Pandemic can’t stop St. Mark School’s pink tradition

STRATFORD—Every October, since 2009, St. Mark School in Stratford has hosted a school-wide breast cancer awareness event. Like most celebrations this year, the 2020 cut-a-thon looked a little different.

While the school could not host their traditional assembly where students shaved their heads or donated their hair to Wigs for Kids, they did manage to spread cancer awareness and raise funds for the worthy cause.

“We had to find a way to continue this long-standing St. Mark tradition, one that means so much to each and every one of us touched by this disease,” shared St. Mark principal Melissa Warner.

Stylists from CKC Salon and Keratin Bar in Fairfield partnered with the school once again in support of the event. They set up a mini outdoor salon on campus, where fifty-one students purchased pink hair extensions.

The entire school community rallied together in the fight against cancer. The event also included a “pink out” where students and faculty dressed in various shades of pink in an unwavering show of support.

The school raised $1,913 for the Elizabeth Pfriem Swim Cancer Center at St. Vincent’s Medical Hospital in Bridgeport. Over the past 11 years, St. Mark School has raised over $23,000!

“October is breast cancer awareness month, and awareness today is uniquely important,” commented Principal Warner. “Because of COVID-19, it is difficult to focus on any other health issues apart from potential exposure to the coronavirus.”

According to BreastCancer.Org, roughly one in eight women will develop an invasive type of breast cancer at some point in her life. In 2020 alone, there will be over 300,000 new breast cancer cases.

“Unfortunately, these statistics don’t stop because of a global pandemic and I am happy and proud to report that the pandemic did not prohibit us from hosting this year’s event,” shared Warner.

St. Mark School is a Nationally Recognized Blue Ribbon School of Academic Excellence, accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).

(For more information or to arrange a school tour, call 203.375.4291 or email

Investing in their faith and future

BRIDGEPORT—Putting two boys through Catholic school is a labor of love for Janet and Sergio Bran of Bridgeport. It’s also a sacrifice they’re willing to make because they want their sons to carry the gift of Catholic faith throughout their lives.

Eight-year-old Alexander and 13-year-old Sebastian are students at All Saints School in Norwalk. They have been able to attend with the help of donations to the Annual Catholic Appeal’s, Bishop Scholarship Fund, which provides essential tuition assistance for students in diocesan elementary schools.

“This is a big sacrifice for us, but we believe that in today’s world we are making the right choices and decisions. It’s easy for adults and kids to derail from our faith and from God, especially with social media. They need a good foundation and something they can grow with and never forget. If you don’t have that from the beginning, it’s harder to start when the you get older,” says Janet Bran.

Joe Gallagher, chief development officer of the diocese, says that the mission of the Annual Catholic Appeal in the most basic terms is to help people in the diocese—whether it’s putting their children through Catholic schools, feeding the hungry, working with the most vulnerable or providing faith formation to people across the diocese.

Gallagher says that without the ACA, the cost of Catholic education would be beyond the reach of many families, especially those with more than one child in school.

Both boys were enrolled at All Saints before the family moved to Bridgeport a few years ago, but they loved the school so much, they decided that no matter where they moved, they would continue the boys at All Saints.

Janet says the school feels like one big family, and she has nothing but praise for the staff and faculty particularly as they pull together during the COVID-19 crisis to deliver academic excellence in the framework of a faith based learning community.

“Our school is doing tremendous job and I really give credit to every single person on the faculty and in the school. I believe they’re doing everything possible to keep kids in school and to be safe. What I’ve seen is that we’re in this all together and everyone’s doing their best,” she says.

Janet says that COVID-19 has also had a negative impact on her family’s finances and on many other families from the school.

A self-employed bookkeeper, she has experienced the loss of business clients who have suffered or closed up in the downturn, and her husband Sergio’s work in wine and spirits sales has become more difficult and challenging.

She says that everything in the supermarket has become more expensive, and there are always unforeseen bills that make it difficult to make ends meet, while meeting the cost of tuition.

The financial assistance the family has received from the Bishop’s Scholarship Fund has made it possible for her and her husband to keep their son Alexander at All Saints.

