Articles By: Renee Stamatis

Ad hoc committee against racism holds first virtual meeting

BRIDGEPORT—On a late June afternoon, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano gathered virtually with the diocesan appointed ad hoc committee against racism for their first meeting.

This committee was established as a response to the call for change in our communities. The committee includes clergy and religious, as well as lay men and women who will develop a strategic vision and practical steps for the diocesan response to sin of racism.

“I am very grateful for your willingness to come together to address this particular moment of opportunity and grace in our midst,” said the bishop. “It is an opportunity to take a tragedy and make it a real opportunity for long-term change.”

Committee members expressed their optimism about the work that could be done. “It is my hope that the diocese will be a more just place—a place that welcomes everyone and allows opportunity to everyone, especially to come and know the Lord,” the bishop said.

The bishop began by updating the group that Foundations in Faith has secured upwards of $40,000 for any initiatives that may come out of the committee. Bishop Caggiano also announced that he has been appointed to the USCCB’s ad hoc committee against racism, which would make for a good opportunity to share resources and ideas amongst the groups.

It was discussed that The Leadership Institute will host several webinars this summer to advance the conversation about racism, cultural diversity and how simply by listening to one another, we can begin to affect change.

The webinars, which will feature experts from the field of academia and ministry, will begin on July 30, and continue every Thursday at 1 pm until September 3.

Topics include:

  • Race and the Catholic Church
  • Race and Catholic Social Teaching
  • How to have a conversation about race
  • Beyond Black: Race and Multiculturalism
  • Growing in Awareness and Knowledge
  • Teaching Peace

A preliminary video will be introduced featuring Father Reggie Norman, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima and episcopal vicar for the Apostolate of African American Catholics. The webinars will be recorded and archived for the benefit of everyone throughout the diocese.

For complete details on the webinars and to register, please visit The Leadership Institute’s website at

The committee discussed how these webinars could be a great opportunity to drive interest to different apostolates, such as the Apostolate of African American Catholics, that some may not know much about.
The hope is that these webinars will provide opportunities for those of other languages to have similar conversations in their own language.

Committee members expressed their desire to create interfaith dialogue and ecumenism within our communities.

“We need to find ways that communities that exemplify our diversity are being heard—how do we find a vehicle that allows us to create unity?” a committee member questioned.

Another goal of the committee is to invite youth to have a role in the and to make sure principals and schools are equipped with the resources they need.

“We have an opportunity to bring people to ever-more conversion,” said the bishop.

Committee members discussed the great diversity within our diocese and the importance that all communities feel represented. “A mile in this diocese can be like 1,000 miles, to see how communities can sit side-by-side and not even interact,” the bishop said.

“We need to examine honestly and thoughtfully the institutions – how we operate, how we spend our money so that the institution itself changes,” he said.

“At the end of the day racism is a life issue,” said Dr. Patrick Donovan, director of The Leadership institute and facilitator of the ad hoc committee. “We need to look at it as part of the whole of Catholic social teaching.”

Pope backs U.N. resolution for global cease-fire

VATICAN CITY—Pope Francis praised the United Nations’ adoption of a global cease-fire resolution amid the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the world.

“The request for a global and immediate cease-fire, which would allow that peace and security necessary to provide the needed humanitarian assistance, is commendable,” the pope said July 5, after praying the Angelus with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

“I hope that this decision will be implemented effectively and promptly for the good of the many people who are suffering. May this Security Council resolution become a courageous first step toward a peaceful future,” he said.

The resolution, which was first proposed in late March by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, was unanimously passed July 1 by the 15-member Security Council.

According to the U.N., the council “demanded a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda” to allow for “the safe, unhindered and sustained delivery of humanitarian assistance.”

In his Angelus address, the pope reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading from St. Matthew, in which Jesus thanks God for having hidden the mystery of the kingdom of heaven “from the wise and the learned” and “revealed them to little ones.”

Christ’s reference of the wise and learned, the pope explained, was said “with a veil of irony” because those who presume to be wise “have a closed heart, very often.”

“True wisdom comes also from the heart, it is not only a matter of understanding ideas: True wisdom also enters into the heart. And if you know many things but have a closed heart, you are not wise,” the pope said.

The “little ones” to whom God has revealed himself, he added, are those “who confidently open themselves to his word of salvation, who open their heart to the word of salvation, who feel the need for him and expect everything from him; the heart that is open and trustful toward the Lord.”

The pope said Jesus placed himself among those “who labor and are burdened” because he, too, is “meek and humble of heart.”

In doing so, he explained, Christ does not place himself as “a model for the resigned, nor is he simply a victim, but rather he is the man who lives this condition ‘from the heart’ in full transparency to the love of the Father, that is, to the Holy Spirit.”

“He is the model of the ‘poor in spirit’ and of all the other ‘blesseds’ of the Gospel, who do the will of God and bear witness to his kingdom,” Pope Francis said.

“The world exalts those who are rich and powerful, no matter by what means, and at times tramples upon the human being and his or her dignity,” the pope said. “And we see this every day, the poor who are trampled underfoot. It is a message for the church, called to live works of mercy and to evangelize the poor, to be meek and humble. This is how the Lord wants his church—that is, us—to be.”

By Junno Arocho Esteves  I  Catholic News Service

Notre Dame in Fairfield graduation

FAIRFIELD—Notre Dame High School in Fairfield will hold its 60th graduation ceremony on Friday, July 10 at 6 pm and Saturday, July 11 at 9:30 am on the school’s football field. The school is holding two ceremonies two comply with the governor’s directive that in-person graduation crowd sizes cannot exceed 150 people.

The Class of 2020 is comprised of 104 graduates, representing 21 cities and towns, as well as international students from China.

Valedictorian of the class is Sophie Stachurski of Trumbull. The co-salutatorians are Maria Raiti and Ruth Salazar, both of Bridgeport. Biographical information for Sophie, Maria, and Ruth are at the end of this article.

The exact amount of college scholarships and grants received by the class will be announced at the graduation ceremony.

The media is invited to attend the graduation ceremonies. Please arrange in advance with Principal Chris Cipriano at or 203.372.6521.


