Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

‘Smooth as silk.’ Shelton’s HTCA welcomes students back

SHELTON—Masks on their faces couldn’t hide the enthusiasm Monday morning as students and teachers at Holy Trinity Catholic Academy came together for the first time in more than five months.

The Catholic school is holding in-class learning only, and HTCA Director Lisa Lanni said the first day reinforced the administration’s confidence in its COVID-19 mitigation plans.

“Today was just wonderful,” Lanni said. “It was far better than we anticipated. Everyone was so excited to be back.”

Lanni said the school welcomed 53 new students this year, and that added to the excitement of seeing children making new friends.

Holy Trinity Catholic Academy is running half days for the week, with teachers and students spending the time getting acclimated to the rules—wearing masks, social distancing and before-school temperature checks, Lanni said.

Next week, Lanni said, staff and students will be back for full days of hitting the books.

“We sent out a video to parents about the reopening plan, with hopes that they would go over everything with their children,” Lanni said. “They obviously did, from what we saw today. The kids did exactly what we asked of them. It was a good feeling to see them get it right.”

The Diocese of Bridgeport has a detailed reopening plan that focuses on in-person instruction but does include a distance learning option if one or more of the schools under its direction are forced to close because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lanni said her facility’s detailed preparation plans and focus on technology has created an “uptick” in inquiries for placement. Lanni said the school is still accepting students and could easily hold 199 students and still adhere to all social distancing guidelines with small class sizes.

HTCA’s average class size is 15. Some classrooms can hold as many as 25 students, Lanni said, and still follow social distancing guidelines which call for six feet between desks and children remaining six feet apart.

“The public schools have struggled to pull together its plans,” said Lanni about why some parents are looking at private schools like HTCA. “Because of their size, it is difficult to guarantee a safe environment for in-person learning. And parents need school. It is tough to play teacher as well as mom and dad.”

School requirements call for all adults entering the building to wear face masks. Students must wear face masks at times when social distancing may not be possible, such as during recess.

Lanni said the staff had worries—will we get the temperature checks done quickly enough so it would not impact the school day? Will students stay 6 feet apart, or will they congregate as the day goes on? Will students keep masks on when required?

“We all did it,” Lanni said. “It went smooth as silk. We want to take it one day at a time … make sure everyone keeps following the protocols … but if today is any indication, we are off to a great start.”

In Trumbull, Rachel Ambrosini, principal, St Catherine of Siena, was prepping for their opening day on Tuesday.

“We’re feeling confident and ready to go. We’ve got direction signs on the walls, and we’ve closed half the stalls in the bathrooms. We have the stickers, I call them lily pads, on the floor so the kids know where to stand when they’re waiting for the bus,” she said.

There are hand sanitizing stations in every room, and the school will operate with its windows and doors open, and ventilators circulating air in each classroom. The school also has two large tents that were donated that teachers can sign up to use for outdoor classes, she said.

By Brian Gioiele   I   Shelton Herald

The Catholic Academy of Stamford offers value—in-school and at home

STAMFORD—For all of us, 2020 will go down as the year America addressed its first real pandemic in over one hundred years. In an instant, schools, as well as businesses, were shuttered. Both parents and students found themselves in a difficult-at-best situation of learning and working from home.

The Catholic Academy of Stamford’s response was well-thought-out and superbly executed.

Working effectively together with parents, teachers and the administration, the parent/school partnership was fully in evidence. A near-immediate transition to a virtual school environment was established and implemented. Even accommodations for daily exercise and virtual “gym” classes were built into the school day. Nimble, capable, CAS seamlessly ensured a high academic experience continued during an unprecedented crisis.

Parent/student/teacher portals for assignments and returning work were firmly established and communicated. Administrators continued to lead students and faculty in morning prayers, announcements and other engaging information on a daily basis. 100% of classes were led live on-line by teachers using compatible technologies for all families. In some cases, students/families needing computers or iPads were furnished them. And accommodations for even the most difficult of home situations were remedied.

THE CATHOLIC ACADEMY EXPERIENCE – IN SCHOOL

As with most American families, both students and parents alike are anxious to get back to school. The term “Back to School” itself has special meaning in the Fall of 2020.

Beginning this fall, both the Upper School (grades 6-8) and Lower School (PreK 3 – grade 5) have been consolidated into a single building at The Catholic Academy of Stamford’s location at 1186 Newfield Avenue, in a centrally-located suburban, tree-lined neighborhood of Stamford just ten minutes up the road from downtown.

Small class sizes, inspiring teachers and the free exercise of faith and values make for a safe environment in which a superior education can be the result. The needs of today’s working families are met through early-morning drop-off and extended hours after school.

CAS students are uniquely prepared for high school and beyond. 8th graders are offered an accredited high-school level course in Math. Advanced robotics and STEM courses are enhanced by Project Lead the Way for all students in grades 6-8.

The mission of the school proclaims a superior academic environment of personalized learning that encourages its children to discover and fully develop their unique talents and abilities. Coupled with a focus on Gospel Values and respect, love of neighbor, treating each other fairly, and compassionately, CAS is “forming” their hearts, “informing” their minds, and “transforming” their lives.

