Articles By: Renee Stamatis

Immaculate High School Inducts New Members to National Honor Society

DANBURY—Immaculate High School recently inducted 57 students into the St. Thomas Aquinas Chapter of the National Honor Society, an affiliated chartered chapter of the National Honor Society. ​Students who are inducted into the National Society are required to have a minimum 3.5 GPA. They must also have a leadership role in either the school or community, inspire positive behavior in others, have served at least 75 hours (juniors) or 100 hours (seniors) of community service and consistently demonstrate respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, fairness, caring and good citizenship. ​Membership is offered to juniors and seniors who meet the criteria established by the National Association of Secondary School Principals in the areas of scholarship, leadership, service and character. Once accepted, they are expected to uphold the criteria​ of excellence in all four areas.

“It’s unfortunate that we can’t celebrate as we usually do, but these students should be proud to be members. It’s more than just academics: these students provide many hours of service to the community and are leaders among their peers,” says Dana Pickney, advisor of the National Honor Society.

The following students were inducted into the National Honor Society during a virtual ceremony that can be viewed here.

Danbury Students:​ Stephanie Antonios ‘22, Nikolas Badinelli ‘22, Caitlin Doherty ‘22, William Doran ‘22, Eduardo Dos Santos ‘21, Danielle Garcia ‘22, Alexys Garden ‘21, Julia Goodwin ‘21, Wyatt Jarboe ‘22, Ernst Koch ’22, Sara MacKinnon ‘22, Kiera McCoy ‘22, Caroline Merritt ‘22, Anish Nanda ‘22, Quy Ngoc Huynh “Victoria” Nguyen ‘21, Conor O’Keefe ‘22, Gabriela Ortiz ‘22, Mario Perez ‘22, Matthew Riggs ‘21, Lynn Sanchez ‘22, Magdalena Swierczek ‘22, Caroline Tucker ‘22, Amanda Tureaud ‘22, Joseph Williams ‘22, Jake Windas ‘22

Bethel Students: ​Chloe Gleissner ‘22, Richard Lawlor ‘22, Audrey Quish ‘22, Christopher Suarez ‘22, Oona Tuccinardi ‘22

Brookfield Students: ​Arianna Petta ‘22, Nathanial Varda ‘22, Alexis Walsh ‘22

Ridgefield Students:​ Patrik Backus ‘22, John Christopher Karle ‘22, Kennedi Muller ‘22

Redding Students:​ Allie Bellone ‘22, Chloe Bellone ‘22, Calista Dudas ‘22, Carolyn Jandura ‘22, Julong Williams ‘22

Newtown Students: ​Katerina Crowe ‘22, Grace McLoughlin ‘22, Sophia Pertoso ‘22, Steven Reese ‘22, Thai Sapenter ‘22

Sandy Hook Students: ​Logan McAloon ‘21, Walker Prevedi ‘22

New Fairfield Students: ​Sarra Darby ‘22, Anna Flaherty ‘22, Susan Radliff ‘22, Lilly Zuccala ‘22

New Milford Students: ​Matthew Reeves ‘22

Bridgewater Students: ​Lauren Manning ‘22

North Salem, NY Students:​ Diana DiVestea ‘22

South Salem, NY Students: ​Ryan Tappan ‘22

Wingdale, NY Students: ​Harrison Palmer ‘21

St. Mark School Earns an A+ from Niche

STRATFORD—St. Mark School, Stratford’s Nationally Recognized Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, recently received an overall A+ rating by Niche for Academics, Teachers and Diversity.

Niche is the leader in K-12 and college school search with the most comprehensive data on U.S. schools and neighborhoods. Its mission is to make researching and enrolling in schools easy, transparent, and free.

“As principal of St. Mark School, I know St. Mark School provides an exceptional learning environment and a warm, inclusive community that promotes positive character and growth,” said Melissa Warner. “That continues to be true during the pandemic. Our teachers and students have risen to new heights and are doing superb work with in-person instruction. To be recognized for our strengths by Niche with the top ranking is gratifying for all of us who work hard to challenge and support our students’ growth and achievements every day.”

The newly released Niche grades are calculated using the most up-to-date data available from dozens of public sources along with millions of reviews from students, and parents.

“A high ranking indicates that the school is an exceptional academic institution with a diverse set of high-achieving students who rate their experience very highly,” according to Niche, which was founded in 2002 by Carnegie Mellon University students as an education research/review service.