Sophie Stachurski has been named the valedictorian of Notre Dame’s Class of 2020. A member of the inaugural Distinguished Scholars Program, as well as the Frank and Marissa Martire Leadership Institute, Sophie has established a tremendous four-year record of achievements both in and out of the classroom. As impressive as her academic record is as evidenced by her valedictorian status, her roster of extra-curricular activities is just as remarkable. President of the National Honor Society, Sophie was also the recipient of the St. Thomas Aquinas Award, the Harvard University Book Award, and was designed a College Board AP Scholar and a Governor’s Scholar Semi-Finalist. Sophie completed over 350 hours of service during high school, including participating in the school annual mission trip to Kentucky and Camden, NJ. She was also Student Council President, a member of the Drama Club, Campus Ministry, and Link Crew, and had her essay “The Lion, the Witch, and the Educational Value of C.S. Lewis” published by the Cardinal Newman Society in April, 2018. Principal Chris Cipriano commented, “Sophie has been one of the top students with whom I have had the pleasure of working during my two decades at Notre Dame. Her commitment to academic achievement, coupled a desire to serve her students and the greater community, sets a high bar for all. She will be tremendously missed at ND.” Sophie, a resident of Trumbull, will be attending Georgetown University in the fall.

Maria Raiti has been named a co-salutatorian of Notre Dame’s Class of 2020. A member of both the National Honor and Spanish Honor Societies, Maria was a recipient of the Sacred Heart University Book Award during her junior year. An excellent student in the classroom, Maria has been equally successful outside of the classroom with her numerous clubs, activities, and service work. During her high school career, Maria has been active in the Art Club, Dance Club, STEM Club, Campus Ministry, Philosophy Club, Drama Club, and Video Game Club. Maria participated in the 2019 summer mission trip to Kentucky and was planning to join the group again this summer before the pandemic ended summer travel. Maria has also been active volunteering for Campus Ministry service projects, the Girl Scouts, and the Knights of Columbus. According to Principal Chris Cipriano, “Maria has consistently made her mark on the ND community—both in and out of the classroom. I know that much success awaits her as she takes her fantastic skill set off to college and beyond.” Maria, a resident of Bridgeport, will be attending UConn—Storrs in the fall.

Ruth Salazar has been named a co-salutatorian of Notre Dame’s Class of 2020. Ruth has been very involved in the Notre Dame community during her high school career including membership in the Philosophy Club, Peace by Justice Club, Creative Writing Club, as well as Campus Ministry. A frequent volunteer for many local service programs, Ruth also participated in the 2018 mission trip to Neon, Kentucky. She served on the Cultural Awareness Committee and was an active participant in the Girls with Impact program. Ruth was also a member of the National and Spanish Honor Societies. Her principal, Chris Cipriano, commented, “Ruth has done phenomenally well during her high school career. Her achievements have left their mark here at school, and I know she will do fantastic work in the future.” Ruth, a resident of Bridgeport, will be attending UConn—Storrs in the fall.

Sacred Heart Greenwich graduates 82

GREENWICH— Sacred Heart, Greenwich graduated 82 young women on June 5, 2020.

Sacred Heart Greenwich is proud to recognize Valentina Grether as valedictorian and Caroline Badagliacca and Elisa Howard as co-salutatorians for the Class of 2020.

Valentina Grether of Riverside has spent eight years as a student at Sacred Heart. She played tennis and squash, was a freshman peer leader and served as a Eucharistic Minister. She will attend Brown University in the Fall.

“I chose Brown firstly because of the open curriculum,” says Grether. “Since I plan on majoring in engineering, which has stricter requirements than other majors, it was really important to me that I still had as much flexibility as possible to pursue courses in all my other interests. Ultimately, Brown’s open curriculum seemed ideal to extend my college experience to encompass not only my intellectual development, but also my growth as an individual. Another important factor was the collaborative culture at Brown, and the amazing opportunities that the university offers. Many of the current students I talked with highlighted the Brown UTRAs, which are undergraduate teaching and research awards for Brown students. Brown fascinated me because the students and faculty are always challenging each other to grow together in learning. Last but certainly not least, Providence is a great town for college students. Students always praise the art exhibits and other events available outside of Brown, not to mention a seemingly endless list of amazing Providence restaurants.”

Caroline Badagliacca of North Salem N.Y. has spent ten years as a student at Sacred Heart. During her time at Sacred Heart, she was the co-editor of Voices publication, served as a music therapy volunteer with Alzheimer’s patients, was a participant in Sacred Heat’s science research program, a Regeneron Scholar for studying music and cognition, and the Girl Scout Gold Award recipient. She will attend Vanderbilt in the Fall.

“Upon first visiting Vanderbilt’s campus, what stood out to me the most is the incredible balance the school possesses,” says Badagliacca. “I knew when looking for a school I wanted a place that was academically rigorous, but still left room for other enrichment and Vanderbilt’s programs, research possibilities, SEC sports, and boundless opportunities to be involved on campus were perfect for me. Additionally, one of my main focuses during my time at Sacred Heart has been working with those suffering from dementia and trying to use music to improve their quality of life. Not only does Vanderbilt have a music cognition laboratory, but the interdisciplinary nature of their academic programs, as well as my acceptance into the Curb Scholars Program, provided me with a unique chance to combine my interests in music, cognition, and business both in and out of the classroom.”

Elisa Howard of Norwalk has spent two years at Sacred Heart. She was co-captain of Sacred Heart Robotics, Perspectives Art Editor, NY Medical College Summer Prostate Cancer Research Assistant, saxophonist in Sacred Heart Jazz Band, a participant in varsity track and field, varsity cross country, and varsity fencing, a Kairos Retreat Leader, Kumon Math and Reading Instructor, George Washington Carver Community Center volunteer, White Plains Hospital step-down unit volunteer, CT Special Olympics volunteer, an altar server and Eucharist Minister. She will attend Yale University in the Fall.

“I have always been fascinated by the innate intricacies of the human brain and nervous system,” says Howard, “and Yale University’s renowned research opportunities, including the First-Year Summer Research Fellowship, will enable me to explore unanswered questions of neuroscience. When applying to Yale, I was particularly inspired by the research of Professor Nenad Sestan, who revived cellular functionality in a pig brain four hours after its death. Through research in one of Yale’s over 1,200 laboratories, I can investigate my own rather unconventional questions of the brain. At the same time, I am an aspiring neurosurgeon, and, through Yale’s affiliations with the medical school and hospital, I may explore my surgical interests as an undergraduate student.”