This year, each classroom is being prepared for learning and for social distancing safety. Normally small class sizes will, in some cases, be even smaller due to the reduction and spacing of desks in each room. Teachers and staff will always utilize personal protective equipment. Interclass traffic has been minimized and rerouted for avoiding contact. All classes and hallways are sanitized each night.

It is imperative that today’s educational systems implement plans that include safe reopening and in-person classes, as well as plans for possible short-turn returns to distance learning as might be required throughout the year.

“The Catholic Academy of Stamford is a special place”, state Head of School Patricia E. Brady.” It is a place where your child will be loved, formed and educated.”

Together at School… Together at Home. The Catholic Academy offers extraordinary value and options in education during uncertain times – and beyond.

To arrange a visit to see our socially-distanced classrooms, or to arrange a visit with the administration to discuss your student’s future here, please contact Mary Margarone, Director of Admissions at 203.322.6505, or by email at mmargarone@catholicacademystamford.org.

Interested parents are encouraged to visit our website at www.catholicacademystamford.org. Space is limited. You can also APPLY online at our website as well.

By Staff | Stamford Advocate 

Schools Re-opening: ‘First Step in a Return to Normalcy’

BRIDGEPORT—As thousands of Catholic elementary and high school students across the diocese prepare to return to in-person classes in early September, Dr. Steven Cheeseman, Superintendent of Schools, has issued a new video providing an overview of the extraordinary steps taken for a safe and measured re-opening during the pandemic.

‘I hope you are all excited to finally get new school year underway, and God willing this will be the first step in our return to a sense of normalcy,” he said from his office at the Catholic Center.

Dr. Cheeseman said that the main concern shared by members of his leadership team and administrators faculty and parents throughout the system “is the safe return of over 6,500 students to our diocesan schools.”

After months of planning and preparation throughout the school system, Dr. Cheeseman said the schools are ready to move ahead with in-person classes but also have distance learning options and are prepared for hybrid plans if that become necessary.

The full re-opening plan for diocesan elementary and high schools is available online: https://www.dioceseofbridgeportcatholicschools.com/coronavirus-reopening-plan/

As both a superintendent and a parent, Dr. Cheeseman said he approaches the school year with a sense of uneasiness even as he is looks forward to the opening of classes.

Although the intense and comprehensive planning by the diocese has become a model for other school systems, Dr. Cheeseman said he still loses sleep at night because of uncertainty about the pandemic.

“No matter what we do, we can’t be perfect. We can’t answer every question because we don’t know what the future holds.”

However, he feels the schools are ready after “a tremendous amount of preparation and planning and the amazing work of principals” to implement the safety protocols.

In the past couple of weeks Dr. Cheeseman has visited every school to ensure compliance, to share best practices and to run through every possible scenario” related to the re-opening and ongoing challenges.

Dr. Cheeseman asked for prayers for all of the students, faculty and school communities in the coming weeks. “This will be a year like no other, but we can face it together and make the best of it.”

The superintendent’s office has created a Covid-19 hotline and email address to answer any questions that parents have. The schools office has also released a list of Frequently Asked Questions (English | Español) that offer detailed information on a variety of topics.

Bringing Song to the Bishop’s Online Mass

BRIDGEPORT—Online Masses have given thousands of people the opportunity to not only worship together but also the ability to experience a variety of liturgical music to hear the word of God.

Lyndy Toole is one of many musicians who have accompanied Bishop Frank J. Caggiano during his Sunday online masses from the chapel at the Catholic Center in Bridgeport.

“It is a wonderful gift to me to be able to do this,” Lyndy said. “I get so much out of it,” she said adding that selecting the music for the masses is an honor.

“Each song is important to me,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll mull it over for a long period of time and sometimes it’s a spur of the moment selection but always with the intention to be connected to the liturgy, easy on the ear and easy to sing for the congregation. I’m hoping people are singing at home along with me.”

The diocese has made it easier for people to do just that by scrolling the words of the songs on the screen during Mass. “By putting the words on the screen, we give the folks at home the chance to participate more fully in the liturgical experience and I think it becomes a richer experience for them,” said Dr. Patrick Donovan, director of the Diocesan Leadership Institute.

Lyndy says she selects songs that help make the liturgical passages memorable. “I want people to walk away thinking, “I like that song and words out of the second reading or the homily. There’s always a connection from the songs to the liturgy. I feel it and I want other people to feel it too.”

She said she specifically tries to choose songs for communion that are not overpowering and that have a recognizable melody.

“Music should connect to the liturgy and enhance, not detract from it,” she said. “I am there to encourage others to participate in the mass through the music.”

Collecting liturgical music, referencing annual liturgical planning magazines and attending liturgical conferences, including a virtual conference earlier this month, helps Lyndy to keep abreast of what composers are working on and any new music books that are coming out.

“I like to incorporate all different styles, from traditional to more contemporary because we are all different,” she said.

Lyndy, who grew up listening to rock and roll music, the Beatles and U2, also listened to Irish and classical music and studied piano.

