Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

“Deacon Gagne is remembered by many as a man of deep faith and a strong commitment to serve others. Please pray for the repose of his soul and the consolation of his family,” said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano.

In 1996, Deacon Joe applied to the Permanent Diaconate Program. He was ordained on June 24, 2000, by Most Reverend William E. Lori, Bishop of Bridgeport. His first assignment was to Saint Thomas the Apostle Parish, Norwalk.

On his application to the Diaconate program, Deacon Gagne wrote, “I want to serve others and God. To me, service means helping others without expecting anything in return.”

Deacon Gagne also served at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Stratford and Holy Family in Fairfield. Throughout these parish assignments, he was a member of the Diaconate Council, and was active in Prison Ministry, as well as Parish Bereavement Ministry. He was an Honorary Life Member of the Knight of Columbus and a Past Grand Knight of the Father Coleman Council. He served as a caseworker at the Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport.

A graduate of Windham High School, he received a B.A. in Psychology and an M.A. in Sociology from the University of CT. While an undergraduate, Joe enrolled in the R.O.T.C. program and was a member of the Scabbard and Blade Military Honor Society and a Distinguished Military Graduate.

Following his military service, Joe became employed as a U.S. Probation and Parole Officer in Kansas City, KS and after continued that role in CT. He would later be assigned as Chief U.S. Pretrial Services Officer for the U.S. District Court of CT.

Throughout his life, Joseph was an active volunteer in his parish and within the community where he was involved with serving as an EMT, as well as a CPR and First Aid Instructor, for the Red Cross.

Joseph H. Gagne was born on March 25, 1942, in Williamantic, to Joseph and Blanche Gagne. He was baptized at Saint Mary Catholic Church, Williamantic, and received his First Holy Communion and Confirmation there.

Deacon Gagne and his wife, Roberta, were married on July 30, 1966, at Saint Joseph Catholic Church, Williamantic, and enjoyed 58 years of marriage. They have three grown children; Peter, Timothy, and John.

Deacon Joseph’s body will be received at St. Pius X Church on Monday, April 22, 2024 at 3:30 pm and will lie in repose from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm. On Tuesday, April 23rd, at 10:00 am

The Most Reverend Frank J. Caggiano will celebrate the funeral Mass. Father Richard Murphy will be the Homilist.

Deacons will gather at 9:30 am to pray Morning Prayer from the Office of the Dead. Interment with military honors will follow in Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Trumbull.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to The Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, 415 Crossways Park Drive, Suite D, Woodbury, NY 11797 or to The Salesian Missions, 2 Le Fevres Lane, New Rochelle, NY 10801.

Condolences can be sent to:
Roberta Gagne
23 Pell Meadow Drive
Fairfield, CT 06824

By Emily Clark

TRUMBULL—When Ramona Trevino became pregnant at age 16, she never considered abortion. Instead, she chose life, married her 19-year-old boyfriend, and gave birth to a baby girl. The marriage, however, turned abusive and ended in divorce. Hoping to prevent young women from facing the same situation she did, Trevino began working at a Texas Planned Parenthood clinic, a job that weighed heavily on her for the three years she was employed.

“I was a very broken woman and needed healing,” Trevino told a group gathered at St. Theresa Church in Trumbull. “I never considered myself pro-abortion and because there were no abortions happening at that clinic, on some level, I thought it was OK.”

Days before the third annual Connecticut March for Life, Trevino visited the Bridgeport and New Haven spring campaigns for 40 Days for Life. During her talk in Trumbull on March 18, she shared the story of her conversion from the manager of a Planned Parenthood facility to the outreach director for 40 Days for Life, an international organization that works to end abortion through prayer, fasting, and community outreach.

Before she left the clinic 13 years ago, Trevino said she felt indifferent to what was occurring there.

“I thought I was helping these women,” she said, adding that she saw girls as young as 12 come in looking for birth control. “We were never on the side of life. It became clear that this is not about choice.”

As Trevino began to question her role there, God began leading her away from it. While driving home one night, she turned to Catholic radio.

“This planted a seed in my heart,” said Trevino, a baptized Catholic who spent years away from the Church. This prompted her return to Mass and Confession.

Learning more and more about the deceitful practices of her Planned Parenthood facility, she made the decision in the spring of 2011 to look for another job, feeling that employees at such clinics were actually harming, not helping, their young patients. During that Lenten season, volunteers from 40 Days for Life were holding prayer vigils outside her building. Trevino was drawn to them.

“I felt a nudge,” she said and approached a woman standing with the group. “I asked if she would pray that I could leave my job and find another.” Trevino soon learned that woman was not a volunteer but had just paused to pray there herself. “I knew that God had put her in my path.”