“Whether in the classroom, on the turf, in the chapel, at the anchor desk, in the lab or behind the podium, the graduating Class of 2020 accomplished so much at Sacred Heart Greenwich,” says Pamela Juan Hayes, Sacred Heart Greenwich alum, Class of ’64. “We’re especially proud to see these talented students matriculate to strong colleges and universities that reflect their individual academic interests and passions so closely. We look forward to seeing how far their academics, faith and commitment to others takes them in the future.”

2020 Highlights:

  • 10,000 hours of community service were completed by Upper School students this year
  • 24 seniors served as Eucharistic Ministers
  • Distributed $8,200 in grants to educational agencies across the world through the student-run Barat Foundation
  • 1 NEPSAC Class A champion team (field hockey) and 2 Fairchester Athletic Association regular season championship teams (varsity field hockey and soccer); Squash team placed 1st in the country at the Interscholastic National Championships
  • 10 seniors continuing on and committed to play sports at the collegiate level

Vatican panel: Listen, respond to modern world

WASHINGTON, D.C.—When Vatican communication leaders met virtually with U.S. and Canadian Catholic journalists and communication leaders June 30, they urged the group to keep up their work, think of new ways to have a broader reach and not get weighed down by society’s current polarization.

“We have something to bring” to the modern world “and a huge amount to learn” from it, said Bishop Paul Tighe, secretary general of the Pontifical Council for Culture. The bishop, who has addressed this group in person at previous events, is a past secretary of the former Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

He was joined in the virtual panel by Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication, and Natasa Govekar, director of the dicastery’s theological-pastoral section, which coordinates Pope Francis’ Instagram page.

The Vatican officials had a simple message, urging the group above all to really engage with readers, viewers and social media followers.

Ruffini stressed that communication is about relationships, which the other panelists also echoed. Govekar emphasized that a key part of communication is not just getting the word out but listening.

The panel addressed the opening session of the Catholic Media Conference via a Zoom call, replacing the session that would have kicked off the gathering this year in Portland, Oregon, which was canceled due to the coronavirus. Some workshops and other parts of the annual conference were available to participants in an online format.

The group of journalists and communication leaders asked some poignant questions in the chat section that were conveyed to the panelists such as: How would they advise diocesan leaders during a time of budget cuts related to COVID-19 not to do away with Catholic media, and what words of encouragement could they offer to this group during a time of increased polarization?

In response to the question about keeping diocesan communications going, Tighe said: “No diocese should not be active in communication.”

“If we have faith, we will find the resources,” he added.

Answering the polarization question, panelists advised the group to pray, spread love, not hate, and be sure to keep a sense of humor.

Ruffini said communicators need to learn how to dialogue and listen to those inside and outside the church without looking at others as the enemy. He stressed that the job of communicators is to unify, saying: “That is what we have to do.”

To do this well is not without risk, warned Tighe, who urged the group not to be frightened by modern culture but to get out there and engage with it. “Listen and respond,” he said almost in pep-talk fashion.

And when it comes to the ever-pervasive social media, the bishop advised the communicators to participate, but not to let it become who they are, always keeping the priority of sharing the good news as a barometer in their role as Catholic communicators.

These same themes came across in a message to the group from Pope Francis, read by J.D. Long-Garcia, senior editor of America magazine and CPA president, at the start of the conference’s opening session.

“Catholic media outlets in the United States are called to break down barriers that prevent dialogue and honest communication between people and communities,” the pope said. He also urged the group to serve as an inspiration of the ideal of unity amid diversity “in an age marked by conflicts and polarization from which the Catholic community itself is not immune.”

“We cannot truly communicate unless we become personally involved, unless we can personally attest to the truth of the message we convey,” the pope told them.

Carol Zimmermann  I  Catholic News Service


Parishioner makes music of “We Stand with Christ”

TRUMBULL—When Anna Bendiksen was a teenager growing up in Rochester, her dream was to be an opera singer, so she began formal voice training, along with her studies in Russian. As she tells the story, her voice instructor discreetly suggested she stick with Russian.

She did and eventually earned degrees from Bryn Mawr College and Yale University in Slavic languages and literature. “God had another plan,” she says. And while his plan may not have included a career in opera, it did include music … music that would give him glory.

Anna, who grew up singing and playing the piano, is a writer, poet, and author of hymn texts. A convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism, she is a member of the Parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Trumbull. Since she was received into full communion with the Catholic Church at the 2019 Easter Vigil, she has written several dozen hymns set to traditional melodies. One of her most recent is titled “We Stand With Christ,” in recognition of the Diocese of Bridgeport’s capital campaign.

“I was just taken with the phrase, ‘We stand with Christ,’ and it sounded to me like the title of a song,” she said. “Then, it occurred to me that it would fit a tune in the public domain, the old Welsh tune ‘Ar Hyd y Nos,’ or ‘All Through the Night.’ So I sat down and wrote it. Thank goodness for music writing software.” She later gave the hymn to We Stand With Christ campaign of the diocese.

“We are incredibly grateful to Anna for offering her hymn and reflection about our campaign. It highlights our central theme of standing with our neighbors,” Robert O’Brien, capital campaign director said. “We Stand With Christ is more than just a capital campaign. It’s been an opportunity to personally reflect on our roles as the hands and feet of Christ in our communities.”

Patricia Hansen, director of development operations, said, “We are encouraging parishes still running the campaign to play Anna’s hymn at Mass or at any future campaign receptions.”

[To hear Anna Bendiksen singing “We Stand With Christ,” click here]

Anna’s creativity blossomed when she entered the RCIA program. “I think what happened is that as a musician and Anglican, I needed to make sense of my experience coming into the Catholic Church,” she said. “The music at St. Catherine’s is lovely, and I wanted to add my own voice to the world of Catholic music.”

