SHELTON — Bishop Frank J. Caggiano celebrated a Mass of dedication at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Church on Saturday, September 7 for the new parish center, praising the faith community for their generosity in the We Stand With Christ capital campaign, and Father Ciprian Bejan for his leadership and vision.
“As disciples of the Lord Jesus, we learn about the need to be generous,” he said. “And I come here to celebrate your tremendous generosity that has allowed the Sacred Heart Center to be built literally out of the ground. It is a testimony to your faith and your commitment to this parish and your commitment to your pastor for his great work and leadership as your spiritual father.”
Father Bejan said the new building, which was more than a year in conception and construction, has been named the Sacred Heart Parish Center because of the connection to St. Margaret Mary, a 17th century French Visitation nun who spread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
“It is a nursery where the seed of faith can grow, a place for all parishioners, starting first with our children, who are praising God in their own way,” he said. “Our children, all parish groups and the people who will benefit from the new building are loved by God and dear to his heart.”
Since he was appointed pastor in 2014, Father Bejan recognized the need to build a parish center.
“Every parish has one, and we didn’t,” he said. For many years, the hall in the basement of the church was used for catechism classes by placing dividers through the room.”
The parish center was built where an outdoor pavilion had been. The seven meeting rooms will accommodate catechism classes, church events and parish ministries, including the Knights of Columbus, the sanctuary guild, the parish nursing program, the respect life ministry and groups for young people.
The parish, which has 850 families, had 35 percent participation in the capital campaign and reached $1.2 million, 170 percent of its $720,000 goal.
“These are hardworking people who are not rich people, and it was amazing the response to the campaign was so overwhelming,” Father said.
In his homily, Bishop Caggiano recalled a trip he made to Italy with his family when he was 6 years old for his uncle’s wedding.
“It was quite an eye-opening journey for me, being a city kid and winding up in a village on top of a mountain with a population of 2700 people. Going into the farms with Grandpa was a bit of a shock,” he recalled. His grandfather, who was one of 11 children, told him stories about farm life and the importance of working together.
“Families were big because the more hands you had, the more you ate,” he said. “Conversely, being left alone was a recipe for disaster, and Jesus understood this.”
Referencing the Gospel, he said that Jesus calls us to be willing to give up everything for his sake.
“When our possessions possess us, we have a problem, so the natural stance of anyone who follows the Lord is they must be willing to give—and I am not speaking of money,” he said. “How many of us in this church are willing to give up our opinions or our stances or our attitudes? How many in this church would be willing to give up their families, their children? These are not easy things to do. But the truth is we were born into this life poor, and we will leave it poor.”
He said the Lord’s message is a simple one: “Everything you have, I have given to you…and everything you need to give away, I will keep for you.”
“In the end, everything we give to the Lord, he will give back,” the bishop said. “We give it all to Jesus, and Jesus says, ‘In the proper time, I will give it back to you in a way where you will never have to let go of it again.’”
Pointing to the crucifix above him, Bishop Caggiano said, “You see, my friends, Jesus’ hands are extended and empty and nailed to the wood of the cross. He is holding on to nothing, even the most prized possession he had in his life, which was his Blessed Mother. By letting go of everything to his Father, he gained everything back. Every blessing, you, me and those whom he loved and all creation was given back to him as the savior, master and redeemer of all things.”
At the end of the Mass, Bishop Caggiano recalled a meeting he had with Father Bejan at the beginning of the capital campaign.
“Father Bejan and I had a heart-to-heart talk in my office and like any good priest who is also a new pastor, he said, ‘Do you really think we can do this?’ And I said to him then, as I said to him today, that a project like this is possible not simply because of your generosity, which is tremendous, but also because you have faith in your leader and trust the man who is asking to bring the vision to fruition. So I said, ‘Go for it!’”
He thanked the parish for its generosity and said, “You are just a wonderful community of faith, and, Father Bejan, we are all grateful to you for your leadership, for your vision, for your beliefs and for being a great spiritual father and someone we can trust.” The congregation gave Father a sustained standing ovation.
Father Bejan thanked the bishop for his support and said to the congregation, “We have accomplished something really great for our parish. I want to thank all of you for your prayers, generosity, sacrifices and great support that led to a fruitful and successful completion.”
“People noticed that I sweat a lot when I ask for money, but without those sacrifices, we couldn’t have accomplished what we have done here,” he said. “This is only the beginning of a great life and a great process, where we will try to grow in charity and faith and in worshipping God and serving one another. May God continue to bless us always.”
After Mass, several hundred parishioners followed the bishop as he blessed the new parish center, and then honored Father Bejan with a cake, marking his fifth anniversary as pastor. The ceremony was followed by the parish picnic.
“I have been blessed with a great parish,” said Father Bejan, who was incardinated into the Diocese of Bridgeport on the feast of St. Augustine in 2014. “The spirit here is special and the people have been very kind to me. The support has been great and a wonderful gift from God.”
Clarence Arsenault, one of the founders of the parish who went collecting door-to-door to raise funds to build the church, said, “When I retired I said I can’t sit home and watch TV so I got active in this church. I joined the men’s league, and the Knights of Columbus, and I feel like it’s home. Every time I set my foot ten feet from this door, all my problems are gone. This church is the answer to my life, and I am so proud of what we have done.”
St. Margaret Mary was established in 1963 by Bishop Walter W. Curtis, and the first Mass was celebrated in the gymnasium of Sunnyside School on River Road. The original parish school and church were sold to the city of Shelton in 1975, and a new church was erected and dedicated on June 27, 1976. On weekends, Father Ciprian is assisted by Father Raymond Petrucci and Father Nello Barachini, who hears confession, along with Deacons Jeff Kingsley and David Sochacki.