“We don’t go out and spend money on what we don’t need. Our priority is education. We just learn to cut back on other things and we’re happy we can do this for the boys.”

She and Sebastian, who will enter high school next year, attended an open house at Notre Dame High School and loved the school and its many programs.

Janet says she is very grateful for the support of the Bishop’s Scholarship Fund and even hesitant to ask because she knows that some families are in far greater need. But it’s a choice she and her husband have made and an investment in the faith and future of their sons.

“I hope that the boys will always be grateful for what they have and remember what we did for them by providing a solid faith-based education. We’re working hard for them so that they can have things we didn’t have and do better than we have. We want them to take the sacrifices we are making for them and put it to good use,” she says.

“Our schools play a major role in forming young people in the faith. They are safe, vibrant and academically excellent faith-based learning community. Contributions our donors make go directly to the families in need and they truly are a living legacy,” says Gallagher.

Gallagher says that last year, 1,456 students were awarded $2,798,800 in tuition assistance and more than $1.5 million was funded through the Annual Catholic Appeal, Bishop’s Scholarship Fund. With 2,546 families applying and a calculated need of $6,813,995, parents continue to rely on the fund to make Catholic education a reality for their children.

(If you haven’t participated in this year’s Annual Catholic Appeal, please make your gift online at or text the word APPEAL to 475.241.7849 or call 203.416.1470. Thank you for your support.)

By Brian D. Wallace

‘Emergency Funds’ seeks to raise $1.5 million

BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has appealed to Catholics in the Diocese of Bridgeport to raise $1.5 million as part of the Annual Catholic Emergency Appeal because of an increased demand for services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused “continuing uncertainty and suffering.”

“In the past six months we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people who came to our outreach programs seeking food, housing, educational assistance, psychological support and spiritual consolation,” Bishop Caggiano said. “Many have lost family members, found themselves without jobs, are suffering ill health and are unable to return to work or unable to meet their family’s basic needs. This human suffering will not end anytime soon. In many respects, it continues to grow.”

The appeal, which has as its theme “Love never fails,” taken from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, has raised $6.7 million since it began in February and has allowed the diocese to accomplish the following:

  • Serve an additional 700 meals a day at its soup kitchens and other non-profit nutrition programs and homeless shelters. Catholic Charities served more than 500,000 meals from March through August, almost three times the usual number.
  • Provide housing for more than 70 homeless individuals at a Shelton hotel where they receive three meals a day.
  • Meet the demand for counseling services at a time when depression and anxiety are on the rise.
  • Provide scholarship assistance and distance learning for all diocesan Catholic schools and students receiving sacramental preparation and religious instruction. This year has seen an increase of 800 students in Catholic schools.
  • Celebrate Masses and liturgies online through live-streaming.
  • Support hospital chaplains bringing Christ to patients and families who were often separated during this crisis.

Bishop Caggiano said the pandemic has affected the Church and larger community and that many people find they are in need of assistance for the first time in their lives. He expects there will be more difficult times in the months ahead.

“Suffering has taken its face in those around us,” he said. “Many have lost family members, found themselves without jobs, are suffering ill health and unable to return to work or unable to meet their family’s basic needs. This human suffering will not end anytime soon. In many respects, it continues to grow.”

He expressed gratitude to donors who have given to the appeal during the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis. “Over the last six months, we have seen so much need and suffering in our midst, but through your generosity, the Church has been able to respond generously and in many ways even heroically,” he said. “Given the extraordinary circumstances and the hardships many people are experiencing, the response to the appeal has been gratifying. The diocese has pulled together as a family and has shown a concern that has inspired me and made me proud.”

Joseph Gallagher, who was named chief development officer of the diocese in June, said, “I’ve been with the diocese for four months and have been struck by the overwhelming willingness of parishioners to respond during the crisis. I am very grateful to everyone.”

Gallagher emphasized the importance of the Annual Catholic Appeal, which meets the immediate needs of the diocese, as opposed to long-term needs covered by the We Stand With Christ capital campaign. He stressed that the appeal provides for the faithful in three basic areas—Catholic education, charitable services provided by Catholic Charities, and faith formation.