In a short time, she has achieved that goal. A member of the parish choir, she has written several hymns that she shared with Dr. William H. Atwood, Director of Music and Coordinator of Liturgical Ministries, and they have been used during church worship. The sung prayer, “Hear, Holy Mother,” set to the tune of “Christe Sanctorum,” asks for Our Lady’s intercession in ending the coronavirus pandemic. She is especially appreciative to Dr. Atwood and pastor, Fr. Joseph Marcello, for their support.

Since she began writing texts for hymns, she has compiled a notebook of more than two dozen compositions. The beauty of the faith has been a catalyst for her creative work, and she hopes her compositions express the joy she feels.

“To me, it is all about joy,” she said. “We are an Easter people and our song is ‘Alleluia.’ But we are also a Christmas people and our song is ‘Peace on Earth, good will to all.’ I want to bring Christmas to the lives of other people, and peace is not really peace if it is not combined with God’s justice.”

She doesn’t write the music to her compositions because by her own admission, “I am a horrible composer.” Instead, she borrows music from traditional sources, which she finds in her collection of hymnals.

“With certain hymns I loved, it seemed the music was happier than the words or vice versa,” she said. “They seemed mismatched, so I would write lyrics that fit them better. For example, ‘Cross of Jesus, Cross of Sorrow’ sounded more like a Christmas carol when I sang it, so I wrote lyrics for it as a Christmas carol and gave it to my goddaughter as a present one year.”

She believes the skill of writing hymns can be taught and has offered to conduct a workshop for diocesan groups or people interested in learning the basic principles of the art.

Anna, who lives in Fairfield with her husband Aage and son Johan, recently submitted her hymn, “O, Queen of Sorrows, Weeping Rose,” to a music publisher. The piece, she says, “is about Our Lady’s sorrows, about where we are and where we should be.”

A published poet, Anna has also written humorous and satirical songs based on well-known melodies. Her son Johan plays trombone in the Norwalk Youth Symphony Brass Ensemble and when she offered to write a funny song for the group, he suggested using the melody of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Later, at a holiday party for the ensemble, she performed her rendition of the “Battle Hymn of the Norwalk Youth Symphony Brass Ensemble.”

In the folder that contains her hymns, Anna keeps a copy of a 1999 “Letter to Artists” by St. John Paul II, which has inspired her writing. It says in part: “In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable.”

Nestled among her creations, she also keeps “The Prayer of a Christian Writer,” which she wrote, and before starting a new project, she always remembers to pray it:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Incarnate Word,
I do not ask for influence, riches or fame.
I ask to be a vessel of Your grace,
to love as Your Sacred Heart loves,
and to be known by You, my truest friend.
Help me to proclaim Your truth courageously,
Your goodness kindly,
and Your beauty selflessly,
that bearing with cheer the taunts of the world,
I might serve as witness
to Your life, death and resurrection.

And what about Anna’s first love of opera? Even though she may not be singing in the Metropolitan Opera production of “Don Giovanni,” she is diligently at work on a Christmas libretto for the holiday season.

Parish projects meet critical needs

GEORGETOWN—We Stand With Christ is making much needed parish projects possible, and for Father David Leopold, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Georgetown, that means a new roof. Not one but three.

Worshipping in a church that is almost 140 years old certainly has its historic appeal, but it also presents challenges when it comes to maintenance.

“Our focus was mainly on one critical need that we had for at least a year at Sacred Heart,” said Father Leopold. “The shingles on the roof of the church building were starting to deteriorate, and we had to do something.”

Water was leaking into the hallway that led downstairs, where there are offices, and Father feared that if the problem was left untreated, the interior walls of the church would be damaged. When roofers came to look at the job, they discovered there were already four layers of shingles on the roof, which had to be removed.

The work on the church and two other buildings—the parish hall and religious education center along with a garage—was completed last November over the Thanksgiving weekend. During that time, Masses were held in the hall.

Father Leopold is especially grateful to his parishioners for their pledges to the We Stand With Christ campaign, which made the work possible. “I really appreciated what they did,” he said. “I know that everybody has his or her financial strains, and I was very thankful for their participation.”

“It is kind of a mundane project, but a critical project for us because you don’t want to have a roof leaking, and the proceeds we received from We Stand With Christ enabled us to do the job before it got worse,” he said. “Now, it looks perfect.”

St. Timothy Chapel in Greenwich celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, and throughout its history, it has been a favorite place to worship for people in northern Greenwich and visitors who come across the border from New York State. Part of the St. Michael the Archangel Parish, it was recently renovated with funds made possible through We Stand With Christ.

Father Ian Jeremiah, pastor, said the parish’s main concern was ensuring that the chapel was handicapped accessible because there are many elderly parishioners who need assistance.

“Instead of building a long ramp, we raised the gradient of the ground to make it incline into the church entrance,” Father Jeremiah said. In addition, they created a new gathering space outside that was farther away from the traffic. They also built a handicapped bathroom and installed new flooring and applied a fresh coat of paint and did some landscaping this spring. Now, the parish is looking forward to the day when restrictions on public gatherings are lifted, and Bishop Frank J. Caggiano can come to rededicate the chapel.

In addition to the chapel project, a major renovation of St. Michael the Archangel in Greenwich began two weeks earlier than scheduled once public Masses were suspended. The project is expected to take nine months to complete, and parishioners are looking forward to celebrating Christmas in the renovated church. During the construction period, when public Masses resume, the parish will worship in the cafeteria of Greenwich Catholic School.

“We want to recapture space in the church,” Father Jeremiah said. “We need a lot more gathering space so the vestibule will be extended.” In addition, there will be more conference rooms for church ministries and renovations to Guinan Hall, new pews and flooring, along with a new HVac system, a new driveway and more garden space around the church.

The additional space for meeting rooms is needed because of the new young families joining the parish and a parish effort to revitalize the youth ministries.

“Even amidst these challenging times, good things are happening,” Father Jeremiah told his parishioners in an update on the project. “Please pray for the success of our rebuilding and the safety of everyone involved in the construction.”

St. Michael surpassed its goal in the capital campaign, and Father praised his parishioners for their generosity. “I was gratefully and pleasantly surprised,” he said. “We have generous parishioners, so I thank our good Lord and the bishop for his guidance.”

