic Equipment Services, Inc., a subsidiary of Vault Structures, Inc. out of Fort Myers, Florida and Cedarville, New Jersey.

The theme of this year’s gala is Light the Way and will feature a virtual silent auction, a $10,000 cash raffle and more! For more information and to become a sponsor, visit immaculatehs.org/gala.

Service Project Thanking Grade A Employees

STAMFORD—On Tuesday, March 30, sixth graders at The Catholic Academy of Stamford prepared thank you cards and small care packages for the employees at Grade A market on Newfield Avenue. Each student assembled and personalized bags that contain mints, tissues, tea bags, chapsticks, pretzels, granola bars and other goodies along with a note from the students.

The classroom mom spoke to the manager at Grade A and said the employees were very appreciative and thankful that the students want to acknowledge and thank the employees for their hard work while we all stayed home during last year’s lockdown and during this year’s continued restrictions. It can be a thankless job sometimes. Grade A is located right down the road from The Catholic Academy of Stamford so many families are patrons at Grade A and wanted to say thank you. Grade A employs many town locals who have made a career there and Grade A currently has 126 employees.

The classroom mother will deliver the bags to Grade A market on Thursday, April 1.

A young woman finds Christ and her life changes

FAIRFIELD—When Paola Peña looks back on her faith journey, she recognizes the spiritual signposts along the way, when Jesus was leading her from darkness into light. It was a journey that began in an alcoholic home and led to years of atheism and New Age practices…until the moment when, she says, “God resurrected my heart.”

Today, Paola is director of Student Ministries at St. Pius X Parish in Fairfield, overseeing programs for young Catholics. She defines her role quite simply as “somebody who wants to save souls with Jesus.” And she believes her story can help them during these troubled times.

The oldest of four daughters, Paola was born and raised in Stamford. During her early years, she went to Mass with her family at the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist, but her religious life stopped at 10 years old and was followed by a descent into New Age spirituality and atheism.

“I grew up in an alcoholic home,” she says. “There wasn’t peace or order, and you were always on edge, waiting for the next instance of abuse. It caused a lot of anxiety for me and my sisters, and by the time I was ten, my parents split for the third and final time.”

Her mother, an immigrant from Colombia, worked as a housekeeper and was given custody of the children.

“We grew up in poverty and on welfare. There were a lot of challenges because my mom was a single mom,” she said. “By the time I was 16, I had settled on the thought that this was going to be my life. There was no hope. Everyone was suffering silently, and you learned to repress it, because if you mentioned it to my mom, she would take it as something against her.”

Despite her sense of despair, Paola excelled in school and was inducted into the National Honor Society at Stamford High School.

“I realized it was my only way out,” she said. “School was the only thing I had going for me, and I used it to escape from my home life.”

The vacuum in her spiritual life was being filled with New Age beliefs. By high school, she was immersed in a culture that was characterized by tarot cards and spells. She says studies have shown that young people from broken homes commonly turn to New Age spiritualism.

Her family no longer practiced the Catholic faith, and for the most part, she was ignorant of its teachings even though she was familiar with the Blessed Virgin Mary. Furthermore, she thought of God as a supreme being whose primary preoccupation was keeping a list of her transgressions.

“The God I was introduced to was a god who had a list of your sins,” she recalled. “And I wasn’t going to believe in a god who was a dictator or a tyrant. I had a great disdain for Catholicism by this time. I wanted nothing to do with God, and the more I got into the occult, the greater my hatred for Christianity.”

Then, something happened, something she describes as “a moment of grace.”

When she was 16, her mother took the girls to Mass at St. Benedict-Our Lady of Monserrat Parish in Stamford. While they were sitting in the front pew, sunlight began pouring through the stained glass windows, illuminating the sanctuary in a yellow glow.

“I felt the light penetrating me,” she recalled. “It did something inside of me, and I started to cry. I felt what I had pushed down in my heart for so long. At that Mass, I received a very particular grace, and it made me start to feel again.”