St. Mark School opened its campus for in-person learning in September and continues to offer robust educational programs for students in Pre-K through Grade Eight, including those who choose to be enrolled in remote learning. This year alone, St. Mark School welcomed 56 new students and continues to attract families looking for an exceptional in-person education.

The Biggs Family, who recently transferred their 4th and 6th grade children to St. Mark School from public school, reported, “We are so very happy to be at St. Mark School. My husband loves the homework and is thrilled that our children are being pushed more than they were before. I am so thankful for all the support and offer of help and guidance we have received thus far.”

To kick off Catholic Schools Week, St. Mark School will offer School Tours for prospective families on Sunday, January 31, 2021 from 10 am – 12 noon. For more information, visit the school’s website at To take a virtual tour click here.

Essential work in the crisis

BRIDGEPORT—When Mike Donoghue took helm of Catholic Charities on December 1, last year, he barely had time to get to know staff and review the agency’s many programs when the pandemic hit.

Within days of the state’s shutdown orders, the number of people coming forward to Merton Center in Bridgeport and New Covenant Center in Stamford tripled—and that was just the beginning of the demand for service.

Donoghue, who retired from a successful Wall Street career in finance and investment, was no stranger to the non-profit world. He made sure to carve time out of his busy work schedule to volunteer in soup kitchens, serve on boards and give back to the community, but he walked into a crisis of historic proportions.

“It has been a real interesting, challenging and invigorating year. I was just getting settled in and a sense of the organization before the void hit and so many things had to be done at once. This is our super bowl,” says Donoghue who along with his Catholic Charities team has more than risen to the challenge.

Priority number one was feeding the people who were suddenly jobless and hungry and were turning to Catholic Charities in record numbers soup kitchens for help.

Beyond dealing with the surging demand for meals and take-home groceries, Donoghue had to contend with the loss of the hundreds of volunteers who could no longer safely work at the nutrition sites. Many were elderly or semi-retired and at greatest risk for complications from the virus—which put incredible demand on the small professional staff.

The staff also had to deal with the challenge of moving all food serving operations outside in order to protect guests and observe appropriate social distancing with the long lines that were forming.

At the same time, many people were struggling with a depression and anxiety that escalated into the need for counseling and behavioral health services. Many poor and working families in particular had nowhere else to turn and relied on Catholic Charities, the largest private service agency in Fairfield County, for professional health, he said.

Donoghue, a Dartmouth graduate and parishioner of St. Thomas More Parish in Darien, said he has witnessed first-hand how tough the pandemic has been on the people least able to protect themselves and their children. Many are service workers who immediately lost their jobs in restaurants, hotels, and domestic settings. Some had to make the choice between paying rent or buying food.

He said the hardest hit group has been recent immigrants—many of whom are Catholics and members of parishes in Bridgeport, Stamford, Norwalk and Danbury. They pay taxes but do not qualify for many government service and as a result are very vulnerable

Holding it all together has been a staff of 130 people at work in 30 programs throughout Fairfield County, and Donoghue said he is incredibly proud of the work done being done by his staff under difficult conditions.

“We have a small but really dedicated team of employees at these facilities and they’ve been incredible. They’ve been running into the fire every day since pandemic started. While we were sequestered at home tying to be safe, they’ve put themselves at risk show up every day to feed the homeless, deliver meals to seniors, reach people on the streets through our Homeless outreach team and provide case management and housing service.”

Although the challenges are historic, Donoghue said he has been sustained by the commitment of his staff to mission and the generosity of donors at all levels.

For example, many volunteers who could no longer safely work in the soup kitchens began making sandwiches and preparing food at home, which they could safely drop off at lunch time. And parishes came to the rescue by conducting their own food drives and partnering with Catholic Charities to feed the hungry.

Donoghue said that he has been overwhelmed by the generosity of large and small donors who have stepped up with direct financial support and by giving to the Annual Catholic Appeal (ACA). While the pandemic taken a bite out of traditional fund raisers, the agency has been creative with virtual events and has also benefitted from contributions that have significantly helped to narrow what he feared would be a $2 million budget gap in the crisis.

Donoghue said he’s grateful to all those who have supported the work of Catholic Charities, and he believes that many people across the diocese would be pleased to know how much good work is done in the name of the Catholic Church.

“It’s a collaborative effort  by a tremendous number of people. Certainly Catholics around the diocese should be proud of our work—a lot of people of all faiths working together for one purpose to help the least of our brothers and sisters through a really difficult time.”

By Brian D. Wallace

Mike Donoghue on Catholic Charities:

Concerns Going forward:
“Cold weather, keeping employees and clients safe…and finding the funding to provide services. People have been generous but COVID-19 is not over—the needs are greater than ever.