He said the success of the appeal is based on a partnership with parishes that are working to reach their goals. One of those parishes is St. Pius X of Fairfield, which achieved 111 percent of its goal.

When asked what the secret was, Father Samuel S. Kachuba, pastor, responded, “I did nothing. That’s the absolute truth. The most important thing is that people at St. Pius are extraordinarily generous. This is a parish that has folks who are committed to the good of the Church, and they recognize there are things that not only need to be done at the parish level but also need to be done at the diocesan level. There are people in need and there are causes that the Church must support—and they want to be part of it. The Annual Catholic Appeal provides them with the opportunity to be involved when they might not be personally.”

Father Kachuba said many of his parishioners are committed to the work of Catholic Charities and Catholic education. Some of them were graduates themselves or have children who attended Catholic schools.

“They want to see Catholic education thrive and grow, and they recognize that not everyone can afford Catholic school, so they are very willing to make those gifts so that Catholic education can be strong for others,” he said.

In addition, many St. Pius parishioners are involved with the work of Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport and other ministries and have seen firsthand the need that exists in the community.

“They recognize how blessed they are and want to give back,” Father said.

While the parish reached 111 percent of its goal, Father said he wished the rate of participation were higher. “We have a lot more people who participate in the regular parish offertory than who participate in the annual appeal, and that is always the biggest challenge for parishes—how to encourage more people to give.”

He believes the COVID pandemic inspired many to give sacrificially because they realized, “We’ve got to do something because the needs are significantly higher and greater than they have been in the past.”

He has also seen greater participation in the parish’s food drive. “In some ways, I suspect the pandemic has actually brought out the best altruistic characteristics that people have,” he said.

Pamela S. Rittman, director of development and the Annual Catholic Appeal, praised Father Kachuba for the success at St. Pius.

She also said that the diocese responded to the increased need by sending letters to donors, instituting a ministry video, social media outreach and wellness calls to parishioners. She thanked those who participated in the appeal, some of whom were first-time donors and others who made two gifts.

“With the challenges and uncertainty presented by COVID-19, we have found ourselves living in a world very different than it’s ever been before,” Rittman said. “The demand for services increased tremendously, and one thing for certain is our parishioners, in the most difficult situations, continue to reach out in compassion to one another and support not only those in most need, but the programs and services that provide for all ministry and school programs. We still need your help and are grateful for your sacrificial giving.”

By Joe Pisani

Decree for the celebration of earlier Christmas Vigil Masses

BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has issued a decree permitting the celebration of Christmas Vigil Masses beginning at 3 pm in parishes throughout the diocese on Saturday December 24, in order to provide more options to the faithful seeking to safely attend the Mass on Christmas.

The decree states that the earlier vigil time represents a one-time exemption for Christmas 2020 because of the extraordinary situation created by the pandemic, the larger number of people expected to attend Mass, and the need to socially distance and follow other restrictions to safeguard health.

“With this provision, it is my desire and hope that each parish priest or rector ensure that enough Masses are celebrated in order to allow the reasonable accommodation of all the faithful who wish to personally attend a Holy Day Mass for Christmas,” the bishop said.

While the exemption is only an hour earlier than the permitted vigil time, it will enable parishes to add one or even two more vigil Mases to their schedule over the Christmas observance.

In a recent virtual conversation sponsored by the Leadership Institute and the Development Office of the diocese, the bishop told those who participated online that he approved the earlier vigil time because given current restrictions he wants to avoid people being turned away from Mass at Christmas—the time of year that many Catholics and their families who are not normally at Mass reconnect with the Church.

During the virtual conversation, the bishop also said he is asking pastors to consider opening parish halls, auditoriums and other spaces as overflow areas where people will be able to remotely participate in the Mass being celebrated in the church and communion will be brought to them.

In announcing the earlier Christmas vigil time, the bishop reiterated that people should register in advance for Mass because it enables a parish to plan and to notify parishioners if someone should test positive for COVID-19 at a Mass they attended.

Click here to view the decree.