A self-taught guitarist, her skills flourished during her college years at the University of Notre Dame where all students were encouraged to not only listen to but participate in liturgical music. There was even a waiting list to participate in the dormitory folk choir.

The demand was so great she didn’t get to actively participate in her own dorm choir until her senior year. Undeterred, her passion for music led her to play guitar in other dorms and as fate would have it, she met her husband Deacon Patrick Toole, episcopal delegate for administration of the Diocese of Bridgeport. The retired IBM executive also shares her love of music and enjoys the cello, organ and clarinet.

Married two and a half years after meeting, they lived in North Carolina before moving to Connecticut and raising five children. Their children attended St. Thomas Aquinas in Fairfield where Lyndy spent five years as a volunteer developing and teaching music programs before being hired by the school where she continued to guide her musical charges for the next five years.

The musical legacy continues in some of the couple’s children and respective families (they now have two grandchildren) but mostly through her teaching at schools and summer camps which unfortunately have been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A music minister at St. Luke Parish in Westport, she welcomed the extraordinary opportunity to play during some of the bishop’s online Masses on Sunday.

“It gives me so much joy when the bishop sings with me. People need to see that he is singing along as well. What it has made me do is connect more to the actual music the musicality of the piece and the words.”

“I love that the bishop is trying to bring as much diverse forms of Catholic liturgical music to the general public,” she said. Music from other artists including Dr. Bill Atwood, David Harris and Jane Lambert, reflects the many musical styles of the congregations in the diocese.

“All of the musicians bring such great passion to the small chapel where we gather,” Donovan said. “As Bishop Caggiano often says, the music they provide offers, ‘a bridge to the Beautiful One.’”

Reaching the entire congregation through music is important and it is especially important to get teens involved to encourage the next generation to actively participate in Mass, Lyndy said.

Her own journey with music started at a young age. Although trained classically to sing and play the piano, when she was 10, she tried her hand at the flute before choosing to focus on the guitar which her father brought home after playing the instrument while serving in Vietnam.

When the family moved to Hawaii, her beloved piano and coach stayed behind and she picked up the guitar in earnest. This time, the lesson books were her coach and the nuns at St. Francis in Honolulu became her ardent supporters.

“The nuns were trying to get girls who were proficient, to play at mass. I said, ‘I’ll try,’ and I just loved it.”

Traditional music is important but Lyndy tends to favor the more upbeat contemporary music selections. “Traditional melodies have been handed down through the years but by taking traditional hymns and playing them with different instruments you can breathe a more contemporary life into them,” she said.

She enjoys the musical treasure hunt.

“I try to find songs that I’m not familiar with and listen to them,” Lyndy said. “I also want to present music in such a way people want to listen to it and seek it out.”

Music and music selection permeate all aspects of her life. As a kickboxing instructor at a local gym, she knows her music choices can help inspire and focus her class or distract from the task at hand. Understanding not everyone is going to appreciate all music styles, she is pleased to be a part of the bishop’s mission to showcase a variety of musicians and liturgical music during the online Masses.

“I have been so grateful for the way the musicians plan and hours they put into this small celebration,” Donovan said. “They know that for many, this is the only opportunity to celebrate Mass with their bishop and so great care is taken to include music that both adds to the beauty of the Eucharistic celebrations and engages those at home who miss going to Mass in their parishes.”

Lyndy said she’s adjusted to not playing in the company of a large congregation. The most challenging aspect of that she said was not audibly participating in the congregational responses during the Mass.

“Music is an expression of how you are feeling,” she said. “The joy you get from participating is wonderful. It’s isolating for everyone right now. You have to find joy somewhere else. This gives me a purpose and joy. This is fun.”

Commencements celebrated safely amidst pandemic

FAIRFIELD COUNTY—The coronavirus pandemic has posed unique challenges for all. For the Class of 2020, this meant not getting to enjoy the usual rites of passage as they reached the culmination of their either middle or high school years. Schools throughout the diocese found innovative ways to still celebrate their students—through social distanced graduation ceremonies, giving students the opportunity to take pictures with their family on campus, and more. Here are just a few snapshots of graduation ceremonies in a pandemic.

St. Rose of Lima

NEWTOWN—St. Rose School’s eighth-grade graduation ceremony which took place on Friday, June 26 in the school parking lot. Mr. Gjoka, principal, Mrs. Petrillo, eighth-grade homeroom teacher, Mrs. Bokuniewicz, dean of student life and Msgr. Bob, pastor, along with the class parents, worked very hard to make the celebration possible despite these different times.

Chairs were arranged alphabetically for every student and their parents. The ceremony was limited to parents and siblings only to adhere to safety measures. Every student and guest wore a mask.

There are 24 graduates, all going off to a variety of high schools including Newtown High School, Immaculate High School, St. Joseph High School, Canterbury, Fairfield Prep, Hopkins School and The Gunnery. Several of the students received merit scholarships based on their entrance test scores.

St. Joseph High School

TRUMBULLSt. Joseph High School conferred diplomas upon 213 students on Saturday, July 11, 2020. The Class of 2020 achieved a 100 percent college acceptance rate, with 99 percent going on to four-year schools, and earned for themselves over 25 million dollars in scholarships and tuition assistance.