During this time, she had been tormented by a recurring nightmare in which she was running through a city on fire.

“I was running away from something demonic, a dark being,” she said. “Then, I got stuck in an alleyway as it was pursuing me, when suddenly the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared. At that moment, I had no idea who she was, but she said to my heart, ‘God does not want this for you. Do you want to stop?’ And I responded by grabbing her hand, which was extended to me.”

The Blessed Virgin’s words penetrated her heart.

“I realized God exists and that the way I was living did not have to be my life,” she said.

She woke up weeping at 4 in the morning and knew God was real and that he had a plan for her life. She also felt a tremendous weight had been lifted off her shoulders. From that time, she began to learn more about the Blessed Virgin Mary and what it means to be a Catholic.

After graduating from Stamford High School, she enrolled in the University of Vermont’s environmental studies program. When she arrived on campus, she was introduced to the Catholic Center and began to regularly attend Mass.

At her first liturgy, she was moved by the reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans in which he said, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then, you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

When Paola returned the following week, she heard the Gospel of the Prodigal Son.

“I just don’t ever remember hearing it before,” she said. “It seemed like it was being read for me, and I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness. I’m a prodigal daughter.’”

At the university, she was also introduced to the Focus Missionaries—the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, which is an organization that brings the Gospel to students through collegiate outreach. Paola became friends with one of them named Jackie, who is now a Sister of Life.

“She mentored me and invited me to her Bible study and taught me how to pray,” she recalls. “I was overcome by the witness of the people at the Catholic Center. They just glowed they were so happy, while I only had anxiety. There was no peace in my heart, so I stuck around because I wanted what they had. At the time, I didn’t realize it was Jesus.”

She attended Mass and Eucharistic adoration and signed up for RCIA classes, and in November of her freshman year, she went to confession for the first time in a long time.

“After 11 years, I finally received Jesus in the state of grace,” she said. “Then, when we were at adoration and I started opening the Bible, I heard a voice say, ‘Look up.’ I looked up and my eyes fixated on the monstrance, and my heart was on fire. It was a consuming fire. Physically, I was enveloped by this fire. I walked out thinking that it would go away…but it didn’t.” The experience lasted 90 minutes.

“I thought God was too good to be true, and that this was going to end because I was so used to broken promises,” she said.

During counseling sessions with a priest on campus, she learned that our earthly father often becomes our image of God the Father, and in order to heal she had to revisit the woundedness and brokenness that defined her childhood.

“It was the only way to heal and invite the Lord to reveal to me where he was,” she said. “I learned that during all those years of pain, he had been there, suffering with me. Before I didn’t know that Jesus suffers with us and that when I am hurting, he is hurting.”

During a retreat, a priest prayed over her for healing and to free her from any effects caused by her involvement with the occult.

“Now, I live in the belief that I am a daughter of the King,” she says.

She later joined the Focus Missionaries and was involved in their ministry at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut for three years. In 2015, Father Samuel Kachuba, pastor of St. Pius X in Fairfield offered her a job as a full-time youth minister.

“Just to see the fruits that have happened in the last five years and to be able to walk with people in their stories has been so beautiful,” she says. “Especially to see them enter into a place of surrender…because Jesus desires their peace and surrender.”

Now, her mission is to go out and invite people into a personal relationship with Christ so they can be saved.

“Heaven and hell are very real things, and I can’t imagine doing anything with my life other than preaching the Gospel,” she says. “It is very clear to me that I will be working with the Church for the rest of my life. The Lord is taking care of me. God has transformed my life and resurrected my heart. He has revealed his glory through my life story.”

Rice Bowl: putting something aside for the poor

BRIDGEPORT—The Lenten Rice Bowl program with its familiar Rice Bowl donation boxes began on Ash Wednesday, February 17, in all parishes throughout the diocese.