Fear is best confronted when we are not alone

I am most grateful to everyone who took the courageous step to describe many of their personal fears. As you can see, we share many of the same fears. I am most thankful to everyone who took this first step in confronting whatever fears you may have. Now the question is: What is the second step?

Naming our fears unmask their presence and power in our lives. Whatever we are afraid of is brought into the light, where for a brief glimpse we can see it for what it really is. In that brief moment, we know that our fears cannot harm us. However, fear will always try to find its way back into the shadows of our hearts, seeking to reassert its destructive and painful power over us. So, it seems to me that the second step in facing and overcoming fear is to find a trusted friend or guide to whom you or I can sit and, with confidence that we will be taken seriously, discuss the fear that threatens to overwhelm us. Fear is best confronted when we are not alone in trying to conquer it.

Most often a person with whom we will discuss our fears will not have a simple answer that will eliminate them. They may initially have little or no advice to give. Yet, it is their very comforting and reassuring presence, their commitment to be of help and their desire to accompany as we confront our fears is truly a great gift. Their presence can give us the reassurance we need to unmask the reasons for our fears and to explore ways by which we can learn to cope with them, and even overcome them.

Jesus always asked his disciples to go out into mission two by two. When you consider the obstacles a disciple faced and the fears those obstacles created, the Lord was already giving his disciples the first two steps to overcome those fears. My friends, the time has come that we starting opening our hearts with one another and to do the same.

The previous reflection originally appeared on Bishop Frank Caggiano’s Facebook page. Follow the Bishop for daily reflections and weekly videos.

Immaculate Offers Innovative Approaches to Unique School Year

DANBURY—The beginning of this school year may look different than those before it, but Immaculate High School, Danbury has taken the changes in stride, developing plans and strategies to navigate the new challenges. Through their cohort style learning approach, with half the student body in the classroom while the other half participates synchronously virtually using Microsoft Teams, students in both cohorts are receiving the same academic experience while also staying safe and healthy.

Student, faculty and staff safety and well-being have been the primary focus of all planning and reopening processes at Immaculate. With new protocols, such as signage throughout the school building to promote social distancing, wearing of masks by all in the building, three lunch waves instead of two, maintaining an average of 12 students in a classroom during each 55-minute session, Immaculate is doing their part to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Wednesdays are a deep cleaning day using UV and electrostatic cleaners at the school while all students learn virtually on a modified schedule that allows time for club meetings, counselor advisory sessions, other virtual programming such as health and wellness assemblies, and socially distanced PSAT, SAT and ACT testing. The Immaculate Reopening Task Force meets twice a week to track and assess implementation of their plans, sending updates regularly to the school community.

Parents have been noticing the efforts being made by Immaculate. “It is clear that a lot of time and work has been put into developing a plan to keep students and staff safe. I am very happy that safety is the number one priority, as it should be. Excellent work, everyone!”, says Lisa Pierce-Wirth, parent of Peter ‘21​.

Immaculate students are thankful to be able to grow and learn in a comfortable environment. “At Immaculate, I have grown academically and socially because of the comfort the school provides through the support and understanding of the faculty and the kindness of peers. Immaculate has also allowed me to grow in my faith and encourages me to practice it freely and openly. The teachers’ compassion and the students’ inclusivity has made Immaculate feel like a family. I have met some of my closest friends here, and have not only expanded academically, have been able to figure out who I am and who I want to become.” —Amanda ​Tureaud ‘​22.

Immaculate has adapted their annual fall admissions events to maintain personal safety. Open House, planned for October 18, will offer 30-minute tours by appointment only. The original six tour slots filled very quickly, so an additional four tours are being offered. For more information about scheduling a tour or learning more about Immaculate’s programs, please visit our website or contact Denise Suarez, Director of Admissions at ​203.744.1510 x148.

Throw away our masks of indifference

BRIDGEPORT—In a powerful video reflection about wearing masks, Bishop Caggaino urged all to wear the masks that protect others from COVID-19, but to peel off the masks that make us less compassionate, truthful and empathetic to those who are isolated and suffering.

The bishop began his video by removing the black cloth mask he was wearing and inviting people to consider how much our lives have changed since the onset of the pandemic in early March, when we had little knowledge of this “Invisible virus” that was making people sick and taking lives.