The great un-equalizer:
“Fairfield County is a place of have and have-nots. We’re number one in the U.S in terms of income inequality and unfortunately COVID has been the great un-equalizer. People on the high end are doing fine economically and could just move home to work. Our staff is feeding people on the front line, risking their lives and health every day to do essential work.”

Heartwarming response:
“It has been heart-warming from my position to see goodness of so many people at times of crisis like this. It’s a beautiful thing to see how incredibly generous so many individuals and parishes.
In fact, people of other faiths have also stepped up and we’ve received help in so many different ways.”

“What has really helped me get through the last year has been having my wife Cece with me, by my side, seven days a week, working as a volunteer right alongside me. She also chairs the Order of Malta in Connecticut and they have stepped up to partner with us in feeding the poor.

I’m also grateful to the staff and to my predecessor Al Barber who is now chairing Foundations in Charity. Al is always ready to roll up his sleeves and help.”

Pope: Christ’s human condition a sign of God’s love

By taking on the frail human condition, God showed his love for humanity and his desire to share in people’s joys and sufferings, Pope Francis said.

During his Sunday Angelus address January 3, the pope said that God made the “bold” decision to become human “to tell us, to tell you, that he loves us like that, in our frailty, in your frailty, right there, where we are most ashamed, where you are most ashamed.”

“He enters into our shame, to become our brother, to share the path of life,” he said.

After praying the Angelus prayer and renewing his good wishes for the new year, Pope Francis said that Christians, without resorting to “the mentality of fatalism or magic,” know that “things will improve to the extent that, with God’s help, we work together for the common good, placing the weakest and most disadvantaged at the center.”

“We do not know what 2021 holds for us, but what each one of us, and all of us together, can do is to take care of each other and of creation, our common home,” he said.

Nevertheless, he also warned of the temptation to “take care only of our own interests, to continue to wage war,” or to live “hedonistically, that is, seeking only to satisfy our own pleasure.”

Pope Francis said he had read in a newspaper about a country, “I forget which,” where people were leaving in private planes to “flee lockdown and enjoy the holidays.”

“But those people, good people, did they not think about those who stayed at home, about the economic problems faced by many people who have been laid low by the lockdown or about the sick?” he asked. “They thought only about taking a holiday for their own pleasure. This pained me greatly.”

In his main talk, the pope reflected on the prologue of the Gospel of St. John, in which the evangelist says that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

Calling Christ “the Word,” the pope explained, “means that from the beginning, God wants to communicate with us, he wants to talk to us.”

“The only-begotten son of the Father wants to tell us about the beauty of being children of God,” the pope said. “He is ‘the true light’ and wants to remove the darkness of evil from us. He is ‘the life,’ who knows our lives and wants to tell us that he has always loved them. He loves us all.”

However, he continued, St. John’s specific use of the word “flesh” instead of a more “elegant” expression to define Christ’s humanity is meant to highlight “our human condition in all its weakness, in all its frailty.”

“He tells us that God became fragile so he could touch our fragility up close,” the pope said. “So, from the moment that the Lord became flesh, nothing about our life is extraneous to him. There is nothing that he scorns; we can share everything with him, everything.”

Moreover, the pope said that Christ didn’t “put our humanity on like a garment that can be put on and taken off”; rather he “united himself forever to our humanity,” suffered, died, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, body and soul.

As the Christmas season continued, Pope Francis encouraged Catholics to “pause in silence before the creche to savor the tenderness of God who came close (to us), who became flesh. And without fear, let’s invite him among us, into our homes, into our families.”

By Junno Arocho Esteves    I    Catholic News Service

Epiphany door blessing with chalk is symbol of hope

BALTIMORE—The ancient Christian tradition of marking doorways with blessed chalk on the feast of the Epiphany will carry new meaning for many Catholics in 2021.

Following a year that saw families shaken by the coronavirus pandemic, the traditional home blessing will serve as a special symbol of hope and a visible reminder of faith.

“Many have fought COVID-19 and lived to tell about it,” said Michael Carnahan, a parishioner of Sacred Heart of Mary Church in Baltimore, who has practiced the chalk blessing since he was a child.

“However, many people have suffered the loss of a loved one to this virus. The chalk, along with other symbols, will be an even stronger reminder of how important God is to us and of what an important factor Jesus is in our daily lives,” he said.

