BRIDGEPORT — Bishop Frank J. Caggiano joined several hundred parishioners from Our Lady of Fatima Church to celebrate its 60th anniversary on September 18, with a Mass and a joyous procession through the neighborhood.
The bishop concelebrated the outdoor Mass at 11 a.m. Sunday with pastor Fr. Rogerio Perri, assisted by Deacon Gabriel Pereira.
During his homily, Bishop Caggiano praised the Portuguese parish for its achievements over the past 60 years since its founding and called on Our Lady of Fatima at a time in history when her message is more relevant than ever to the world.
He said the diocese is blessed to have such a vibrant, growing parish that is doing well because of the strong faith of its members and their love of the Church. The bishop acknowledged the importance that Our Lady plays in their lives and that they, like he, honor and love her.
The anniversary Mass was followed by a procession in the neighborhood near Huntington Road. Parishioners marched and carried flags and banners representing parish ministries, including the youth group, the rosary group, Holy Hour for the Dying, and the Tea Party ministry.
Children and young people were dressed as the Blessed Mother, the three visionaries at Fatima, where Our Lady appeared in Portugal in 1917, St. Rita, St. Anthony of Padua and others.
The parishioners were joined by Bishop Caggiano, who later blessed the cake for the celebration. A band played Marian hymns and people prayed the rosary during the procession, recalling Our Lady of Fatima’s request during her apparitions to pray the rosary daily for peace in the world.
Maria Amelia Moura, who leads the twice monthly Holy Hour for the Dying, carried a banner with her sister Esther Oppedisano. She said she was married at Our Lady of Fatima and that her children along with her grandson were baptized there.
A statue of Our Lady of Fatima used in the celebration was donated to the church, along with a platform to carry her, which was decorated with flowers, she said.
The church traces its history back to 1948 when the Portuguese faithful sought a priest to administer sacraments and provide pastoral services. Shortly afterward a priest from Fairfield Prep would assist so they could make their Easter duty, according to a history of the parish. At that time, some would go as far as Massachusetts or Rhode Island for Masses in Portuguese.
In June 1955, then Bishop Lawrence J. Shehan considered the community’s request and asked the Vatican about the possibility of getting a Portuguese priest, since the diocese was still new and none had been ordained in the United States in recent years.
In April 13, 1956, Father Constantino Caldas arrived and met with the parishioners at the Cathedral of St. Augustine, and he shortly after began celebrating Mass in Portuguese. Parishioners first formed the Holy Name Society, followed by Our Lady of Fatima Society.
In October 1956, Bishop Shehan blessed a statue of Our Lady of Fatima that came from Portugal, and Mass attendance along with faith formation for young people steadily increased.
As the faith community continued to grow, they considered building a church of their own. Father urged them to pray for that intention and said that “through their prayers, work and sacrifice, a church would be built.”
In August 1960, they began looking for a site and found the current location on Huntington Road a month later. Seven months later on April 22, 1961, Father Caldas took up residence in the new rectory. On October 15, 1961, there was a ground-breaking ceremony and while the church was being built, Masses were celebrated at Beardsley School near Boston Avenue.
On September 2, 1962, Mass was held for the first time in the basement of the church. Bishop Shehan, who authorized the Portuguese parish went on to become the Archbishop of Baltimore.
After the church was completed, Bishop Walter W. Curtis dedicated it on September 23, 1962, sixty years ago.
By Joe Pisani