None of us expected how much life would change, the sacrifices many people would make, and even the extensive safety requirements necessary to continue public worship at Mass, he said.

“Nothing is a greater symbol of how our lives have change than this,” he said pointing to his mask from his Catholic Center office.

Wearing face masks is difficult and annoying, he said, but the reason we wear them in public places is not simply because the state mandates it, it but also because our Lord asks us to “in his words and ministry that have taught us that all human life is sacred.”

“We wear a mask to protect the elderly, the frail and those with pre-existing conditions. We wear them to save the lives of others and as an act of Christian love for our neighbors, known and unknown. We wear them in faith…”
At the same time, the bishop urged us to reflect on the other masks that we often wear, the ones that are not made of materials and filters and “are often invisible to the eye.”

“They are created by our fears and anxieties, and my sins and yours. They disfigure us and don’t allow us to show ourselves as children of God. They prevent us from using our talents for the benefits of others and from being faithful missionary disciples,” he said.

The bishop said we often mask our ears, eyes and hearts to others suffering by relegating them to the shadows, failing to hear their pleas, and hesitating to speak the truth because we may alienate or offend others.

“In a divided and hostile world no civility or mutual respect, it is important for us to peel the masks off our mouths—and always with respect for the other—speak the truth in love. That is what disciples are supposed to do.”

Bishop Caggiano said while it’s not the time to shed our medical masks, it is time to throw away our masks of indifference toward the sick and vulnerable, the homeless and unemployed, the refugees, and even for those in our own midst “who have everything they want but very little of what they need.”

“The Holy Spirit gives you the inner fire and courage to listen with the heart of Jesus,” he said, especially during this time of pandemic when we are often alone. The Lord asks us to be his hands and feet in the world and gives us his Sacred Heart to guide us.

“Don’t you think it’s time that for these masks we created that that we peel them off and throw them away?”

Click here for the Bishop’s video.

Bishop asks all to step up to support ACA

BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Frank J. Caggiano is asking Catholics throughout the diocese for help in closing the $1.5 million gap between current Annual Catholic Appeal  (ACA) resources and the increasing needs of people as a result of the pandemic.

The bishop said in time of  unprecedented crisis and much uncertainty going forward, the need for basic services and other outreach provided by the diocese has doubled and in some case tripled.

In a new letter and video the bishop urged those who have not yet given to the appeal to join in the effort to help the diocesan family, and he expressed his appreciation for all those who have already given.

“Over last six months we have seen so much need and suffering in our midst. Through your generosity the Church has been able to respond generously and in many ways, even heroically,” he said, adding that he expects more difficult months ahead and is working to ensure the diocese will be able to respond.

“We had hoped that by the Fall this would be behind us, but unfortunately that’s not the case,” he said.

“Love never fails” is the theme of the appeal. It is drawn from the words of St. Paul’s in Chapter 13 of his first letter to Corinthians, “So, these remain: faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of them is love.”

The bishop said pandemic has affected every aspect of life in the Church and the larger community and that the ongoing impact of the pandemic is affecting many people around the diocese—many who have need help for the first time in their lives.

“Suffering has taken its face in those around us,” said the bishop. “Many have lost family members, found themselves without jobs, are suffering ill health and unable to return to work or unable to meet their family’s basic needs. This human suffering will not end anytime soon. In many respects, it continues to grow,” he said.

The bishop has consistently urged the faithful to pray for all those who have passed away or who are suffering from the COVID-19 virus and to be mindful of all those whose lives are struggling.

“Countless people are relying on you and me that we do not fail—that we come to them to help feed, clothe and accompany them in fear; that we each out to the young people in our schools, and to all those suffering from the isolation. We can help them find hope.”

The bishop said that diocesan ministries funded by the Annual Catholic Appeal continue to provide “truly lifesaving” service that accompany all spiritually during the difficult journey of the pandemic.