The blessing, popular in Poland and other Slavic countries, has spread to many parts of the world. It takes place on the liturgical feast marking the visitation of the Magi to the Christ Child and the revelation that Jesus is the son of God.

The blessing involves taking simple chalk, usually blessed by a parish priest, and scrawling doorways with symbolic numbers and letters—this year: “20+C M B 21.”

The numbers represent the current year and the letters stand for the first letters of the traditional names of the magi: Caspar (sometimes spelled “Kaspar”), Melchior and Balthazar. The letters are also an abbreviation for “Christus Mansionem Benedicat,” Latin for “May Christ bless this dwelling.”

Participants typically read passages from the New Testament and may sing Epiphany hymns.

Carnahan, along with his wife, Malgorzata Bondyra, and their five children, plan to take part in the tradition this Epiphany, which is observed in the United States this year from January 3-8. Of Polish background, they will say the blessing in Polish and English.

“We will use this as an opportunity to remember that living a Christ-like existence on a daily basis is important to all,” Carnahan said. “Just as we took for granted our health and safety as a society, we are reminded of how we might sometimes take for granted the sacrifice Jesus made for all of us.”

2021 won’t be the first time the blessing has taken on extra meaning. Under Soviet-dominated Poland, for example, Catholics viewed the blessing as a means of spiritual resistance.

“During communist times, Polish people would use the chalk and other symbols as a statement of their beliefs and as an indication that communism can’t take away their faith,” said Carnahan, a longtime member of the Polish dance ensemble, Ojczyzna, based at Holy Rosary Church in Baltimore. “It sometimes would lead to trouble for them, but ultimately it was a way to be defiant while also being true to their faith.”

Will and Amy Buttarazzi, parishioners of St. Joseph Church in Cockeysville, Maryland, have also practiced the chalk blessing at their home with their eight children. As the director of family ministry at their parish, Amy Buttarazzi encourages other families to adopt the practice. She made a video about the tradition and provided written instructions.

She remembers her elementary school, the School of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore, maintaining the tradition when she was growing up.

“Our principal would bless all the doors of the school building every year after we returned from Christmas break,” she said. “The blessing would be written on a sentence strip and taped to the top frame of each door in the building. Now, as a mom, I wanted to continue this tradition in my own home with my children.”

The Buttarazzis write their Epiphany blessing above the door of their dining room, while Carnahan and his family write it above their front door, outside.

Carnahan noted that the magi traveled far, having faith they would find the infant Jesus. They did so knowing his mission, he said.

“The chalk is a daily visual symbol for us,” Carnahan said, “just like seeing the crucifix hanging on the wall, helping us to keep within us thoughts of grace, love, peace, happiness, forgiveness and more.”

By George P. Matysek Jr.   I   Catholic News Service

(Matysek is digital editor for the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Catholic Review, the news outlet of the archdiocese.)

God gives everyone the task of being peacemakers

VATICAN CITY—As the Catholic Church celebrated World Peace Day January 1, Pope Francis offered prayers for the people of war-torn Yemen, especially the nation’s children left without education and often without food by years of civil war.

Reciting the Angelus from the library of the Apostolic Palace, the pope made no mention of the sciatica pain that had forced him to miss an evening prayer service December 31 and the morning Mass January 1 for the feast of Mary, Mother of God.

With Italy on a severe lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic over the holidays and with rain falling on a mostly empty St. Peter’s Square, the pope livestreamed his Angelus address and prayer from inside the library.

Highlighting the connection between the feast of Mary, Mother of God, and World Peace Day, Pope Francis prayed that Mary, “who gave birth to the Prince of Peace and cuddled him with such tenderness in her arms, obtain for us from heaven the precious gift of peace, which cannot be fully pursued with human strength alone.”

“Human efforts alone are not enough,” he repeated, “because peace is above all a gift—a gift from God to be implored with incessant prayer, sustained with patient and respectful dialogue, constructed with an open collaboration with truth and justice and always attentive to the legitimate aspirations of individuals and peoples.”

Peace, he insisted, is a gift that requires a human response and human effort.

“Each of us, men and women of this time—each person—is called to make peace happen each day and in every place we live, taking by the hand those brothers and sisters who need a comforting word, a tender gesture, supportive help,” he said. “This is a task God gives us; the Lord gives us the task of being peacemakers.”

Pope Francis prayed that 2021 would be a time of “human and spiritual growth, that it be a time in which hatred and divisions—and they are many—are resolved, that it be a time to build and not to destroy, to take care of each other and of creation.”

The past year, with so much suffering and death because of COVID-19, “taught us how much it is necessary to take an interest in others’ problems and to share their concerns,” he said.