The CRS Rice Bowl has become  a staple on the table of Catholic families across the country during Lent. The colorful cardboard box is a tool for collecting Lenten alms—and comes with a Lenten calendar that guides families through the 40 days of Lent with activities, reflections and stories.

The Rice Bowl campaign is sponsored by Catholic Relief Services, the Church’s official relief and development agency of the United States Catholic Bishops. It  provides emergency assistance and global humanitarian aid to those in need.

“The number of those who face food insecurity, a lack of clean drinking water or adequate housing has dramatically increased because of the disruptions caused by the pandemic,” said Bishop Caggino, who serves as chairman of the board of CRS.

“During the most difficult and trying time in the lives of people around the globe, I urge people to put something aside for the poorest and most vulnerable in the world. It is a Lenten sacrifice that will bring hope and sustenance to many of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters,” Bishop Caggiano said.

Once again this year, Bishop Caggiano has asked Father Michael Boccaccio, director of Pontifical Mission Societies Office of the diocese, to coordinate this year’s Lenten Rice Bowl effort.

Father Boccaccio said Catholics in the United States have the ability to turn Lenten sacrifice into a gift. By giving something up, like that daily cup of coffee and putting the money into the Rice Bowl donation box, they can feed the hungry across the world.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our entire world. Even in the US, we have seen food lines expanding and food pantries emptying. Joblessness is historic and many families have lived with suffering and death.”

“This is an opportunity to walk in the sandals of our faith family in the developing world. Hunger, thirst, illness, homelessness, etc. are everyday realities under ‘normal’ conditions—let alone the constant threat of being imprisoned, persecuted and killed,” he said.

Father Boccaccio said donations make a difference overseas and here in the United States, with 75 percent going to CRS programming in targeted countries and the remaining 25 percent staying in the diocese to feed the hungry.

“I encourage you to participate in this most important program and invite your parishioners to do the same,” said Father Michael Boccaccio in a recent letter.

Father Boccaccio has asked people across the diocese to invite co-workers, family, friends and neighbors to check with your parish or school to find out when CRS Rice Bowls will be distributed.

Lenten Rice Bowl materials are also available and free in English and Spanish at: crsricebowl.org or crsplatodearroz.org. People can also send donations directly to the Pontifical Mission Office of the Diocese of Bridgeport, 238 Jewett Avenue in Bridgeport, 06606.

(For more information, please contact Father Boccaccio at: frboccaccio@diobpt.org or: 203.416.1447.)

Rev. Joseph F. Palacino, 93

TRUMBULL—Reverend Joseph F. Palacino, age 93, of Trumbull passed away peacefully on Tuesday, December 1, 2020 at Bridgeport Hospital.

Ordained at age 55, after serving his country as a veteran of two wars, working as a chemist and running owning his own market, Father Palacino is remembered for his kindness, compassion and willingness to accompany others on their journey of faith.

“Father Palacino had a long, remarkable and blessed life, and equally important he was a blessing to all those who knew him and were served by his gracious and loving ministry,” said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano. “We should all live so well, so long, so faithfully as Father Joe.”

Father Palacino is best remembered by many parishioners of St. Jerome Parish in Norwalk, where he served his final assignment. In a beautiful tribute to Father Paladino published in the December 26, 2020 parish bulletin, Father Dave Blanchfield, retired pastor of St. Jerome’s, fondly recalled Father Palacino’s courage, kindness and decency.

“Although when he came to us he was already 67, he stayed working as a full time priest for another 21 years. Our retirement age is 75, but Father Joe loved the people of St. Jerome so much that he stayed on until health issues at age 88 forced him to retire,” said Father David Blanchfield, who continues to live in residence at the parish.