The Blessing and Conferral of Diplomas was held at Dalling Field on the school’s campus. Parents were confined to their cars, while the graduates were socially distanced in masks on the lower field, in conformance with the CDC and State of Connecticut guidelines. During the ceremony, pre-recorded videos from Ms. Vicki A. Tesoro, first selectman of the Town of Trumbull and Mr. Christopher Wilson, chairman of the board of St. Joseph High School, offered their congratulations and best wishes to the Class of 2020.

Your graduation is not like any other. But then the Class of 2020 is unlike any other,” remarked recently retired head of school, Dr. William Fitzgerald during his speech. “Ironically, in February, we were talking about how to get the iPhones out of your hands. Today, we are looking to you—the social media generation—to understand what continuous learning is all about. This spring has showed us, that in many ways, this is already your world and we are just catching up.”

Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Academy

WILTON—On Friday evening, June 12, 2020, Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Academy held commencement exercises for its graduating eighth-grade class. Featured commencement speakers were Clara and Gerry Davis, parents of a graduating student and Stanley Steele, school principal. The event included a Mass celebrated in the church parking lot and homily offered by Our Lady of Fatima Church pastor, Father Reginald Norman.

The graduates will attend the following high schools in the fall (listed alphabetically): Fairfield College Preparatory School, Immaculate High School-Danbury, Lauralton Hall-Milford, New Canaan High School, Norwalk High School, Notre Dame High School-Fairfield, Saint Joseph High School-Trumbull and Wilton High School.

The Catholic Academy of Stamford Re-Opening Plan

August 7, 2020 For Immediate Release from The Catholic Academy of Stamford

Stamford, CT – This summer was like no other for the faculty and staff at The Catholic Academy of Stamford as they worked tirelessly to get the school prepared for reopening. This effort was led by school principal, Patricia E. Brady. Following the guidelines set forth by federal, state, local and Diocesan authorities, The Catholic Academy of Stamford is ready to reopen this fall for in-person instruction, five days per week.

“Kudos to our faculty and staff who have worked hard this summer to prepare our physical spaces within the school so that we are able to adhere to the social distancing requirements as well as prepare for multiple, potential avenues to deliver instruction throughout the upcoming school year. No one person could do this alone and I am blessed to have a faculty and staff here that truly demonstrated what this school community has always been about – providing our students with a faith-filled, safe, nurturing, academically challenging environment”, states Brady.

Brady continues, “We have prepared for three different scenarios – In person learning, sudden closure resulting in distance learning, as well as, the option for individual families who need temporary distance learning for their children while we are open for in person learning”.

“I am also grateful for the excellent leadership of our Superintendent, Dr. Steven Cheeseman and his team at the Diocese, who have provided to all administrators and teachers the guidance, support and professional development so needed during this time of uncertainty,” Brady said.

The Catholic Academy of Stamford conducted two Parent Preview Days on July 28-29, where over 100 families attended and offered positive feedback involving the school’s reopening measures.

“What makes me feel secure about sending my kids back is the amount of safety measures the school is taking to make our families feel safe,” said Keri LaRa, a parent of a second-grader and fifth-grader at the school. “Plus, the communication has been tremendous. I feel secure knowing there’s a plan, and knowing that as things shift, the school will navigate too.”

Jeanette Noriega, a mother of a third-grader at the school appreciates the safety measures the school is planning to administer. “I am pleased with the necessary social distancing precautions the school has come up with,” Noriega said. “All the desks have been measured to be six- feet apart. The kids’ school supplies are kept separately to prevent any sharing of supplies or cross contamination. Despite all the new safety measures in place, the classroom still feels warm and inviting. With all the changes going on, it’s important that the kids feel their classroom is a safe and inviting place.”

Robyn Neto, mother of a 5th grade student said “The administration and teachers have clearly spent weeks preparing to have our children return to a safe and nurturing environment under these very unusual circumstances. I am pleased that my daughter will be able to reunite with her friends in a socially distant academic environment. If the school doors were to open for tomorrow we would be ready to send her—and Emma would be happy to go back!”

Caroline Coffey, mother of 6th grade daughter Ava stated “I feel a lot better after the recent classroom tours. As a parent, I was a bit hesitant to send the kids back full-time, but CAS has created a fool proof setup to keep the children as safe as possible. The desks are spaced out, the common areas are significantly reduced, the teachers have a process in place and the amount of PPE around is incredibly reassuring.”

In addition to having the entire school prepped and ready to go for social distancing, they are in the process of building three outdoor learning spaces to enable the students and faculty plenty of outdoor time and fresh air. The school has designed extensive plans for sudden school closure and the need for temporary at-home instruction. This is something that The Catholic Academy of Stamford has exceled in this past spring with the sudden closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since last March we have stepped up to the plate in order to come up with new and exciting ways to keep our students engaged and learning everyday, said Jeanne Bererich, who teaches 2nd grade at The Catholic Academy of Stamford. “By participating in countless hours of PD on exciting online platforms such as SeeSaw and Nearpod, I feel more ready than ever to take on teaching in the fall whether that is in the classroom with my students, or from a distance! No matter what obstacles are thrown our way I know that the CAS community is ready for the challenge. We are excited to welcome our students back to school and to help them continue to grow not only academically, but also in their faith so they can continue to put their trust in God no matter what obstacles they may face”.