One place that should raise particular concern and many prayers, he said, is Yemen where 25 people were killed and more than 100 injured December 30 when a bomb exploded at the airport in Aden as members of the country’s new Cabinet were arriving.

After nine years of war in the country, Pope Francis prayed for “peace for that martyred population.”

“Brothers and sisters,” he said, “think about the children of Yemen! They are without education, without medicine, starving. Let us pray for Yemen.”

Pope Francis also led prayers for Auxiliary Bishop Moses Chikwe of Owerri, Nigeria, and his driver, who were kidnapped December 27.

Late December 28 reports began circulating on social media in Nigeria that the bishop had been killed. However, the archdiocese issued a statement saying, “This information is unconfirmed, misleading and does not come from the Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri.”

“We continue to appeal that all join the archbishop in prayers for the release of Bishop Chikwe and Mr. Nduduisi Robert, his driver,” the archdiocese said.

By Cindy Wooden  I  Catholic News Service

Christmas Caroling for Life

BRIDGEPORT—Amid the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, a group of Pro-Life supporters paused for an hour on Sunday afternoon to remember the unborn with a caroling event near the Planned Parenthood location on Main Street in Bridgeport. The strands of “Joy to the World,” “Away in a Manger,” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful” could be heard as cars whizzed past Commerce Park, many tooting horns in a show of support.

“This was an opportunity to proclaim in song the message of light and healing that Jesus brings to expectant mothers and indeed, the whole world,” said Tina Kelly, who organized this event, the 13th annual at this site. “It was clear from the shouts of encouragement that people were happy we were there.”

About two dozen attendees, wearing Santa hats and festive attire, represented one of many groups gathering around the country in the weeks before Christmas Eve to share the hope of the season outside abortion clinics. Aptly named the “Peace in the Womb” Christmas Caroling Day, this is sponsored by the Pro-Life Action League and, according to Kelly, is one of their most cherished events. Signs reading “Pray to End Abortion” and “A Baby Changed Everything” imparted messages of choosing life as the carolers in Bridgeport sang of Jesus’ birth.

“The focus is on the baby Jesus,” Kelly said, adding emphasis. “This seems to be the right time to encourage people to get strength and courage from Jesus and from Mary. She is the one who brought life into the world.”

Tony Grabowski, a member of the Knights of Columbus Counsel #33 who attended with his wife Barbara, brought along several microphones and a speaker with instrumental music to accompany the singers. A regular participant at the 40 Days for Life, Grabowski said he purchased the equipment specifically for this occasion so the joyous voices could be heard over noises of the city.

As Kelly thanked all attendees for their support, the carolers ended with the traditional hymn “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” encouraging all who passed by to choose life in this season when “Jesus Christ is born.”

Giving Tuesday Thank You

“Yes, I will help” was the resounding response from Fairfield County Catholics responding to the Diocesan “Giving Tuesday” appeal.

We had over 60 donations to Foundations in Faith for the St. Francis Xavier (SFX) Fund. As a new fund, one of the goals was to build awareness as well as raise funds. According to Kelly Weldon, Director of Foundations in Faith, the effort was hugely successful on both counts.

The SFX Fund was established in January 2020 by Bishop Caggiano and a few visionaries who felt it was important to help vibrant urban parishes with strong leadership and meaningful ministries yet impacted by burdensome socio-economic challenges.

To date, the SFX Fund has purchased a boiler for one parish, gutters to address a leak at another. Two Parishes have received technology and communications enhancements, inclusive of training, equipment upgrades and platforms to meet the demands of live-streaming and virtual meetings in the near future and to improve program and business efficiencies in the long term.

Although the SFX Fund got its start before COVID-19. The SFX Fund Committee pivoted quickly providing a life line to 11 Parishes hardest hit by the crisis. In phase I and II $230,000 has been distributed.

Due to the generosity of an anonymous donor coupled with the tremendous response to “Giving Tuesday” we can and will do more! This crisis wages on yet we are now blessed to have nearly an additional $175,000 of Emergency Funding available to distribute to Parishes whose communities have been disproportionately impacted by illness and unemployment.

Thank you to all who said “Yes, I will help”!

To learn more about Foundations in Faith and the Pastoral Care Funds visit or email

Social justice must be founded on care for others

VATICAN CITY—Guaranteeing justice for all men and women is not possible while a few people control most of the world’s wealth and everyone else’s right to a dignified life is disregarded, Pope Francis said.