“A turning point in his life was when he was drafted for the second of two wars. After already serving as a sailor during the last days of World War II, he was again drafted as a soldier in the Korean conflict. As part of God’s plan and because he was a practicing Catholic, he was assigned to guard the Catholic chaplain when he was giving what we then called ‘the last rites’ to soldiers on the battlefield. In those moments, he got to see both the power of the Sacraments as well as the difference a priest can make in people’s lives,” said Father Blanchfield.

Father Palacino was born in Bridgeport on June 14, 1927, a son of the late Luigi Palacino and Provvidenza (Allegra) Palacino. Father Palacino is survived by his loving sister, Mary Grace Corica, of Trumbull and a devoted brother, Frank Palacino and his wife Martha, of Ocala, Fla., as well as many loving nieces, nephews, great-nieces and nephews and great-great-nieces and nephews.

He was also predeceased by three brothers, Liborio, Salvatore and Angelo Palacino. Father Palacino was educated at Central High School in Bridgeport before serving honorably in both the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy. He later graduated from Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. and was proud to be a 4th degree member of the Knights of Columbus, Assembly 100 of Norwalk for many years.

Throughout his life, Father Palacino had many occupations, including owner of Palacino’s Market and he was a chemist for nearly 20 years before he embraced his calling as a priest.

Father Palacino studied Theology at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corner, Wis., before being ordained to the priesthood by the Most Reverend Walter W. Curtis at St. Augustine Cathedral, Bridgeport on December 4, 1982.

After his ordination, Father Palacino first served as parochial vicar of St. Joseph Church in Shelton. In 1987, he was transferred to St. Augustine Cathedral Parish. In 1994, Father Palacino moved to his last assignment, St. Jerome in Norwalk, where he continued to serve even after his retirement.

Father Palacino’s body was received at St. Jerome Church to lie in repose. Parishioners and friends observed social distance guidelines and greeted the family. A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on Monday, December 7, by Bishop Caggiano. Interment with military honors followed in Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Trumbull.

Memorial contributions may be made to St. Jerome Church or Father Joe Appalachian Project Scholarship c/o Notre Dame High School, 220 Jefferson St., Fairfield, CT 06825.


Editor’s Note: Fairfield County Catholic regrets the inadvertent omission of Father Palacino’s obituary in the January issue of the paper. We are proud to remember this remarkable priest servant who brought the healing of Christ to so many people in the diocese.

Immaculate Students Win Scholastic Art and Writing Awards

DANBURY—Six Immaculate High School students had their work recognized and awarded at the annual Connecticut Regional Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is the nation’s longest-running, most prestigious recognition program for creative teens. Teens in grades 7-12 can apply in 28 categories of art and writing, and submissions are judged regionally and nationally by panels of creative industry experts.

Regional Art Awards were presented to Brooke Squitieri ‘21 who received an honorable mention in the drawing and illustration category for her piece “Discriminating Digits”; Anna Kopec ‘23 who received a Silver Key in the drawing and illustration category for her piece “Tiger King”; and Olivia Esposito ‘23 who received an Honorable Mention in the design category for her piece “Trivia Tile Game”. Student artwork is juried by professional artists and university art faculty and is selected on merit for inclusion in a state-wide art exhibition that is traditionally held at the Hartford Art School. Beyond the honor of being selected for this high quality exhibit, students may be awarded Gold or Silver keys and Honorable Mention Awards in each of 18 media categories. Students whose art pieces were recognized in the 2021 Regional Art Awards will be honored at a virtual celebration with winners from other schools on February 26. A virtual gallery of all the entries can be viewed here.

In the Regional Writing Awards, Spencer Squitieri ‘21 with his essay “Finding the Words for Why,” Zachary Meyerson ‘21 with his essay “More In Common” and Caitlin Doherty ‘21 with her essay “Unspoken” all received Silver Keys in the personal essay & memoir category. Annually, over 1,500 students from across Connecticut submit entries vividly demonstrating their passion for the craft of writing. From this large pool of poetry, essays, stories, and drama, submissions in Poetry and Prose are awarded to be published or honored at each grade level. Students who were awarded for their pieces will be celebrated at a virtual celebration on March 7. View the full list of award recipients.