By Joe Pisani

Donation drive benefits Dorothy Day House

RIDGEFIELD—Recently, Lukas Dapkus, a young adult parishioner of St. Mary’s in Ridgefield was inspired to collect much-needed items for those who depend on the Dorothy Day Hospitality House in Danbury.

In addition to feeding the hungry, hospitality shelters such as Dorothy Day House provide personal hygiene supplies to those in need. Following the Coronavirus outbreak, the Dorothy Day House was forced to close and the nearly 100 people per day that depend on the Dorothy Day House experienced shortages of hygiene supplies.

On Saturday, June 27, Lukas and St. Mary’s in Ridgefield held a donation drop-off to collect much needed items to benefit the Dorothy Day Hospitality House.

From 10 am to noon, cars came through the St. Mary School parking lot with donations such as travel size shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and soap, disposable toothbrushes and razors.

The donation drive was a great success!

The Dorothy Day Hospitality House has been feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless in the Danbury CT area since 1982 and is based on the Houses of Hospitality founded by Dorothy Day during the Great Depression. Dorothy Day Hospitality House serves 60-80 hot meals each afternoon and provides shelter to 16 people each night. The house is located on 11 Spring Street in Danbury.

(For more information visit:

Immaculate High School appoints two to Leadership Positions

DANBURY—Immaculate High School announced that Denise Suarez of Bethel and Jeannie Demko of Danbury will assume new leadership roles at the Catholic college-preparatory school beginning July 1, 2020.

Denise Suarez has been appointed to be the Director of Admissions. Suarez is a 1987 graduate of Immaculate, and has served as the Director of Alumni Relations since 2013. In that position she developed and continuously expanded Immaculate’s alumni program to reach and engage its ever growing base of over 7,000 alumni, including members of her own family.

“After thoroughly enjoying my work with our incredible alumni community over the last seven years, I look forward to serving my alma mater in this new role. I am excited to build upon the great work of our Admissions department as I look to welcome the next generation of Immaculate students as Director of Admissions,” she said. “I can say without hesitation that the academic continuity, development of compassionate leaders and vibrancy of the Immaculate community have remained steadfast during these challenging times. There has never been a better time to consider Immaculate and I look forward to sharing the mission, values and outcomes of an Immaculate education with prospective families,” Suarez added.

Jeannie Demko will serve as the school’s Director of Alumni Relations. A 1988 graduate of Immaculate High School, Demko returned to Immaculate as Event Coordinator in 2018. In that role she helped plan, organize and run special events including the annual Golf Outing, Spring Gala and Scholarship Breakfast.

“Working at Immaculate for the past two years has been an absolute joy. In my new role as Director of Alumni Relations, I will have the privilege and honor to work directly with our amazing network of alumni. Thanks to the leadership of Denise Suarez, our efforts in this area have never been stronger,” Demko said. “I am inspired and energized to continue creating pathways for alumni participation that advance the goals of IHS. As an alumna, parent of an alumnus and current parent I am passionate about the mission of Immaculate and have seen firsthand how alumni relations help benefit our students and contribute to their growth,” she noted.

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 academic excellence, spiritual development, service to others and personal goals. Located in Danbury, CT, Immaculate High School is part of the Diocese of Bridgeport’s school system.

St. Catherine of Siena “Welcomes Home” Parishioners

TRUMBULL—Though they donned face masks, made a reservation online, and sanitized frequently, parishioners at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Trumbull rejoiced in the opportunity this past weekend to once again attend public indoor Mass. Since mid-March, Father Joseph Marcello has looked out at empty pews while celebrating the Eucharist, but on this Sunday morning, he greeted the faithful with a wide smile and a joyous “Welcome home!”

As this pastor and his Reopening Team readied the church for the weekend’s homecoming, they acknowledged people’s enthusiasm but also recognized their apprehension due to the health concerns of COVID-19. Jim Panullo, Director of Parish Operations, emphasized that sanitizing was the first and foremost concern.

“We want to be sure that everyone feels safe. That is our priority,” he said, adding that the church building can accommodate up to 85 parishioners based on current guidelines. “We have volunteers for check-in, seating, and guarding the doors, and we’re cleaning all pews between Masses.”

Those pews, though not full due to social distancing, were nevertheless occupied by dozens of parishioners who returned to a very different protocol than they remember from three months ago when the pandemic shuttered churches in the diocese. Though many have watched the live-streamed Masses, Panullo said that it’s just not the same for them without Holy Communion.

“Our parishioners have been very enthusiastic about returning, and I’ve heard from many families how much they’re looking forward to being back in church for Mass,” said Father Marcello.

Such enthusiasm was felt as parishioners, standing six feet apart, waited for the doors of St. Catherine’s to open on this Corpus Christi morning. With red roses adorning the altar and mild June breezes blowing through the windows, the church was filled with a sense of renewal.

Upon entering and presenting their reservation ticket, those in attendance were then escorted by volunteers to preassigned seats as only every third pew was open. Masks, required throughout the entirety of Mass, were allowed to be briefly removed during Holy Communion. For added safety in the foreseeable future, the offertory basket will not be passed, hymnals have been removed, and the Sign of Peace has been omitted. To keep a proper social distance, parishioners are guided by blue tape in six-foot markings on the floor and yellow caution tape around the vacant pews.

Despite these changes, it was the expectation of being together again with his parishioners that excited Father  Marcello. “I’m really looking forward to just seeing them again and praying with them, notwithstanding that the experience of Mass will be necessarily a little different for the time being,” he said. Many people, he added, especially those in high-risk categories, will continue to view Mass at home.

That sense of community was also something that longtime parishioner Tom Matthews missed over the past few months. “It’s really good to be back,” said Matthews, a volunteer member of the Reopening Team. “I take pleasure in the routine of Mass and in the strong connection between faith and community. There was an emptiness there.”

As Father Marcello addressed his congregation, he acknowledged the suffering many have withstood during the pandemic but reminded his parishioners that Christ was ever present. “Our lives have been off balance. We are all longing for a return to a semblance of normalcy,” he said. “But throughout this time, there has always been hope. The flame above the sanctuary has never left us. Christ is powerfully sustaining us.”

Weekend indoor Masses at St. Catherine, which require an online reservation, will be held on Saturday at 4 pm and 7:15 pm and on Sunday at 7:30 am, 9 am, and 11 am. No reservation is needed for the 7:30 am Daily Mass.