For 40 days, she felt their prayers and their grace, creating a sense of hope inside her.

“I was completely changed by this beautiful act of love,” Trevino admitted, “and asked God for forgiveness.”

Soon after this encounter, she left Planned Parenthood and took a job with 40 Days for Life, helping to organize vigils like the one that led to her conversion.

Barbara Grabowski, coordinator of the Bridgeport area campaign, calls 40 Days for Life a peaceful prayer vigil.

“It’s non-political, non-judgmental. We offer hope to moms-to-be and show them an alternative to abortion,” she said. “It’s all about a peaceful voice for the baby.”

After the talk at St. Theresa, attendees had the chance to meet representatives from the pro-life organizations Hope line, which offers free pregnancy resources to women, and Ruth’s House, a safe place for single mothers and their children.

Maura Janny of Easton attended the event and appreciated Trevino’s story about conversion.

“It teaches each of us to get out on the street and pray,” she said. “You can’t discount any little act of faith.”

Following the visit to Trumbull, Trevino spoke on March 19 in New Haven and Branford before heading to Hartford the next day as the keynote speaker for the Connecticut March for Life.

“Some at the March wonder, am I really making a difference with my sign?” she said, referencing the green and white Love Life – Choose Life signs. “Everything we do makes a difference. We are a public witness to countless stories we will never know.”

For information on 40 Days for Life, contact the Respect Life coordinator Maureen Ciardiello at (203) 416-1445 or visit www.40daysforlife.com.

By Joe Pisani

WESTPORT—For more than 25 years, Robert Ellsberg has been writing about saints — formally canonized saints like St. Francis of Assisi and others who lived a life of sacrifice in the pursuit of social justice like Martin Luther King Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Ellsberg, whose self-described occupation is “saint watcher,” recently gave a talk at St. Luke Parish in Westport titled, “Walking the Path of Holiness: What I have learned from a lifetime of studying the saints.” The author of seven books about saints, he is the Editor-in-chief and Publisher of Orbis Books.

“My own spiritual journey goes back to my work with Dorothy Day, which culminated in my becoming a Catholic,” he said during a recent phone interview. “She felt that saints were really our friends and companions, that they were real human beings we shouldn’t put on a pedestal or think of as super-human. They were also reminders that we are all called to holiness … but that doesn’t mean being canonized or having a church named after us. The Christian life is all about following Jesus and growing closer and more faithful to his example.”

At 19, Ellsberg dropped out of Harvard in 1975 and went to work at the Catholic Worker in New York City, where he was managing editor of The Catholic Worker newspaper and developed a close friendship with Servant of God Dorothy Day during the last five years of her life.

Ellsberg’s signature work is “All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets and Witnesses for Our Time,” which has been released in a 25th anniversary edition. And for the past 12 years, he has written a daily reflection on saints titled “Blessed Among Us” for “Give Us This Day” published by the Liturgical Press.

“Perhaps that is part of my mission: to present the saints as they really were,” he said. “And perhaps also to enlarge our understanding of what holiness means … I have reflected on both traditional and non-traditional saints, as well as my own version of breaking news around canonizations or the passing of contemporary witnesses.”

He has always focused on how faith and values were lived out by people in the context of their time, immersing himself in their work and attempting to understand how it shaped them.

“Above all, I am interested in the living Gospel that is written in the lives of those who have walked the path of holiness,” he wrote in a piece for America Media. “When we speak of ‘saints’ we tend to think of a finished product. But while we live, we are never finished. In the case of the saints, their holiness was expressed in the course of living — in their quest for their vocation; in how they responded to the challenges of their moment in history; in their encounters with other people; in how they confronted obstacles, disappointments, temptations and suffering; in how they persisted up to the end. That is what it means to walk the path of holiness.”

A profound lesson he learned from Dorothy Day is that the Communion of Saints is much larger than the official canon of saints. She herself, learned from the example of other people, including peace activists, mystics and artists who sustained and inspired her.

In writing “All Saints,” Ellsberg, too, focused on prophets and witnesses throughout history and their example for us.

One person, who was committed to social justice and truth but wasn’t religious, was his father, Daniel Ellsberg, the military analyst and activist who released the Pentagon Papers to the media in 1972. The top-secret study exposed the U.S. decision-making during the Vietnam War. As a result of his actions, Daniel Ellsberg, whom Henry Kissinger labeled, the “most dangerous man in America,” faced federal charges that carried a maximum sentence of 115 years, which were subsequently dismissed.

Robert Ellsberg said that his father, who died last June at 92, was prepared to risk his freedom, protesting something he considered morally wrong.

A priest recently told him, “Salvation is to be set free from fear in order to promote life.”

