Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

Articles By: Renee Stamatis

MONROE—The response of the parishioners of St. Jude Parish in Monroe is emblematic of the hope and generosity of Catholics throughout the diocese who contribute to the appeal, which funds essential ministries, programs and agencies that deliver pastoral care and human services where they are most needed.

It took less than a month after the appeal began on February 27, for St. Jude’s to met its goal of $84,600. Parishioners were inspired by the leadership of Father Henry Hoffman, pastor, and his Annual Appeal team, who provided parishioners with an understanding of how important the campaign is in supporting programs, which no single parish can provide on its own.

Father Hoffman began working on a plan in mid-February with Joe Gallagher, chief development officer of the diocese, and Deacon Patrick Toole, episcopal delegate for administration. He later met personally with the parish’s biggest donors. Then, Gallagher launched the campaign at all the parish’s Masses at the end of the month. A comprehensive website was developed to explain the goals and benefits of the appeal.

Gallagher said, “I was honored to be invited by Father Hoffman to help kick off the 2021 Annual Catholic Appeal. I was immediately struck by the strong leadership offered by him and the lay leaders at St. Jude. The diocese is very appreciative of how the parish of St. Jude actively and generously supports the vital ministries, including Catholic Charities, the Bishop’s Scholarship Fund, seminarian formation and care for our retired priests.”

Father Hoffman’s efforts were augmented by those of the other members of the parish ACA team — Rich Lane, parish council president; Norma and Doug Bissell, co-chairs for the St. Jude appeal; and Deacons John Tuccio and David Flynn. The team launched the appeal in mid-February using the theme of Jesus’ commandment to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

The co-chairs spoke at every Mass on March 6 and 7, and their message was simple —“Many are in need, many who helped can’t help this year and may need help. We all need to help where we can.”

“Our message was delivered to everyone, including the children,” Norma and Doug Bissell said. “To our adults, we emphasized the online process, and for the children a ‘PENNIES FROM HEAVEN’ bucket was placed in the lobby.

“St. Jude Church is blessed to have wonderful parishioners who are sacrificing to help the ACA and their neighbors in need,” the Bissells said. “We are profoundly thankful to those parishioners who have taken us this far.”

BRIDGEPORT—The “ARISE” Annual Catholic Appeal now stands at almost $5.4 million pledged toward its $8.1 million goal, and there is more than a month left to close the gap, says Joe Gallagher, chief development officer of the diocese.

Gallagher adds there is more heavy lifting to do, but he’s optimistic as a number of factors are coming together to bring the campaign to a successful conclusion by the end of June.

In-pew weekends are scheduled for June 6 and June 13 in most parishes throughout the diocese, with speakers and the ACA video available to offer information, says Gallagher.

“In-pew weekends are really a call for everyone to come on board and join the more than 9,000 parishioners that have already contributed to the ACA. Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has often spoken about the need for all to participate and to give at whatever level is possible. In-pew weekend is a reminder that we are all in this together and that the ministries and programs the Appeal supports build up the faith of the entire diocese through service, spiritual formation and strengthening of our faith community,” says Gallagher.

If this year’s campaign seems to be quicker, it is because Bishop Caggiano cut five weeks off the usual timeline and has asked that it be wrapped up by the end of June.

Gallagher says the bishop shortened the campaign in recognition of the
extraordinary generosity of many during the pandemic year, and with an understanding of the toll the pandemic has taken on everyone and the enthusiasm about moving forward in a year of recovery and renewal.

“During the past year, I have been inspired by those who have given so generously out of the recognition of the suffering and hardships that others have been experiencing. Now, as we call all the faithful back to Mass and the Eucharist, we have much to celebrate as a family of faith— and with the help of our donors, an opportunity to move forward in renewal,” said the bishop.

Gallagher said the fact that the diocese is already at 66 percent of its goal during an abbreviated campaign is very encouraging and an indication that people understand and appreciate the role diocesan ministries play in uniting the diocese in service and prayer and how they were able to reach out in the worst of the crisis to feed, counsel and support those most in need.

“After a year we’ve had, I think people can see that the ACA touches every life in our diocese. Some received direct assistance such as food or counseling. Others were able to view Mass online or participate in a rosary and unite in spiritual communion.”

Gallagher says that in the coming weeks his office will continue to follow up with major donors who have traditionally given large leadership gifts to the ACA. His team will also work with parishes that may be struggling to help them reach the goals.