Michelle DeRubeis, who teaches ELA for grades 6-8 at the school stated “This coming school year will provide both unique opportunities and challenges in the newish normal of education in and out of the classroom. I have no doubt that my 6th, 7th and 8th graders will meet both head on, and will exhibit true witness and leadership for their fellow CAS classmates to follow. It will be exciting to work in the same building with the CAS colleagues that I have come to know and respect. After 30 plus years with the Diocese of Bridgeport, I am truly blessed to continue the path of education with our wonderful students and their families.”

The Catholic Academy of Stamford is a fully accredited pre-K through grade 8 school through the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Grades PreK3 through grade 5, caters to students at the beginning of their educational journey. Personalized learning is integrated early on. Working with students and their parents to develop individualized curriculum based on the students’ unique talents and interests, small class sizes facilitate master-level teaching allowing for a better, technology-based education coupled with one-on-one attention. Grades 6- 8 offer high-school preparatory curriculum which includes high school-level math while still in middle school.

“There’s a wonderful vibe here,” states current parent, Robyn Neto. “CAS creates a great learning and social environment for the children to get a topnotch Catholic education. I love the fact that we have such a great Catholic school and community in Stamford, run by an enthusiastic and nurturing administration dedicated to education and instilling strong Catholic values in our children.”

“We prepare their children for high school, yes, but equally as important we help transform them into whole and giving citizens who will go out and make a difference in our world” states Brady.

The school is located on at 1186 Newfield Ave in the St. Cecilia’s school building. Visit their website at www.CatholicAcademyStamford.org or call (203)322-6505 to arrange a tour of the school.

Survey reveals how pandemic has shaken parish life

CLEVELAND—Nearly every bishop responding to a survey said the coronavirus pandemic has seriously affected the celebration of the sacraments and rites and sacramental preparation programs in their dioceses.

Confirmations, first Communions, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and other sacramental preparation were the ministries most often cited by the bishops as being affected, according to the survey conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

In addition, six out of 10 bishops said that since March when restrictions on ministry and Mass attendance were put in place, the morale of priests, lay ecclesial ministers, deacons and chancery staff has been at least somewhat affected, according to the findings released July 9.

Titled “Ministry in the Midst of Pandemic,” the survey asked bishops about six areas of concern that have arisen in dioceses since the pandemic caused public Masses to be suspended and the celebration of sacraments to be restricted or postponed.

The questions focused on the pandemic’s effect on dioceses; special pastoral provisions issued by dioceses; financial concerns raised by the pandemic; actions to address a diocese’s financial health; the pandemic effect’s on parish assessments; and diocesan technological assistance to schools and parishes.

CARA staff members mailed the survey to bishops in 177 archdioceses and dioceses and 20 eparchies May 18 and followed up with a mailing June 8 to those who did not respond. Overall, 116 bishops, 59%, had responded by the release of the report. About 60% of diocesan bishops responded and about 50% of eparchial bishops responded, the report’s authors said.

CARA officials said the results of the survey were likely affected by whether a bishop responded while his diocese or eparchy was in total lockdown or as restrictions began to be lifted.

When it came to specific sacraments, 99% of bishops said confirmation had been very much or somewhat affected; 99% said that about first Communion; 92%, about the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process; and 94%, about other sacramental preparation programs.

Similar numbers of respondents said the celebration of marriages (98%), baptisms (91%) and funerals (93%) also had been at least somewhat affected.

In addition, the survey found the morale of church staff members has been very much or somewhat affected. Sixty percent of bishops said their morale had been affected. Higher numbers of respondents said the morale of lay ecclesial ministers (71%), priests (68%), chancery staff (67%) and deacons (62%) had been affected.

Meanwhile, 54% of bishops said the ability of Catholic Charities to serve people in need had been impacted as well.

Jonathan Wiggins, director of parish surveys at CARA, told Catholic News Service the survey offers an early look at how the pandemic is affecting church life.

“What really strikes me is that this is so much a work in progress because parishes are not back up to any kind of normalcy in terms of Mass attendance, sacraments, giving or anything that would characterize regular Catholic life,” Wiggins said.

“This is just a couple months in and we don’t know what the long-term effects will be on dioceses and parishes,” he added.

A similar survey of parish pastors by CARA researchers is underway, Wiggins added.

The survey of bishops offered them the opportunity to provide brief written answers to questions about pastoral provisions they may have implemented, such as the dispensation to attend weekly Mass, instructions on the celebration of the sacraments such as baptism and marriage, and directives to comply with state and local government orders.

Those responses were not quantified in the CARA report. But it included comments from bishops describing the steps they took as the pandemic led to massive church, school and business lockdowns in March and then eased in May and June.