In a November 30 video message, the pope encouraged judges from North and South America and Africa not to lose sight of “the distressing situation in which a small part of humanity lives in opulence, while an increasing number of people are denied dignity and their most elementary rights are ignored or violated.”

“We cannot be disconnected from reality,” he said. “This is a reality you must keep in mind.”

The judges were taking part in a virtual meeting November 30-December 1 on “Building the New Social Justice.” The meeting was sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Committee of Pan-American Judges for Social Rights and Franciscan Doctrine.

At “such a critical time for all of humanity,” the pope said, the virtual meeting to discuss the work of building “a new social justice is, without doubt, excellent news.”

Offering a reflection for their discussions, the pope said that building social justice is a “collective work” that must be achieved on a daily basis “because imbalance is a temptation at every minute.”

Working toward true social justice must also be done with an “attitude of commitment” that follows “along the path of the good Samaritan” and that is mindful of not falling “into a culture of indifference,” he said.

People “must recognize the all-too-frequent temptation to disregard others, especially the weakest,” the pope explained. “We have to assume that we have become accustomed to turning a blind eye, to ignoring situations until they hit us directly.”

And, he continued, one must not ignore history with all its “struggles, triumphs and defeats.”

“Therein lies the blood of those who gave their lives for a full and integrated humanity,” he said, as well as the roots of what people are experiencing today.

Pope Francis insisted that true social justice is impossible if the human person is not the center of concern.

“God asks us believers to be God’s people, not ‘God’s elite.’ Because those who go the way of ‘God’s elite’ end up in the so-called elitist clericalisms that work for the people, but do nothing with the people, do not feel like a people,” the pope said.

Lastly, Pope Francis said that solidarity is essential in the fight against poverty, inequality and unemployment.

Solidarity means “fighting against that culture that can lead to using others, to enslaving others and ends up taking away the dignity of others,” the pope said. “Do not forget that solidarity, understood in its deepest sense, is a way of making history.”

By Junno Arocho Esteves   I   Catholic News Services

Tonight: Candy Canes & Cocktails

BRIDGEPORT—On December 2, at 7 pm, internationally acclaimed tenor Dennis McNeil will appear in the comfort of your home during a virtual fundraiser to benefit the Catholic Academy of Bridgeport. There’s no need to find something special to wear, consider the weather or, for parents, figure out who will watch the kids.

The school, which educates 800 girls and boys on the four campuses of Sts. Andrew, Ann, Augustine and Raphael, is tasked each year with raising more than $2 million to provide need-based scholarship to the 85 percent of students who cannot afford the annual tuition of $5,150.

“We are so grateful that Dennis has agreed to donate his time and incredible talent to this one-hour event, which will be broadcast free to viewers via Vimeo,” said Angela Pohlen, the Academy’s Executive Director. “It’s really once-in-a-lifetime to have an award-winning singer like Dennis perform your favorite Christmas songs live from his home in Redondo Beach, CA to your home, wherever that may be.”

While McNeil’s career took off at the Los Angeles Opera in 1988 and he has performed in much musical theater—including his role as Mr. Snow in “Carousel” more than 140 times, portraying Nikos to John Raitt’s “Zorba”—he is a versatile singer and has performed with the likes of Lionel Ritchie, Steve Miller, and the Grateful Dead, among countless others. He has sung for several U.S. presidents, Supreme Court justices and Queen Elizabeth II. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice once even accompanied him on piano. McNeil has recorded numerous albums, sung the National Anthem at many sporting events, been a featured performer honoring Medal of Honor recipients, and sang at the memorial service following the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

While it is unquestionable that Candy Canes & Cocktails is a major fundraiser for inner-city education, replacing an Annual Fall Dinner that could not be held due to Covid-19, Pohlen said she wants everyone to have the opportunity to watch regardless of their ability to pay. “There are hundreds of free tickets available in addition to standard tickets costing $50, and there are many sponsorship opportunities. With the kindness and support of people across Fairfield County and beyond, I am optimistic we can raise these much needed monies and keep inner-city education alive and thriving in Bridgeport.”

To learn more, go to, call 203.362.2990, or visit the school’s homepage at

An ‘ordinary man’ encounters God in the ups and downs

Dave D’Andrea describes himself as an ordinary man, perhaps that’s why he tells the story of his life in fewer than 100 pages even though the circumstances of his life are extraordinary—he is a survivor of polio, a survivor of stage-three cancer and a survivor of sexual abuse. And by his reckoning, he has had two, perhaps three, miracles in his life.