Pam Rittman, director of the ACA, says that one of the positive signs of this year’s campaign has been the increase in new donors and the increase in individual giving.

“This year so far, we have a total of 2,210 new donors and another 1,900 people who increased their giving,” reports Rittman.

Rittman believes one reason for the positive response to this year’s Appeal is that pastors and parishioners are very pleased with the new incentive sharing program, which enables a parish to direct the funds to an area it raises over goal. “The incentive program has really resonated with parishioners who like the idea that the over goal money can be directed to parish operations, parish ministries, or parishes that are pastorally viable but financially facing hardship,” she says.

Rittman believes that the events of the past year and the suffering caused by the pandemic have created an awareness of the role that only the diocese can play.

“While people have always given generously to their parishes, this year the health crisis has driven the point home that the diocese can reach out in ways that individual parishes cannot. Our parishioners were able to see how we continued programs last year in the midst of COVID-19 and continue to meet the tremendous need; they see their appeal gift in action. It does not matter the size of the gift; whether it’s educating seminarians, providing scholarship money for our students, or serving the most vulnerable, the ACA gives the diocese the reach to bring the gospel message and resources to those in need,” she said.

Rittman says she hopes people will take advantage of the upcoming in-pew weekend to support the appeal. “We know that by this time in the campaign, some people may have lost their envelopes or simply forgotten. We hope that the in-pew will bring them on board as we work together to reach goal and support our overall appeal goal. As always, we are grateful to each and every parishioner.”

(Gifts can be made securely either online on the Annual Catholic Appeal website: 2021ACABridgeport.com, donate page tab or by texting the word, APPEAL to 475.241.7849 on a smartphone or calling 203.416.1470. ACA gifts can be mailed to the Catholic Center at 238 Jewett Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06606.) 

BRIDGEPORT—The 2021 ARISE Annual Catholic Appeal (ACA) has passed the 50 percent mark with $5 million pledged on its way to the overall $8.1 million goal to fund the critical ministries and ongoing programs of the diocese.

“The response is well ahead of last year and is very encouraging on many levels” said Joe Gallagher, chief development officer of the diocese. “I’m very grateful for our donors, the leadership of our bishop and pastors and for the overall generosity of the people of the diocese.”

In addition to lowering the ACA goal this year as a result of the success of the We Stand With Christ capital campaign, the diocese has also shortened the time for the campaign. The goal is to bring the ACA to a close by the end of June.

Gallagher said he believes that the faithful have responded to the words of Bishop Frank J. Caggiano that this year’s appeal is crucial because of the need to reach out to those still suffering from the pandemic, while also helping the diocese to move ahead in its renewal efforts.

In announcing the Arise theme of this year’s appeal in February, the bishop said “We arise by standing together in prayerful hope to strengthen the mission of the Church which we form, a people of the light in darkness, a people of hope despite challenge.”

“I pray that, as we go forward, we will not lose this unique moment to aid our sisters and brothers in need, and place our Church on the path of growth and renewal,” the bishop said who issued a diocesan “Call to Renewal” in his recent pastoral exhortation, “Let us Enter the Upper Room with the Lord.”

Gallagher said that in addition to the overall amount collected and pledged to date toward the goal, he is very pleased to see the level of participation. The number of donors to the ACA is up considerably.

“Participation is up dramatically across the diocese and that’s a very positive trend,” said Gallagher, who noted that some parishes have already seen a sixty percent increase in the number of those who are giving.

“That’s a significant increase coming out of the pandemic and a very positive signal about the faith and generosity of the people of the diocese. Both large and small donors are eager to support the bishop’s plan for renewal and continue to help those in need.”

Gallagher said that people who contribute to the ACA understand that as donors they are also beneficiaries because the appeal reaches into every aspect of life in the diocese by making so many charitable, education and faith formation programs possible.

Among last year’s highlights were the more than 1.1 million meals served to the poor and food insecure through Catholic Charities, and more than $2.7 million in financial aid given to Catholic school students through the Bishop’s Scholarship Fund. The appeal also supported counseling and mental health services that have helped people get through the pandemic.

Pam Rittman, director of the Annual Catholic Appeal, said one noticeable change to campaign this year will be the timing of in-pew weekend.

Rather than all parishes conducting the in-pew on the same weekend, the bishop has given pastors the discretion to conduct the in pew on a weekend that works best for them. Envelopes will begin arriving in parishes on April 30, and all in-pew will be held by the end of May, she said.