Some bishops said they offered updates as often as weekly with regard to liturgies, finances, how parishioners can contribute to their parish during closures, and how parishes could reopen for public Masses and reception of the sacraments.

Responding bishops said they instructed parishes to follow state guidelines when public Masses resumed and stressed the importance of practicing social distancing and celebrating Mass in open spaces such as parking lots.

Regarding finances, bishops said they were concerned that the loss of income from Sunday collections would have a devastating impact on parishes. They also said they worried about the effect of increased unemployment on parishioners and the impact on family life.

With the revenue losses, some bishops said that parish and diocesan staffs may have to be reduced.

To help parishes manage finances, dioceses have offered assistance in a variety of ways.

Ninety-five percent of bishops said their diocese had helped parishes apply for federal or state assistance programs, such as the Paycheck Protection Program. Other steps taken by dioceses include encouraging parishioners to consider electronic giving for parish collections (87%); closing Catholic elementary schools (20%) or high schools (14%); laying off diocesan staff (17%); furloughing diocesan staff (16%); eliminating diocesan programs (15%); closing parishes (3%).

Another concern bishops expressed focused on whether people will return to Sunday Mass after a long absence. They said without the return of parishioners, the financial outlook for church entities was grim.

Bishops said they expect their diocese to realize long-term economic consequences, especially if annual collections to support various ministries are not taken. One bishop wrote that “we might have to let employees go. Won’t be able to carry out the vision of the new evangelization and catechesis including faith formation programs.”

The financial solvency of Catholic schools also was on the minds of bishops. Some respondents said they feared that high unemployment would result in parents who could no longer be able to afford school tuition, causing enrollment to drop and leading to school closings.

Such closings already are occurring, according to the National Catholic Educational Association, with more than 100 schools having announced they have closed since the end of the academic year in the spring.

A significant majority of dioceses also stepped up to offer technological assistance to help parishes livestream Mass and to enable schools to transition to online learning in a short timeframe.

Six in 10 bishops, 62%, said their diocese was very much involved in helping parishes with Masses online while another 22% said they were somewhat involved. Ten percent said they helped a little and 6% said they did not help.

Schools received plenty of support in their transition to online learning as 79% of bishops responded that their dioceses helped very much. Only 12% helped somewhat, 4% a little and 5% not at all.

Technology also allowed bishops to remain in contact with their diocesan staffs as they arranged virtual meetings and shared communication online. One bishop said he recorded videos of support for hospital workers and another video for laypeople on the delay in receiving of sacraments.

by Dennis Sadowski  I  Catholic News Service

Band of Religious Sisters Evangelize through music during pandemic

NEW YORK—In 2014, seven nuns from the Servants of the Plan of God formed a band called “Siervas,” and have been using their musical talents as a tool for service and evangelization.

Representing the countries of Chile, Japan, Peru, China and Costa Rica, the sisters won’t let the coronavirus pandemic put a damper on their spirits or their instruments. They’ve spread their message of faith, joy and hope, despite social distancing. During the quarantine period, they recorded different “coronavirus versions” of some of their most popular songs.

“Well, we’ve been composing new songs during this time,” said Sister Paula Soto, who plays the drums. “We’re also working on a new musical project. We’re waiting for God to provide everything so we can return to giving concerts. We especially can’t wait to share with people, which is what really makes us happy.”

Click here to listen

Fairfield Concerned Citizens to Hold 15th Social Distancing Food Drive for COVID-19 Recovery

FAIRFIELD—A group of Fairfield concerned citizens who started weekly community food drives in March will hold their 15th food drive on Saturday, July 18 from 10 am to noon in front of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties, 1583 Post Rd in downtown Fairfield.

Fairfield residents Helene Daly, Heather Dubrosky and Alexis Harrison started the weekly community food drives in response to the overwhelming demand that local food pantries and agencies were beginning to experience following COVID-19. Operation Hope is now serving 35% more families which is expected throughout the summer and into the fall. Even with many individuals beginning to return to work and with businesses reopening, families and individuals throughout Fairfield are still experiencing hardships and new financial circumstances.

“Vulnerable members of our community who were most affected by COVID-19 continue to face challenges and needs including providing food and meals to their families,” said Harrison. “Fairfield continues to rise to the challenge of helping others which has been humbling to witness, and it inspires us to keep moving forward with our food drives.”

Items that will be collected this week include cash donations, grocery gift cards, shelf-stable milk, canned vegetables (green beans, peas, corn & carrots), canned tomatoes (diced, crushed, sauce, 14oz cans preferable), canned chili & stew, crackers, pasta side dishes, cleaning products, Lysol spray, Paper towels, Ramen noodles packets, dried potatoes, macaroni and cheese, condiments (ketchup, mustard, mayo, salad dressing), pasta sauce, canned fruit, jelly and stuffing.

(To donate to Operation Hope online, go to: https://operationhopect.org/donate.)

Diocese Releases Schools Re-Opening Plan

BRIDGEPORT– Dr. Steven Cheeseman, Superintendent of Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Bridgeport, issued the Re-Opening Plan to parents, students, faculty on Thursday July 9.