On the cover of his book, “Tear Drops: Enjoy Life, Trust in God,” is a simple, yet profound, message:

“This is the life of ups and downs of an ordinary man who went through extraordinary issues.

Whose gratitude is utmost for his faith, family and friends.

Faith, hope and love are paramount in life, and the greatest is love.

Enjoy life no matter the ups and downs … and pray.”

Just who is Dave D’Andrea? He’s the father of a son and daughter and grandfather of two children. He is a Greenwich native who has held different positions, including operations manager for the town’s golf course, landscape consultant, basketball coach, former member of the town’s legislative body and several other volunteer memberships.

He is proud to be an American and even prouder to be an Italian-American. (On the cover of his book are the flags of America and Italy.) Most importantly, he is an “ordinary man” by his own admission—an ordinary man who has suffered and known joy.

You could say that “Tear Drops” isn’t the story of his life, but more appropriately the story of God at work in his life. It recounts the tragic episodes and crises where he often had no recourse other than to turn to God…and God was there. It is the story of the evolution of a strong faith in God and Our Lady.

D’Andrea started life with some hurdles, he says, coming from a low-income family with three older brothers, who lived in a small apartment in one of the world’s wealthiest towns. At the time, his father worked as a landscaper on an estate where President Herbert Hoover’s son lived.

D’Andrea says he was the first person to be cured of polio in the United States in 1958, but the procedure and hospital isolation were extremely challenging for a boy of 8. He recalls the doctors showing him the size of the needle they would use to inject the vaccine and assuring him that he would get the biggest lollipop imaginable if he endured the procedure. He did.

Five years later, he says, the pastor of the church in the Chickahominy neighbor of Greenwich molested him in the rectory while he was there to help move boxes in his office.

For 40 years, D’Andrea kept that secret from the rest of the world, a secret so dark and spiritually corrosive that it affected his health and led to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Although his mother knew, she never told her husband for fear of what he might do. Only recently has D’Andrea found peace, hope and fellowship in a survivors group formed by the Diocese of Bridgeport.

“Bishop Frank Caggiano reached out to me, and it was absolutely the best thing that ever happened,” D’Andrea said. “We had a long meeting, more than 2-1/2 hours, and I was amazed at his ability to listen and offer me his deepest apology and whatever else he could do. I learned a lot when he came into my life because he is a strong believer in prayer and Mother Mary.”

Despite torment over the abuse and a series of serious health issues that culminated several years ago with stage-three cancer, he said, “The Lord took me through each time. My faith never wavered, just my respect for some priests…I always trusted in God. I always prayed because I believe in prayer, big time.”

That summer afternoon, his mother rescued him by calling the rectory because he was late for dinner. When he told her over the phone what had happened, she ordered him to leave immediately and met him at the front door of the rectory. For many years, she shared his secret, although they never discussed the incident.

He said, “You ask ‘Why?’ You ask ‘Why me?’ The best thing you can do is to reach deep into your faith, and trust in God and the professionals and the other survivors who can help you. That bond will be life-altering and the healing will begin.”

Erin Neil, Director of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance Coordinator of the Diocese of Bridgeport, has worked with D’Andrea and says: “David gives courageous witness to the terrifying ordeal of childhood sexual abuse, physical pain and human suffering. His story is inspirational and hopeful. He brings awareness to the issue of child sexual abuse and helps survivors to feel safe coming forward in our diocese. David’s journey demonstrates at every turn of the page that true healing comes from God and from our faith.”

On May 21, 2013, D’Andrea was diagnosed with stage-three rectal cancer, and it was one of the darkest, most painful periods of his life.

“The radiation and chemo were brutally excruciating,” he recalled. “I suffered such great loneliness, and I would pray so much and so hard and cry and wonder why this was happening to me. That’s when you have to trust God the most. The power of prayer is beyond belief. That is one thing I have learned through all the peaks and valleys—you can never waver even on the bad days. One night, the pain and suffering was beyond belief, and I said to God, ‘Why don’t you just take me?’ I got a call from my doctor, Jim Brunetti, and he said, ‘God knows you’re fighting like a heavyweight fighter, and you’re going to make it.’”

Dave’s daughter, Lynn Fein, who worked at Greenwich Hospital, was able to get a consultation with a leading expert at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, who oversaw his treatment, which included six months of chemotherapy followed by 40 days of radiation at Greenwich Hospital. In March 2016, he underwent 12 hours of surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

“I have never in my life gone through pain and agony like that,” he says. “It has been many years of recuperating, and today I am in remission, although I am physically disabled to a certain extent with damage to my legs and back from the radiation. But I am dealing with it, and I am extremely grateful that I lived to see my two grandchildren.”