“It’s a very hopeful time because many people have been vaccinated and have begun returning to Mass in person,” said Rittman, who noted that people often prefer to make their pledge during the in-pew weekend.

However, those who are unvaccinated or concerned about returning to Church, can make a gift online or use the envelope enclosed in Fairfield County Catholic.

Rittman said she believes the pandemic stirred a deeper understanding of the role the Annual Catholic Appeal plays in the diocese, because the services it provided last year  touched the lives of so many people—many of them who never needed help before.

“When the need arose to feed more people, bring the sacraments to hospitals and convalescent facilities, expand scholarship support to students whose parents lost their jobs, and improve communications to make online Masses possible, the ACA was the vehicle for this emergency response,” she said.

(Gifts can be made securely either on-line on the Annual Catholic Appeal website: 2021ACABridgeport.com donate page tab or by texting the word, APPEAL to 475.241.7849 on a smart phone or calling 203.416.1470. ACA gifts can be mailed to the Catholic Center at 238 Jewett Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06606.)

By Brian D. Wallace

BRIDGEPORT—The “ARISE” 2021 Annual Catholic Appeal (ACA) is off to an encouraging start with $2.9 million pledged toward an overall goal of $8.1 million in support of Bishop Frank J. Caggiano’s “A Call to Renewal” along with ongoing programs and ministries.

The 2021 ACA moves forward at a hopeful moment with the arrival of vaccines and many parishioners beginning to return to in-person Mass around the diocese.

“I come to you with real, joyful hope because as this pandemic begins to recede, you and I are given this wonderful opportunity, creatively and imaginatively, to set our Church on a path of growth by offering new initiatives and new opportunities to engage our youth and welcome people back to Church.”

The bishop said he is particularly grateful for those who have already generously given to the 2021 Annual Catholic Appeal, which is both looking forward to the future, but also working to address the ongoing needs of those who have been left behind as a result of the pandemic.

“This is not the time for us to turn our backs away from those in need,” the bishop said. “For the need remains urgent, and many suffer from the effects of this pandemic and will continue to do so for a long time as we work to recover.”

Joe Gallagher, chief development officer of the diocese, said this year’s ACA will provide the financial resources for many of the initiatives outlined in the bishop’s recent Pastoral Exhortation, “Let Us Enter the Upper Room with the Lord.”

“In his Pastoral Exhortation the bishop has issued a “Call to Renewal,” which includes the designation of Centers of Mercy and Centers of Eucharistic Adoration to enable all to deepen their faith, said Gallagher.

Likewise, orientation and training has already begun for men and women of all ages throughout the diocese who are interested in becoming “Ambassadors,” who will share their faith with others and go out into the community later in the year to evangelize in person.

Planning is also underway for the development of four pastoral centers focusing on family life, Catholic culture and sacred arts, young adult entrepreneurship and evangelization in order to move the diocese forward in renewal.

“The seed money for these new and exciting programs will come from the ACA, and it will support the renewal efforts, “said Gallagher.

In describing “A Call to Renewal” Bishop Caggiano said it is not a formal process or program but a series of opportunities for people to deepen their faith, serve others and go out into community to address the needs of our entire family of faith. “We can become ambassadors of Christ in the world,” he said.

Pam Rittman, director of the ACA, said that in addition to supporting the bishop’s “A Call to Renewal,” the ACA continues to fund the major diocesan ministries and services available to all people in the diocese throughout the year.

“As a Catholic community we care deeply about the vulnerable and underserved parishioners within the Diocese of Bridgeport, many of whom are members of our inner-city churches and have been hardest hit by the pandemic,” she said.

Rittman said the need for nutrition, counseling and immigration services through Catholic Charities has remained elevated throughout the crisis while some parishes have required emergency support. Many families throughout the diocese have depended on the Bishop’s Scholarship Fund to support their choice of Catholic education for their children and because of the pandemic, there has been an increase in enrollment.

“The bishop has taught us that those in need are our brothers and sisters, and we must work to help them to feel welcome in our Church as part of our diocesan families. We need to stand with them and accompany them,” she said.

Rittman said the ACA is an opportunity for the people of the diocese to invest in the future of young people and the vibrancy of the entire faith community, while also continuing to support essential ministries that do the work of feeding and sheltering the poor, reaching out to the elderly, and serving all those who are vulnerable and troubled.

She added that a new revenue sharing plan allows each parish to designate their over goal funds to a specific ministry or diocesan mission program, another parish facing financial hardship, or for their own parish general operating needs. Each pastor, along with their parish council and finance committees, determine where the funds will be directed.