Immaculate High School is a private, non-profit Catholic college-preparatory institution serving students from 28 communities in Connecticut and New York. Founded in 1962, Immaculate High School also allows students to focus on their spiritual development, personal moral commitments and service to others. Located in Danbury, CT, Immaculate High School is part of the Diocese of Bridgeport’s parochial school system. Immaculate is currently accepting freshman and transfer student applications. For more information on rolling admissions please visit immaculatehs.org/admissions.

Novena to St. Joseph set to help faithful to prepare for consecration

BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has announced a diocesan Novena to St. Joseph in preparation for the consecration of the Diocese of Bridgeport to St. Joseph on March 19.

“All are invited to participate in a special Novena to Saint Joseph that will seek his intercession upon our diocese during this celebratory year. I encourage all the faithful to participate in this diocesan-wide devotion to the Patron of the Universal Church during the Year to Saint Joseph,” said Bishop Caggiano.

The Novena will begin on Wednesday, March 10th and end on March 18th, and will take place at 7 pm every evening via Zoom and the Diocesan YouTube. People will be able to access the novena through the diocesan website and social media.

“I ask that all who are able join us in praying this Novena within the diocese as we ready ourselves to enter this period spiritual preparation to a much larger call to diocesan renewal,” the bishop said.

In order to help people to prepare for the consecration, the bishop said a special Novena to Saint Joseph has been crafted alongside that of the traditional Litany of Saint Joseph, which has been included among other prayers to St. Joseph enriched with a plenary indulgence.

The indulgence may be earned once a day subject to the usual conditions: sacramental confession, reception of Holy Communion, prayer for the intentions of the Pope, and a total detachment to all sin, including venial sin.

“The Novena has been written to engage various intercessory levels of Saint Joseph’s patronage upon our diocese, as we answer a call to the renewal of Christian life and prepare for a great evangelical outreach that will begin this Fall,” the bishop said.

The Novena begins with the Litany of St. Joseph and includes this prayer, “O God, who in your inexpressible providence were pleased to choose Saint Joseph as spouse of the most holy Mother of your Son, grant, we pray, that we, who revere him as our protector on earth, may be worthy of his heavenly intercession. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.”

In celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Proclamation of Saint Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church, Pope Francis proclaimed a special “Year of Saint Joseph” with the release of his Apostolic Letter Patris Corde (“With a Father’s Heart”).

On March 19th, 7 pm, Bishop Caggiano will consecrate the Diocese of Bridgeport to the patronage of Saint Joseph, the Patron of the Universal Church, at a Pontifical Mass live-streamed from St. Augustine’s Cathedral in Bridgeport. Pastors throughout the diocese will also celebrate Mass at the same time to link the diocese together in prayer and purpose.

The Diocesan celebration of St. Joseph will launch a the call to renewal announced by Bishop Caggiano in February 17 his pastoral exhortation, “Let us Enter the Upper Room with the Lord.”

Grosso chosen to participate in Vatican Social Media project

BRIDGEPORT—John Grosso, Director of Digital Media of the Diocese of Bridgeport, has been chosen by the Holy See’s Dicastery for Communications to be part of an international digital media program.

Grosso, a native of Stamford, was among sixteen individuals under age thirty-five from a dozen countries across the globe who were chosen to be part of the Vatican project. Since joining the diocese in 2015, he has innovated its social media program across multiple platforms and overseen the transition to live-streamed Masses and other digital initiatives during the pandemic crisis.

Recognizing the vital role of digital media, the dicastery announced “Faith Communication in the Digital World” and invited candidates to apply for the project with the opportunity to sharpen their digital media abilities and develop skills useful for work in Catholic organizations, institutions, congregations and in their local dioceses to better serve the mission of the Church.