When he talks about his recovery, he always credits Our Lady of Lourdes through the efforts of his cousin, Monsignor Joseph Giandurco, pastor of St. Patrick’s in Yorktown Heights, NY, who celebrated a healing Mass for him and brought holy water from Lourdes to bless him when he began his cancer treatment.

D’Andrea still has that bottle of holy water and continues to share it with others who are suffering or ill. And while he has never gone on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, he knows Our Lady was instrumental in his recovery.

Last year, D’Andrea reached out to bring the Lourdes experience to the Diocese of Bridgeport through a “Lourdes Virtual Pilgrimage Experience” at St. Mary Church in Stamford at which Bishop Caggiano offered a Eucharistic blessing.

The event featured a candlelight rosary, holy water from the shrine and rocks from the grotto at Massabielle, where the Blessed Virgin appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old French peasant girl, in 1858.

Every year, 6 million pilgrims travel to Lourdes, one of the most revered Marian shrines in the world, to pray to Our Lady. Many go in the hope they will receive a healing at the spring the Blessed Virgin revealed to St. Bernadette. In the 160 years since the apparitions, thousands of people have been healed in the waters, and 70 have been recognized as miraculous cures by the Church.

Today, D’Andrea lives his life looking for God’s guidance and professing a strong devotion to Our Lady.

“My faith is deeper than ever,” he says. “Did I ever doubt God? On the dark days, I would say, ‘Why? Why are you letting me suffer like this?’ But even during the abuse, I never doubted God or my religion, especially because of my connection to Mother Mary. It is Mother Mary I would always turn to.”

Dave decided to write his story and share it because he believes that everyone who puts faith and trust in God can enjoy life, regardless of what happens. That, he says, is the secret of an ordinary man … and it will work for everyone.

(“Tear Drops” by David D’Andrea is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.)

Catholic Academy of Stamford holds Virtual Open House

STAMFORD—Adapting to coronavirus restrictions, Catholic Academy of Stamford was able to offer a virtual open house to prospective students.

Families were able to log-in at times that were convenient for them, making it accessible to those who may not have been able to attend in person.

In anticipation of this virtual event, Catholic Academy developed a video promoting the Academy and all it has to offer.

About Catholic Academy of Stamford

Since 2017, The Catholic Academy of Stamford has served the Stamford area community. And as our Mission Statement says:

We form and nurture our children–grades Pre-K 3 through grade 8- in the Gospel values of our Catholic Faith. We educate in a superior academic environment where we challenge our children to discover and fully develop their unique talents and abilities. We encourage our children to love God, love learning…and love one another.”

“One of the first things you notice when you visit our school is the environment,” says Patricia E. Brady, head of school. “Here on Newfield Avenue in Stamford, our students are taught in safe, nurturing environments that markedly improve students’ ability to learn.

Our small class sizes are optimized for learning in an effective socially distanced environment. This will continue to allow teachers to help build strong foundations for life-long learning. Indeed, we DO build strong foundations at The Academy.

Our students are formed in the Gospel values of the Catholic faith. Here, your child enjoys a transformative faith-filled experience where our students become whole and giving citizens who, when they graduate, leave us knowing God, loving God, and desiring to serve God in the world that is now open to possibilities for them.

Our students are provided with a superior academic experience. Your child will be challenged through rigorous, personalized learning, advanced robotics, sciences and STEM courses throughout their school experience.

Our students and their parents and grandparents form a family of faith where relationships begin as young as 3 years old and often last a lifetime.

I’ve been an educator and administrator for nearly forty years. I truly believe The Catholic Academy of Stamford is a tremendous value for your family, and an option worth looking into for your child’s education.

And so, I invite you to see for yourselves everything the Catholic Academy has to offer. Come, take a look!

Governor announces new guidelines for Churches

BRIDGEPORT—As the pandemic continues to worsen in our state, Governor Ned Lamont has announced the following new guidelines for Churches. The new guidelines go into effect this Friday, 11/6.

Mass and Liturgical Events
Indoors limited to 50% of capacity, no more than 100 people total
Outdoors limited to 100 people total

Non-liturgical Gatherings
Indoors limited to 25 people
Outdoors limited to 50 people

A reminder that registration is still required for Masses. There are no other changes to the most recent diocesan liturgical guidelines. For a complete listing of diocesan protocols, Covid-19 news and other updates, click here.