By Emily Clark

At St. Mary parishioners joyful to receive Jesus again

STAMFORD—For Father Gustavo A. Falla, Pastor of St. Mary of Stamford Parish, Jesus had a clear message for Catholics as public Masses resumed inside churches on the Feast of Corpus Christi: “I want people to receive me once again.”

Over the weekend for the first time since public Masses were suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, the faithful began returning to the pews of St. Mary Parish, which includes St. Benedict-Our Lady of Monserrat. Many expressed their joy at being able to receive the Eucharist again, appropriately on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

“You can see in their expressions the eagerness to receive the Eucharist, and I find it to be a beautiful gift of the Lord for us to be able to open up to the public on the feast of Corpus Christi,” Father Falla said. “It is the Lord telling us, ‘I want to be received. I want for people to receive me once again, not only spiritually but physically.’”

Dozens of faithful gathered at St. Mary of Stamford for the 10 am Mass, one of five that were celebrated over the weekend there and at St. Benedict-Our Lady of Monserrat.

Extensive preparations went into the opening the churches. Pews were marked off with signs and tape to ensure appropriate social distancing. People were required to register in advance and wear face masks. Upon entering the side door, they were greeted by members of the Welcome Group, who provided hand sanitizer and checked their temperatures.

“I have never seen anything like this in my life, and I never anticipated anything like this, Father Falla said. “It is absolutely different. It really brings into perspective what it means to prepare for Mass. Before it was just a matter of coming in and setting up the chalice and getting the readings and all that, but at this point it is very important that every individual who comes in is safe and that the Eucharist will be celebrated in a proper way without giving in to all the distractions that are associated with the preparations.”

St. Mary of Stamford was among 30 parishes that resumed public worship inside the church buildings. On May 29, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano announced the beginning of the Phase 2 of the plan to return to Mass inside churches on June 13-14, after each pastor submitted a re-opening plan to the diocese.

Indoor weekday Masses, Funeral Masses and Nuptial Weddings will also resume inside churches in parishes prepared to re-open in a safe and reverent manner. Given the limited seating capacity required for social distancing indoors, the bishop said parishes may continue to offer Mass outdoors for up to 150 people.

He also gave approval for ongoing parking lot Masses and encouraged pastors to continue live-streaming Masses for those who are unable to get out. The dispensation of the obligation to attend Sunday Mass for all those who are vulnerable or concerned about their health or the health of loved ones will continue until further notice.

Father Falla said despite the restrictions, the Catholic Church has never been closed. “Our temples have been closed, the buildings have been closed to the public, but the Church has never been closed,” he said. “We have been offering sacrifices to God daily and in prayer so we need to make the distinction between the Church being closed and a building that has been closed. Often times people think of the Church as a building.” He said he was delighted to finally be able to open the doors for public Mass.

In his homily, Father Falla said, “When the Lord gives himself to us, he gives himself completely. He reserves nothing for himself, not even his blood for his blood is given to us. He sheds his blood for the salvation of the world and the remission of sins. He doesn’t save his own body, he gives his body to us, so that you and I can be members of one body, his own….When you and I receive Holy Communion, we publicly declare that we are in common union with God and the Church. There is no Church without Christ and there is no Christ without the Church.”

Father said that if we want to receive Holy Communion, we must be in the state of grace, “in the state of friendship with God and union with him.” If we fall out of the state of grace through mortal sin, it can be restored through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

He reminded the congregation that “He who gives himself completely to us wants for us to give ourselves completely to others and to the Church.”

He urged them to encounter Christ in the Eucharist and continue to increase in devotion to the Lord in the Eucharist, reminding them the Blessed Sacrament is exposed every Sunday at St. Benedict from 8 am to 8 pm for adoration and prayer.

After Mass people approached Father and expressed their gratitude and appreciation that public Masses had resumed.

Yulisa Vivieca and her daughter Ashley Peralta attended the 8 am Spanish Mass at St. Mary. “It was amazing, it felt good,” Yulisa said. “We have been at home and kept praying but to be back in church and feel the energy of the people was amazing. We even had our temperatures taken.”

Ashley agreed and said, “It was really nice and I enjoyed it. We plan to come back again.”

At the side entrance of the church, Stefania Canneto, administrative assistant for Father Falla, was working at a registration table with Mary Catherine Herbert, checking people off the list of pre-registrations as they entered. Preparing for the Masses at St. Mary and St. Benedict required hours of work to set up the pews with tape and signs.

Vigil Masses were held at St. Benedict on Saturday with a 4:30 Mass in English and a 6:30 Mass in Spanish, she said. On Sunday, St. Mary celebrated an 8 am Mass in Spanish, a 10 am Mass in English and a noon Mass in Spanish. A group of almost a dozen volunteers called the “Welcome Group” assisted Stefania at both churches.

Mary Catherine said she voiced concerns to Father on Saturday that public Masses might be starting too soon, but her worries were allayed when “I saw all those people in church who were very happy to be there again.”

A lifelong member of the parish and a graduate of St. Mary School, she said, “I was definitely happy to receive the Eucharist, so happy I almost wanted to cry.”

Sharon MacKnight, the parish photographer who has been a member of the church for 30 years, said the Vigil Mass on Saturday was the first she has attended since mid-March and that she was so moved, she cried to receive the Body of Christ again.

“As Father says, you don’t need a building to go to church because God is with us, and people have been coming all along to pray and light candles.” Even though there were no public Masses, St. Benedict was open for Eucharistic adoration and Mass was live-streamed from that church.

Sharon walked to the front of St. Mary, where a shrine to Our Lady of Grace had been erected in the foyer, looking out onto Elm Street. The statue of Our Lady was surrounded by flowers and candles as people knelt on the floor and prayed to her. Sharon said the doors are open from 7 am to 7 pm and that whenever she drives by the church, someone is there, praying to the Mother of God.

SHU Dean Series Convo Focuses on Education

WHAT: Sacred Heart University presents a new discussion series, “Thought Leadership for the New Normal: A Conversation Series with Sacred Heart University Deans.” The first episode will feature Michael Alfano, dean of SHU’s Isabelle Farrington College of Education. He will join a panel of experts to discuss what education will look like in the year ahead.