“As we look toward the 2020 – 2021 school year, we face obvious challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Re-Opening document contains some of the guidelines that we will follow so that, working together, we can meet those challenges,” said Dr. Cheeseman.

“As we wait with great anticipation to see how this pandemic will play itself out over the next few months, we are left with many unanswered questions. What is abundantly clear, however, is that our students need to return to the classroom in the fall.“

The theme of the plan is “We Face it together,” and the document focuses on faith, Academic, Community, and Empowerment. It covers a wide range of topics related to returning to school including the use of face coverings, physical distancing, sudden closures if necessary, temporary home instruction, and resources for students, parents, faculty and staff.

In addition to the printed plan, which can be downloaded online, the Superintendent also sent a video message to parents and members of the school community.

“We appreciate your patience as we worked diligently to finalize this document. These guidelines were created with every student, parent, faculty and staff member in mind. It is expected that these guidelines will need to adjust as time goes by and conditions change,” he said, of the 14-page document.

Dr. Cheeseman said the plan recognizes the need for students to attend school in-person to the degree that health conditions allow.

“As such, we have developed plans to increase the safety of everyone in our schools by changing how we use our space and implementing new practices that allow for personalized learning during times of pandemic,” he said.

Every Catholic school within the diocese has considered the new guidelines and will be expected to implement them based on feasibility, limitations of their setting, and student and teacher needs, he said.

In May, we created a preschool and a k-12 task force group of school and diocesan teachers and leaders who, informed by parent and teacher focus groups and interviews, have created a plan to ensure that our schools are prepared to welcome students back in the fall.

The task force had as its primary focus the safe return of students to a full five-day schedule of in-person instruction, while also planning for the possibility of having to make a fluid transition to a more robust distance learning plan. Additionally, the groups worked on the creation of a hybrid model for students who either can not immediately return to school in the fall or who may have to learn at home temporarily at some point in the year.

Dr. Cheeseman said the schools office will modify as necessary and as it is updated, the new version will be posted on the schools website.

Foundations in Education extends deadline for new family applications for K-8 tuition assistance

BRIDGEPORT—In response to hardships caused by COVID-19, Foundations in Education is extending the Bishop’s Scholarship Fund application deadline for new families so as to encourage their consideration of a Catholic education for their children entering grades K-8.

The mission of the Bishop’s Scholarship Fund is to help families afford a Catholic education. In this past year, the fund awarded nearly $2.8 million in aid to families of students attending Diocesan elementary schools in Fairfield County.

With COVID-19 interrupting in-person school visits as early as mid-March, many new families were unable to tour Catholic elementary schools or set up “shadow” dates for their children to spend the day among prospective classmates.

Spring is typically a busy enrollment period in Diocese of Bridgeport Catholic elementary schools. While schools make outstanding efforts to provide prospective families a quality virtual admission experience, many have seen a delay in new student applications.

The deadline extension enables Foundations to be nimble and responsive to the changing needs of Catholic schools and to the communities they seek to serve. It also provides flexibility to families considering a switch to Catholic schools, which have navigated the transition to remote learning exceedingly well and ahead of some neighboring district schools.

For new families, K-8 applications to Bishop’s Scholarship Fund are still being accepted for the 2020-2021 academic year and will be available until funds are expended. Prospective families who need financial assistance are encouraged to apply today as tuition assistance is available only while funds last.

The application process is streamlined for convenience. Applicants apply online via the FACTS Grant and Aid application at www.FACTSmgt.com/aid. Schools can assist new families with the application process.

­Superintendent Dr. Steven Cheeseman has reported that the diocese plans to begin the next school year in September with in-person classes and the ability to make a fluid transition to distance learning if it becomes necessary.

“There’s no better time to experience the difference a Catholic School can make for your child,” commented Foundations’ Executive Director Holly Doherty-Lemoine.

The mission of Foundations in Education is to strengthen and transform Catholic education in the Diocese of Bridgeport by supporting innovation in academic and extra-curricular programs, fostering opportunities for the professional development of school leaders in innovation and leadership and providing tuition assistance to families in need. For more information about Foundations in Education, please visit www.foundationsineducation.org

St. Mary’s indoor Mass reveals newly renovated church

BETHEL—Stop, look, remember and listen was the message shared with worshippers at St. Mary Parish on Sunday, June 14, marking the celebration of Corpus Christi and the reopening of the church for the first time following nine-months of extensive renovations.

“We mark this feast just once a year but we actually celebrate the gift of Christ himself each time we go to Mass,” said Pastor Father Corey V. Piccinino, at the first indoor Mass offered since March. “Every time we receive the Eucharist we celebrate Corpus Christi, the body of Christ, becoming living tabernacles.”

Corpus Christi is the solemn commemoration of the institution by Christ of the Holy Eucharist as a sacrament and the Church’s official act of homage and gratitude to Christ for this gift.

Father Piccinino said Catholics should approach receiving communion with wonder and awe. “Behold a miracle is happening. A mystery is happening right in front of you and the greatest holy gift is given to you.”

Congregants gathered at the Mass, shared the sentiment.

“To receive for the first time (since March), it’s like my First Holy Communion. This is great,” said Edith Jaccarino of Redding.