“The diocese is very proud that John Grosso has earned this distinction and has been chosen to participate in the Vatican project,” said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano. “Through his efforts we have opened up new evangelization opportunities in the digital media, which will play an increasingly important role in the future of Church communications.”

Bishop Caggiano said that as the Catholic Church seeks to embrace new and effective ways of communication during the COVID-19 pandemic, social media and mobile applications have been utilized as key tools in communicating the Gospel message, particularly to youth and young adults.

Grosso said he was humbled to be selected for the project, and he believes that although social media can be a hostile and difficult environment, it gives the Church the ability to accompany others where they are in their life journey.

“I love the Church. I feel at home in the Church. But my whole life, I’ve watched many of my friends leave it, and I’ve been powerless to stop it. Here in my part of the United States, there is a crisis of trust in the Church, a crisis of belief in the Eucharist, and a crisis of relevancy.

When I hear Pope Francis say ‘go to the margins,’ I think of digital media. Digital media is a way to reach rich and poor, connect young and old, and help orient them towards Jesus and His Church.”

Grosso will join other young professionals in weekly virtual meetings, which include lectures by internationally renowned experts and individual coaching on specific topics related to digital communication and social media. The group will engage in individual and group work assignments throughout the project.

The 12-month program, launched digitally this month, also includes two week-long trips to Rome where the group will gather in person.

Under Grosso’s leadership, the diocese has been the architect of diocesan social media strategy with steadily growing Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Additionally, more than 50,000 people now receive the diocesan email newsletter, which includes videos from the Bishop and latest news updates. Grosso also created the “DOB Social” website to connect all parishes, schools and organizations to diocesan social media.

Based on his success in Bridgeport, he has been increasingly invited by dioceses across the United States via Zoom meetings and personal appearances to share his knowledge of social media and best practices.


Brief Bio: In addition to his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Boston College, John earned a Masters Degree in Corporate Communications and Public Relations at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. He graduated at the top of his class in August, 2017 with a 4.0 GPA.

Previously, he served as the diocesan coordinator for 2016 World Youth Day in which using social media he organized and formed a group of 240 people to Poland for ten days. John serves on the Advisory Board of two organizations close to his heart: the Murphy Center for Ignatian Spirituality at Fairfield University, and Sister to Sister: All Africa Conference.

John recently married Nicole Perone on April 27th, 2019, in a Mass celebrated by Bishop Frank Caggiano. They are members of St. Aloysius Parish in New Canaan, where they were married.

Immaculate’s Brave Engineers Qualify for National/International Tournament

DANBURY—Immaculate High School’s Brave Engineers team participated in the Real World Design Challenge (RWDC), receiving second place in the State Finals. This incredible performance qualified the Brave Engineers for the RWDC National/International competition in April. The team will also have the opportunity to compete for merit awards at the National/International Competition.

The Brave Engineers, coached by Jeanine Antonios, includes members Mario Perez ‘22, Carolyn Jandura ‘22, Nikolas Badinelli ‘22, Meryl McKenna ‘21, Shaun McKenna ‘23 and Zifeng Zhan ’22.

The Real World Design Challenge is an annual competition that provides high school students, grades 9-12, the opportunity to work on real world engineering challenges in a team environment. Each year, student teams are asked to address a challenge that confronts our nation’s leading industries. Students utilize professional engineering software to develop their solutions and also generate presentations that convincingly demonstrate the value of their solutions. The RWDC provides students with opportunities to apply the lessons of the classroom to the technical problems that are being faced in the workplace.

Immaculate High School is a private, non-profit Catholic college-preparatory institution serving students from 28 communities in Connecticut and New York. Founded in 1962, Immaculate High School also allows students to focus on their spiritual development, personal moral commitments and service to others. Located in Danbury, CT, Immaculate High School is part of the Diocese of Bridgeport’s parochial school system. Immaculate is currently accepting freshman and transfer student applications. For more information on rolling admissions please visit immaculatehs.org/admissions.