Catholic Charities has served over 500,000 meals from March through August—two to three times the number regularly served. Counseling services have increased as families and individuals have needed to address their acute anxiety and depression along with concerns for the future. Likewise Catholic schools have increased scholarship assistance and transitioned  to distance learning concerns over the future; and our school students successfully transitioned to continue their education on-line.

The bishop said that the ACA works in big and small ways to support so many good works and services throughout the diocese including faith formation, charity and education—the programs and services people rely on when they have nowhere else to turn.

While there are many challenges ahead the bishop said he remains optimistic because he witness the great generosity of the people of the diocese—their sacrificial giving, volunteering and personal charitable acts, and the depth of their prayers during the crisis.

“Given the extraordinary circumstances and the hardships that many people are experiencing, the response to the appeal has been gratifying,” said Bishop Caggiano. “The diocese has pulled together as a family and have shown a generosity that has inspired me and made me proud.”

“What I’m asking is that if you haven’t given and you have the ability to make a gift, please step forward now to help us reach goal. When we look back on the pandemic, it will be a legacy and witness to the level of caring and compassion in our diocese,” he said.

(Please use the enclosed envelope to donate to this year’s appeal as generously as your means allow. If you prefer, you may make your gift online at or text the word APPEAL to 475.241.7849.  Our generous donors are the hands of God reaching out to those in need; all donations of whatever amount will help us to help them.)

By Brian D. Wallace

Cordileone: ‘Unrealistic’ limits on public worship

SAN FRANCISCO—San Francisco’s archbishop told hundreds of Catholics gathered near City Hall September 20 that “it is because of our Catholic faith that we are being put at the end of the line” by city officials in enacting what could be the country’s harshest pandemic restrictions on religious worship.

“The city continues to place unrealistic and suffocating restrictions on our natural and constitutional right to worship. This willful discrimination is affecting us all,” said Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone. “Yes, discrimination, because there is no other word for it.”

He made the comments in a homily at a Mass that followed eucharistic processions to a plaza near San Francisco’s City Hall.

On September 13, in a memo to all priests of the archdiocese, Archbishop Cordileone announced that three parishes were organizing eucharistic processions starting at different points and ending up next to City Hall, to be followed by Masses outside the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption. He urged all parishes to participate.

More than 1,000 Catholics participated in the archdiocesan “Free the Mass” demonstration.

In his memo, in an op-ed in The Washington Post September 16 and in his homily, the archbishop said Catholics are asking to be treated like anyone else in being able to exercise their right to worship in public at a “level consistent with other activities” in the city, like shopping, protesting and gathering in a public park.

Church leaders have no issue with the faithful being asked to following safety protocols amid the pandemic, he said, and he has reiterated that being asked to adhere to these measures is within the purview of city and health officials, but keeping people from worship is not.

“Months ago, we submitted a safety plan to the city including masks and social distancing, just like indoor retail stores did,” explained in his homily. “The city said yes to indoor retail, but we Catholics are still waiting to hear back.”

Right now, he said, people can shop at Nordstrom’s at 25 percent capacity “but only one of you at a time is allowed to pray inside of this great cathedral, your cathedral? Is this equality? No, there is no reason for this new rule except a desire to put Catholics—to put you—at the back of the line.”

The archbishop made several references to the “back of the line” and “end of the line” in his homily, titled “Going to the End of the Line for the Glory of God.”

He said that Sunday’s Gospel reading from Matthew reminded him of the time he spent as pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Calexico, California, at the U.S.-Mexico border and his morning jog along the border fence.

“There I would see the exact scene Our Lord describes: men standing in the streets, waiting to be hired to work in fields so they could make a day’s wage,” he said. “Like the workers at the Eleventh Hour, these men were at the end of the line: the ones left out and ignored by society, the people barely able to survive.”

One time he gave a ride to the bus station to a man who had entered the country illegally and was trying to get to the next stop to start his new life in the United States. He bought the man a ticket so he could continue on his journey.

“I was aware that I was breaking the law, since it is against the law to provide transportation to an undocumented immigrant,” he continued. “But the highest law is love of God and love of neighbor, and that law has to take precedence over the human-made law of the state when government would ask us to turn our backs on God or our neighbor in need.