Hosted by:
• Randye Kaye — WSHU radio host

Panelists include:
• Michael Alfano — Dean of the Isabelle Farrington College of Education
• Frances M. Rabinowitz ’72 — Executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents
• Desi D. Nesmith — Deputy commissioner of academics and innovation at the Connecticut State Department of Education
• Charlene Russell-Tucker — Deputy commissioner of educational supports and wellness at the Connecticut State Department of Education

WHERE: Click here to watch the discussion for free

WHEN: Wednesday, June 17, at 2 pm

SPONSOR: Sacred Heart University, Isabelle Farrington College of Education, WSHU

PRESS: Media coverage is welcomed. Please contact Deb Noack at 203.396.8483 or for further information.

About Sacred Heart University
As the second-largest independent Catholic university in New England, and one of the fastest-growing in the U.S., Sacred Heart University is a national leader in shaping higher education for the 21st century. SHU offers more than 80 undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs on its Fairfield, Conn., campus. Sacred Heart also has satellites in Connecticut, Luxembourg and Ireland and offers online programs. More than 9,000 students attend the University’s nine colleges and schools: Arts & Sciences; Communication, Media & the Arts; Social Work; Computer Science & Engineering; Health Professions; the Isabelle Farrington College of Education; the Jack Welch College of Business & Technology; the Dr. Susan L. Davis & Richard J. Henley College of Nursing; and St. Vincent’s College. Sacred Heart stands out from other Catholic institutions as it was established and led by laity. The contemporary Catholic university is rooted in the rich Catholic intellectual tradition and the liberal arts, and at the same time cultivates students to be forward thinkers who enact change—in their own lives, professions and in their communities. The Princeton Review includes SHU in its Best 385 Colleges–2020 Edition, “Best in the Northeast” and Best 252 Business Schools–2019 Edition. Sacred Heart is home to the award-winning, NPR-affiliated radio station, WSHU, a Division I athletics program and an impressive performing arts program that includes choir, band, dance and theater.

Parishes preparing to resume indoor Masses this weekend

BRIDGEPORT—About thirty parishes throughout the diocese are preparing to resume public worship inside their church buildings this weeknd on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

Masks, social distancing, PPEs and other public health measures will be part of the experience of Mass for those who return to Mass indoors or the first time in months.

Worshippers can expect six feet of space between themselves and other individuals and families. They will also need to make a reservation to attend Mass (Mass times may change to accommodate cleaning needs) and will be required to wear a mask during the service.

They will also have plenty of fresh air inside the churches as guidelines call for entrance and exit doors to be open at the beginning and end of Mass and, weather permitting, church windows to remain open during the service.

In a May 29 letter to the faithful Bishop Frank J. Caggiano announced the beginning of the phase two return to Mass inside churches on June 13-14, after each pastor has submitted a re-opening plan to the diocese.

Indoor weekday Masses, Funeral Masses and Nuptial Weddings will also resume inside Churches after the weekend of June 13 and 14 in parishes prepared to re-open in a safe and reverent manner.

The bishop said that all parishes must make every effort to begin offering indoor Masses no later than the weekend of June 27-28, the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Given the limited seating capacity required for social distancing during indoor Masses, the bishop said that parishes can continue to offer Mass outdoors for up to 150 people (including clergy, staff, volunteers, and attendees).

He has also given approval for ongoing parking lot Masses and has encouraged pastors to continue live-streaming Masses for those who are unable to get out, while public worship slowly resumes.

The dispensation of the obligation to attend Sunday Mass for all those who are vulnerable or concerned about their health or the health of loved ones will continue until further notice.

Pews will be marked with physical distancing indicators, and ushers or other volunteers will assist with directing people to marked seating. Ushers will also ensure that no one congregates in common space such as foyers, lobbies, community and multi-purpose rooms or event spaces.

In some churches, every other pew may be used if they are 6-feet apart, while in other, smaller churches every third pew may be required to meet safety recommendations.

The overall capacity may vary depending on the size and configuration of the church as they affect the ability to meet social distancing recommendations. As a result, larger churches may accommodate up to 100, while others may safely hold less than 50.

Reception of Holy Communion on the tongue remains permissible, as required by the liturgical law of the Church, with the admonition that the faithful should be reminded of the unique risks posed by receiving the Eucharist in this manner. Overall, it is recommended that people receive Communion in the hand for the duration of the pandemic.

Other changes call for the suspension of the procession and recessional down the center aisle, and for the faithful to refrain from singing (which is believed to propel the virus forward). Likewise, there will be no sign of peace or holding hands during the Our Father.

Given the complicated logistics of safely resuming indoor worship, training programs are in place for staff, lay ministers and volunteers. The diocesan Leadership Institute has also produced a video for lay ministers, and signage has been made available to parishes to further safeguard the health of the faithful.

All of the precautions and procedures are based on state, federal and CDC recommendations and guidelines to safeguard the health of the community during the pandemic.

The bishop said he is grateful for the tremendous efforts of priests, deacons, lay ministers and others who are diligently planning for the safe re-opening of churches.

“I recognize that the last few months have been a most difficult time for all of us. I am grateful for your patience and prayers during this unprecedented moment in our history. I very much appreciate the great sorrow and loss felt by many who have longed to return to Mass. We will also need to live with continuing uncertainties about the course of the pandemic and its full impact on our society.

However, I believe that it is also the right time to move forward in hope and faith, while taking all necessary precautions and safeguards to protect life in our community as we resume public worship within our Churches,” said the bishop.

Anyone interested in attending Mass inside the Church should contact their parish online or by phone for Mass times and other instruction.

(To view guidelines on the resumption of indoor Masses, click here
For guidelines on the reception of Holy Communion, click here. For a video tutorial for liturgical ministers, click here. For a brief overview of what you can expect as you arrive and during the celebration of Mass, click here.)

St. Mary’s couple share their thoughts on race and faith

RIDGEFIELD—Since the pandemic began, Msgr. Kevin Royal, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Ridgefield, has been sending a “Keeping Us Connected” newsletter to update parishioners along with a video spiritual reflection on matters of faith.