“The Mass was wonderful. It’s a joy to be back,” said fellow parishioner, Marilyn Murray of Newtown.

“We’ve been coming every day to say the Rosary,” she said. The women are part of a group that prays the Rosary daily at the church. The Dodgingtown Road church is the only Catholic church in Bethel and is open every day.

“Part of the joy of being back is tempered by what we need to now do,” Father Piccinino said, with a nod of acknowledgment to precautions that need to be taken to keep everyone safe.

Congregants must pre-register online to attend mass. The newly renovated church which can hold 850 people, is allowing up to 65 people in the church at a time. All in attendance must wear masks. Seating areas are roped off to maintain proper social distancing, missals and hymnals are absent from the pews and there are signs to guide people where to stand when consuming communion.

About two dozen volunteers attending the Mass made navigating the changes easy. Markers were also placed in the parking lot to maintain one empty parking space in between each vehicle.

Father Piccinino encouraged congregants to stop and take the time to look and see the ever-changing and new world we live in and listen with our eyes, ears and hearts to recognize the importance of each other and our duty to protect one another in these challenging times.

“This disease (COVID-19) is real,” he said. “We need to keep safe. That is our Christian duty.”

Father Piccinino said he has heard and understands the frustrations of parishioners wanting to return to a pre-pandemic way of life including going to church and receiving the Eucharist.

“This is not a punishment from God or from the Church. This is what is best for everyone now. We have to care about the least of our brothers and sisters (who may be susceptible to the coronavirus). We have to protect each other in that one body (of Christ).”

Father Piccinino said his cousin, thankfully, has recovered from the coronavirus after twice almost falling victim to it.

“If you don’t have a personal experience with someone who has had it, you don’t see the need for (all of these precautions),” he said.

The church has been streaming Masses on Facebook and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The live-streamed Masses have given parishioners a glimpse into the beautifully renovated church.

There is much symbolism throughout the church from the painting of the dove above the altar with light emanating from it, to the tile work on the floor that commemorates the Trinity and so much more. There is even a painting on the wall depicting the original 1883 Gothic-style church that still stands on Greenwood Avenue. A book highlighting all the changes and symbolism will be available soon.

“The renovated church is beautiful and uplifting. It gives me hope,” said Filomenia Magrino, who attended the Mass with her husband, Joseph. “It felt very peaceful to be back.” He agreed, “It’s nice to return to our Sunday routine.”

By Kathy-Ann Gobin

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.

St. Jude to “open wide the doors for Christ”

MONROE—On May 29, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano announced the Phase II return to public Mass.

Starting the weekend of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, June 13 and 14, parishes will be able to resume public worship inside church buildings.

St. Jude Parish in Monroe is one of many who are preparing for this Phase II opening.

“It is with great relief, that after three months of going without celebrating public Mass inside of our churches that we can at last open wide the doors for Christ,” said Father Henry Hoffman, pastor of St. Jude’s.

Since the announcement of the Phase I reopening (May 11), which allowed for the celebration of outdoor Mass, parishioners of St. Jude have been able to gather in some capacity.

“As much as the parishioners found nourishment through watching our live-streamed Masses and attending our outdoor Masses, the real connection has once again been reestablished now that they can come together as a parish community and all together recite the Our Father, as brothers and sisters in the faith praying to our one Heavenly Father, shortly before they receiving the Body of Christ in their own church for the first time since mid-March,” shared Father Hoffman.

Parishioners shared their joy at being able to celebrate Mass in the church building.

“I am just so overjoyed to be going back to worshipping with my St. Jude Family. I have missed the love and fellowship and now rejoice as we once again praise the Lord together,” said long term St. Jude parishioner and past-Grand Knight of the council at St. Jude Parish, Jim Bifulco.

In a recent letter to St. Jude Parishioners, Father Hoffman wrote, “The patience and the perseverance of the St. Jude Parish family has truly impressed me over the past few months, as they held firm in their faith, waiting for this day, when they could once again worship in their church, a church that many of them gathered the very stones for decades ago, when the church was built.”

“When St. Jude’s was first closed to public worship, what I felt was a sense of loneliness,” shared Cathy Ritch, long-time St. Jude parishioner who volunteers as part of the church decorating committee.  “I was physically separated from my God in the Real Presence, my Church building, my friends and a rhythm of life. The quiet that followed brought a certain amount of refreshment, but also helped me to realize the centrality of St. Jude Church to my life. Now that we will have finally returned to God, Church, friends and schedule, I am filled with a sense of peace. A sense that God is bringing us back. He is in control in spite of the turbulence that has occurred in the past two months. Thanks be to God!”

“I am so grateful that we will all be together again in St. Jude Church,” said long-term St. Jude parishioner Lani Birmingham.

There is much excitement throughout the diocese as churches begin to open up their doors once more. The bishop also explained that in those parishes that are ready to follow the established norms, the celebration of weekday Masses, Funeral Masses and Nuptial Weddings within churches may also resume after the weekend of June 13 and June 14.

(For more information on reopenings visit bridgeportdiocese.org.)