“Now in San Francisco, all of us here are being put at the end of the line,” he said. “No matter how rich or poor, no matter whether newly arrived or from families that have been here for many generations, it is our Catholic faith that unites us, and it is because of our Catholic faith that we are being put at the end of the line.”

Archbishop Cordileone noted that amid the pandemic, the work of the Catholic Church of San Francisco has been ongoing, such as Catholic Charities’ outreach to the homeless or and the efforts of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul assisting the needy at the parish level.

He thanked the priests, religious and “the sacrificing lay faithful, for what you are doing to keep the love of Christ alive and visible in these distressing times. This is what it means to go to the end of the line.”

He urged Catholics to remain spiritually grounded during this time by spending at least one hour a week in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and, fasting on Fridays and going to confession frequently.

By Catholic News Services

A day of Sunshine and Sacraments

DANBURY—The tradition of First Holy Communion was celebrated at St. Joseph Church with more than a dozen children receiving the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Students from St. Joseph School and Religious Education classes, along with their families, participated in the Mass on a chilly but sunshine-filled Saturday morning.

“Today is a very special moment and milestone in the lives of our young parishioners,” said pastor, Father Samuel Scott. “We are so mindful of this precious gift of the Eucharist and we recognize what a great joy this is today.”

A total of 38 children prepared to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion in May but those plans were changed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Following the leadership of the Diocese of Bridgeport, the parish decided to hold three separate First Holy Communion Masses to accommodate the students and family members while adhering to social distancing protocols. This was the second group of students to receive the sacrament. A third set of students will receive the sacrament next weekend. The Mass was also live-streamed on the parish website.

All students received the Sacrament of Reconciliation the day before receiving First Holy Communion. Father Scott and Father David Franklin heard confessions from the children the night before the First Holy Communion Mass.

Girls wore a white mask to match their beautiful white dress and boys wore a dark colored mask to match their suit.

During the homily Father Scott said it was important now and throughout life to understand, “Things aren’t always what they appear to be. Sometimes they are more.”

To illustrate his point, Father Scott held up objects that on the surface looked like one thing but upon further inspection were much more. For instance, what looked like a Reader’s Digest book was actually a hollowed-out book meant for keepsakes to be hidden. He also held up a figurine of what looked like a bird but its beak functioned as a bottle opener.

He then held up a cruet with wine and a host of bread explaining that when the priest calls upon the Holy Spirit during Mass, these become, “the Body and Blood of our Savior.”

“A change that is unique but is invisible,” Father Scott said. “You are receiving this as a gift from Christ Jesus. It is the real presence of Jesus. It is invisible but very, very real.”

After the mass, the children received a certificate in addition to a gift bag they received the day before with a handmade Rosary by Our Lady’s Rosary Makers and an instruction booklet on how to pray the Rosary.

“The families were all so happy,” said director of Religious Education, Lynn Smierciak. “You could see their smiling eyes. It’s a joyous occasion despite the restrictions.”

Smierciak said some families opted to wait until next year for their child to receive the sacraments while others were excited to have an opportunity to do so now.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” said Denise Maritato, whose daughter, Giovanna, received her First Holy Communion. “The kids did very well.”

“We are very proud and very happy,” said Margarida Wheeler, whose son Tyler received his First Holy Communion. “This is part of why we go to Saint Joseph’s, for the values. When we had this opportunity, we were very grateful.”

Father Scott said we are all living stones of this spiritual temple.

“There really is no substitute of receiving Christ Jesus. We are so proud of you,” Father Scott said. “We need Jesus every week to strengthen us every week and for a moral compass in our lives. This is not a one-time deal,” he said. “Come every week.”

‘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.


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

Interested parents are encouraged to visit our website at 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:

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.

Catholic Academy of Stamford Creates Outdoor Classroom Space

The Catholic Academy of Stamford is beginning construction on three outdoor classroom spaces to use when students return.

Organizers say this new space will be critical in keeping children 6 feet apart and allowing them to breathe fresh air.

K&J Tree service donated wood chips from storm cleanup after Isaias, and some volunteers offered trees and stumps from their yard.

Video courtesy of

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.”