“We’re asking people to give according to their means at a time when there is much need, great hope and a shared vision for the future, and we are grateful for each and every gift no matter what people give,” she said.

Donations may be made by using the envelope in this issue or online at: www.2021ACABridgeport.com. You may also donate by texting the word APPEAL to 475.241.7849 to make your pledge. Please visit the website to view the 2021 Appeal video and learn more.


For the 2020 Annual Catholic Appeal, the following provides a correction to the figures for St. Thomas More Parish.
• Goal—$450,000
• Pledged—$478,158
• % over goal—+6.3%
The diocesan Development Team would like to thank the parishioners of St. Thomas More for their commitment to supporting the ministries of the diocese.

By Brian D. Wallace

BRIDGEPORT—For both the Melaragnos and the Murphys, leadership of the 2021 Annual Catholic Appeal, the pandemic has been a time for noticing and stepping up to address the great need in the Diocese of Bridgeport.
“Many people are asking for help at a time when help isn’t as readily available,” explained Roxanne Melaragno.

The 2021 ACA theme is “Arise” and people around the diocese have truly “arisen” to the challenge during this difficult time, although the need is still great.

Roxanne and Jason Melaragno, parishioners of Holy Family/St. Emery Parish in Fairfield continue as chair couple for this year’s appeal and have been serving in leadership roles within their parish and at the diocese. Kelly Anne and Dan Murphy, parishioners for St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Trumbull, continue a second year as vice chair couple.

Kelly Anne and Dan Murphy shared their experiences of volunteering at multiple food drives this summer. The couple volunteered at St. Catherine of Siena, St. Lawrence, the Thomas Merton Center and New Covenant Center, just to name a few.

“We learned that we need to direct generosity properly so that it reaches those in need,” shared Kelly Anne, referring to an experience at Blessed Sacrament Food Pantry in Bridgeport. “Many people that benefit from the food pantry come by on foot, so bulk items are often too heavy for them to carry.” Kelly Anne explained that with each food drive, the volunteers learned more and more about how to be intentional when it comes to donations.
“The manner in which we do outreach is different,” she said. “We have to be cognizant of what people’s needs are.”

“My experience volunteering during the pandemic has opened my eyes to what others really need and how we can meet those needs in new ways.”

The Melaragnos noticed how enthusiastic people were about being able to return to Mass. From early-March to mid-May, public Mass was not celebrated in the diocese due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While it was a great sacrifice for many, especially those who watched a relative or friend fall ill, buried a loved one, or remained in isolation, the effort was in order to observe the state’s shelter at home order and save many lives.

On May 11, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano announced a gradual return to public Mass to begin later that month. The Melaragnos explained that although virtual Masses were a wonderful addition and a way to keep people connected during the height of COVID-19, the return to public Mass was indeed an occasion for much joy.

“People realized how much they missed Mass,” shared Jason Melaragno.

At their home parish of Holy Family/St. Emery, they noticed that the goal was to take precautions to help people feel as comfortable as possible returning to Mass—that even included the addition of a Holy Water dispenser.
The Murphys also remarked that it was comforting to see people gradually returning to public Mass, and at their home parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Trumbull, all available seating has been filled since the middle of the summer.

That being said, the Murphys are very grateful for the ability to livestream and attend virtually, especially for the elderly or those at high-risk. Their hope is that parishes can continue to reach out to their parishioners via livestream.

The Murphys also praised the many opportunities that have become available for virtual group prayer and reflection. “More people are praying the Rosary virtually than ever before,” remarked Kelly Anne.

The Melaragnos praised the efforts of the Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Bridgeport to make sure staff and students were safe while still delivering instruction, and dispelling fear through transparent and hopeful messaging. The Bishop’s Scholarship Fund, funded through the ACA, is there for students who may not have the ability to receive Catholic education otherwise, a cause that is of great importance to the chair couple.

“As we look towards 2021, the need will continue, but we are both eager to see how the ACA will be able to help people,” said Jason.

He explained that he and his wife’s focus for this year’s appeal is participation. He hopes that participation can be at 100%, even without a specific dollar amount, in order to more readily help those in need. “We see that as an opportunity to both display their Catholic faith and enhance their faith.”

“We can call on donors to act heroically,” said the Murphys. “With the help of the ACA, we hopefully will get back to something vaguely better than normal by continuing to learn and through people engaging with their faith in different ways.”