This week he turned the tables and asked long-time St. Mary’s parishioners Ben and Janie Nneji to discuss their experience as African-Americans living in Ridgefield.

“Ben and Janie are people of prayer and hope, and live with a great serenity and faith. Their brief video helps give a little insight into their experiences,” says Msgr. Royal in his introduction to parishioners.

Msgr. Royal began his questions by asking the Nnejis to discuss their experience as African Americans living in a town of approximately 25,000, when just over 1 percent are black.

The couple, who are the parents of four children and have lived in Ridgefield for over 22 years, said they love the town and the parish, but they have occasionally experienced racial profiling. When Ben was teaching his daughter to drive around the neighborhood, a resident called the police on them. When his daughter was walking to school one day, a car slowed to hurl a racial slur at her. Janie, a minister’s daughter and a convert who grew up in white neighborhoods, said that people she meets in groups often assume that she doesn’t live in Ridgefield.

Ben, who is a native of Nigeria, believes we need to better understand who immigrants are as human beings. “Get to know the other” he says, before making judgements. “The face of God is love,” says Janie who believes faith communities can heal divisions.

In his online bulletin Msgr. Royal says, “Knowing one another’s lives and struggles is a step toward reconciliation and unity. I know the topic can make us uncomfortable, but it’s well worth the attention and soul searching regardless of political affiliation.”

He sent parishioners a link to an audio decade of a rosary for racial reconciliation, and a video of an interview with Latasha Morrison who speaks to the issue from a Gospel perspective.

“As if a pandemic and its related issues were not worrisome enough, our country is once again in the midst of turmoil as racial division and tensions flare up over the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer,” says Msgr. Royal.

So what can a parish do? What can it contribute?

“Long wordy statements are important, but for me, as a pastor of souls, they are insufficient. For us as a local parish and members of the Body of Christ, a few things for today. Chaos and anarchy are never good for anyone, whereas prayer, truth, soul searching, solidarity, conversion, and repentance are always beneficial,” he says.

Msgr. Royal urges parishioners and people of good will to try to “understand each other’s live so along with people of good will trying to “understand each other’s lives, to discern just systems and unjust systems; to participate in right, just and challenging protesting,” and to resist the temptations of hatred and division that deny our common humanity and being saved together.

“As a pastor of souls, a priest trying to follow the heart and mind of Jesus the Good Shepherd, I urge all of us to shun such temptation Let’s ask the Lord to give us light, truth, and courage. And may our Blessed Mother intercede for her children “in this vale of tears.”

Click here to read Msgr. Royal’s letter and view the video.
Click here for the video link.

IHS Class of 2020: Graduation News and Top Ten Seniors

DANBURY—Immaculate High School will graduate 113 seniors at its Commencement Liturgy for seniors on Saturday, June 13 at St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown. The seniors will be recognized for their many scholarships and academic, athletic, arts/music, community service and other awards they earned over the school year, and for their resilience and Mustang spirit in sticking with their studies and commitments during the last few months of virtual school.

Hunter Kirkman of Sandy Hook is the Class of 2020’s valedictorian and Sean Guiry of Danbury is the salutatorian and will be recognized at the ceremony. Of the 113 members of the Class of 2020, 100 percent of those students who applied to colleges and universities were accepted and were awarded college scholarships and grants totaling $30 million. The top ten percent of students achieved a SAT score average of 1365.

Valedictorian Hunter Kirkman will attend Northeastern University in the Honors Program and major in Mechanical Engineering. Hunter is a Distinguished Honors student, a recipient of the 2019 Carson Scholarship, a National Merit Scholarship Program Finalist with a perfect SAT math score of 800 and he received a National Merit Corporate Scholarship from Northeastern University. He is also a Harvard Book Award recipient, a member of the National Honor Society, the English National Honor Society, the Science National Honor Society and the Mu Alpha Theta Math National Honor Society. Hunter also received the President’s Volunteer Service Award and has served on the Student Council, as President of Campus Ministry, as a member of the Peer Leadership Club, Key Club and Engineering Club and as a Student Ambassador.

Hunter Kirkman was also named Immaculate High School’s Student of the Year for the 2019-20 school year. Hunter earned this honor for consistently demonstrating school spirit and dedication to IHS, strength of character and faith in action through kindness to others, and a passion for learning and going beyond what is expected, including encouraging others to do their best.

Salutatorian Sean Guiry will attend Northeastern University, where he received a Dean’s Scholarship, and major in Computer Science and Computer Engineering. At Immaculate, Sean is a Distinguished Honors student and a member of the National Honor Society and the Science National Honor Society. Sean is a talented pianist and a three-sport athlete, having played varsity soccer, basketball and outdoor track for Immaculate, and was named a Scholar Athlete by the CAS-CIAC and was selected to the 2020 Boys Basketball All-State D1 Team and named by GameTimeCT to the All-State Boys Basketball Second Team. Sean has received the President’s Volunteer Service Award and the Rensselaer Medal for his dedication and excellence in science and math.

Completing the Top Ten graduating senior list are Ryan McNerney of Sandy Hook (Middlebury College), Mackenzie O’Rourke of Brookfield (Marist College), Molly Coyle of Brookfield (The College of William and Mary), Ross Relator of Danbury (UCONN), Olivia Hynes of Danbury (Kenyon College), Keelan Doherty of Danbury (Northeastern University), Gregory Gruerio of Brookfield (Seton Hall University) and Francesca Coppola of Southbury (Fairfield University).

The Immaculate High School graduating Class of 2020 contributed over 6006 hours to a school-wide total of 23,008 hours of community service and many students were honored and/or received scholarships from many local community service organizations and the Diocese of Bridgeport for their service and academic achievements. Seniors received numerous individual athletic SWC and CIAC leadership and sportsmanship recognitions as well as academic and music and art awards, including Commendations from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards, Connecticut Association of Schools Fine Arts Awards, Halo Theater Awards and more. Other seniors were part of the CyberPatriots, Brave Engineers Team and Mock Trial teams that won regional, State and other major competitions.

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 academic excellence, spiritual development, service to others and personal goals.  Located in Danbury, CT, Immaculate High School is part of the Diocese of Bridgeport’s school system.