(To learn more about the 2021, Arise, Annual Catholic Appeal or to make a gift, please visit 2021ACABridgeport.com or call 203.416.1470. Thank you for your support.)

BRIDGEPORT—“Arise” is the theme for the 2021 Annual Catholic Appeal (ACA), which launches in all parishes on February 27-28, as the diocese looks toward renewal in the coming year.

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano said he chose the “Arise” theme in gratitude for the many faithful who have truly risen to meet the challenge of caring for others during the pandemic and because he’s hopeful about the new year.

“As I’ve prayed and continue to pray for you and for your loved ones and for the mission of our Church, there is a single word that the Lord has put on my heart, and that word is, ‘Arise,’” he said.

In the new “Arise” ACA video, the bishop said that during the past year “our hearts were troubled, or our families threatened, and our neighbors and friends have suffered at the hands of this invisible menace in our midst.”

“Yet we have come together in hope and encouragement for one another and for our sisters and brothers in need and we have made the Lord’s presence real to them and to one another,” he said.

Bishop Caggiano said with vaccine distribution and the state’s recent easing of restrictions on church capacity and other activities, “We’ve come to a moment when we can dare to hope that we begin to see the first lights of a new dawn.”

The bishop said he is particularly concerned for “ those in our midst whom this pandemic has ravaged so deeply.” And he urged the faithful, “to not leave anyone behind, most especially those who are suffering, have lost homes, have lost jobs and even have lost hope.”

Joe Gallagher, Chief Development Office of the diocese, said this year’s goal is $8.1 million, 10 percent less than last year due to the success of the We Stand With Christ Capital Campaign and will allow the diocese to maintain works of charity, pastoral ministry, education and catechesis.

“Last year in the midst of a historic health crisis, we were blessed by the extraordinary generosity of the faithful throughout the diocese, the sacrificial work of our campaign co-chairs and the leadership of Bishop Caggiano, who has been tireless in his advocacy for serving the most vulnerable among us while celebrating our faith in a time of great hardship and anxiety,” said Gallagher.

Gallagher said that those who gave to the Annual Appeal last year helped to bring the mercy of Christ to people who suffered immediately from job loss, hunger and psychological stress as a result of the pandemic, and who needed immediate help through Catholic Charities and other ministries.

The Emergency ACA also helped churches and schools to safely remain open while also supporting online Masses, remote learning when necessary and other emergency measures.

Many also stepped up through the worst months of the pandemic and supported their parishes and the diocese in unprecedented ways in addition to making their gift to the Annual Catholic Appeal.

While a gift to this year’s ACA will continue to support Catholic education, Faith formation, vocations, retired priests, Catholic Charities and other ongoing ministries, this year’s campaign will fund programs that have grown out of the needs that emerged during the pandemic

Pamela S. Rittman, director of Development, said that the 2021 ACA will help the diocese move forward after the difficult months of the past year. “The vaccine is here and we are inaugurating much needed and innovative initiatives in our diocese, which are giving people hope and inviting them back to church,” she said.

ACA funds will support the bishop’s plan for a Year of Eucharistic Celebration and Renewal through the dedication of Centers of Mercy and Centers of Eucharist in various parishes throughout the diocese.

Rittman said that additionally, a new sharing formula makes it possible for over-goal funds to be used to address critical needs within a parish, or to be allocated to a neighboring parish or specific diocesan mission.

(Please participate in this year’s, Arise, Annual Catholic Appeal by giving as generously as your means allow. To make a donation online at www.2021ACABridgeport.com or text the word APPEAL to 475.241.7849. Donations of whatever amount will help us to help those in need. Thank you for your support.)


The 2020 Annual Catholic Appeal, While the historic health crisis of 2020 impacted everyone, the generosity of the donors to the 2020 Annual Catholic Appeal enabled the Diocese of Bridgeport to expand services to meet the spiritual and daily needs of individuals and families, many of whom lost their jobs. We are grateful for the support of all those who participated. The 2020 “Renew” Annual Catholic Appeal raised $8,047,988 on a goal of $9 million dollars. The Appeal makes it possible for works of charity and pastoral services, faith and ministry and education and catechesis to continue each and every day. Thank you to our donors, pastors and priests, staff and volunteers who work tirelessly during the Appeal. Likewise, we extend our gratitude to the pastors and parishioners of the “We Stand With Christ” Capital Campaign for meeting and exceeding their capital campaign goal and meeting 100 percent of their Annual Catholic Appeal goal.

 

By BRIAN D. WALLACE

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”