“And that is exactly what my father’s story was about,” he said. “He wasn’t a believer or a religious person at all. He was not a person of faith, but he was a person of hope.”

There were others like him during the Vietnam War era who, while not religious in a traditional sense, were prepared to risk their freedom opposing something that was wrong.

Another person of prophetic witness whose example is an inspiration to Ellsberg is Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, the Austrian conscientious objector who was executed for refusing to fight for Nazi Germany and later declared a martyr by Pope Benedict XVI.

“It is very striking and inspirational to be confronted by the example of people whose commitment to justice comes not when it’s easy but when it is the very hardest,” he said. “These people speak to me when I’m having a hard time. I saw that they could do it, and if they could do it, I can hopefully be braver.

“My work is a way of saying holiness is not just some churchy kind of thing or Catholic kind of thing. It is a call to be an authentic human being, especially like those who showed great love,” he said. “Dorothy Day strongly believed that Jesus meant what he said about ‘When I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.’ When you look at the Beatitudes, I think they describe a lot about people who are not candidates for official canonization but are among the blessed in the eyes of God.”

He said the profound influence of his years at the Catholic Worker eventually led him to be received into the Catholic faith in 1980.

“It was a place where I felt that I had come to know Jesus more deeply in a community, and I wanted to continue that journey,” he recalled. “I embraced the Catholic Worker as a place, a community, that was really living out the Gospel in a radical way.”

Ellsberg returned to Harvard and received a degree in religion and literature and then a master’s in theology from Harvard Divinity School. In 1987, he joined Orbis, the publishing arm of Maryknoll, where he has been publisher for more than 36 years.

He has also played an important role in Dorothy Day’s cause for sainthood. The editor of six volumes of her writings, he was one of the founding members of the Dorothy Day Guild and has been involved in her cause since 1997, when the late Cardinal John O’Connor opened it on the centenary of her birth.

Ellsberg believes her canonization would send a vital message to the Church about sainthood in the modern era.

“Dorothy invented a whole different model of holiness by combining charity with social justice,” he said. “She was utterly faithful to the Church and received Communion every day. And she was a lay person who took the initiative to live out a model of Christianity in the great social issues of our time.”

 

Dorothy Day’s cause for sainthood

Since 1997, Robert Ellsberg has been involved in the cause for sainthood of Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, and he believes her canonization would help define what it means to be a follower of Christ in the modern era.

Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Orbis Books, Ellsberg has edited six volumes of her writings and was one of five people appointed by the Archdiocese of New York in 1997 to document her life when the late Cardinal John O’Connor opened her cause. Ellsberg was involved in preparing her biography, which was submitted to the Vatican.

“We compiled the materials to go to the postulator in Rome,” he said. “It might take a year or more, and then the Dicastery (for the Causes of Saints) would submit it to review by theological experts, and if approved, make a recommendation to the Pope that she be recognized for her heroic virtue and she would be declared venerable.”

Ellsberg, who recently spoke at St. Luke Parish in Westport, was one of the original founders of the Dorothy Day Guild, which promotes her cause. He first met Day in 1975, when he dropped out of Harvard at 19 and traveled to New York to work at the Catholic Worker in the Bowery.

Day later asked him to be managing editor of The Catholic Worker newspaper, and he worked closely with her during her last five years of life, almost until her death at 83 in 1980.

“I went from Harvard to the Bowery, living among homeless people and alcoholics and drug addicts and ex-prisoners and people like that,” he said during an interview for StoryCorps. “And I realized that there was a lot more to learn from life than you could find just in books, and particularly the kinds of moral issues that were important to me. At that point, I sort of embraced the Catholic Worker as a place, a community that was really living out the Gospel in a radical way.”

What would this woman who practiced radical nonviolence, served the poor, was a daily communicant and fiercely loyal to the Church think about being canonized a saint?

“Dorothy had a lifelong devotion to the saints,” he said. “She wanted nothing more than to be a saint, but she did not want to be put up on a pedestal, and she would resist that — as would any saint. Holy people know their own failings more than anybody. She would be embarrassed by the idea that there would be so much focus on her that it might distract from her message of Jesus — to promote love and justice for the poor. She was insulted when people thought that she was a saint.”

Ellsberg said that being canonized a saint is not a way of honoring a person “like a posthumous Nobel Prize. It is a question for her to be put in the same category as the people she admired and she venerated. That is entirely appropriate.”

Day made little distinction “between canonized saints and other great souls,” and she thought the lives of saints were often written as though they were other-worldly.

Ellsberg believes her canonization would send the Church a vital message in the modern era because she lived a different model of holiness, which combined charity with social justice.

“What made her so different was her life of voluntary poverty, her community with the poor and her willingness to take extraordinary stands of conscience,” he has said. “In so many ways she was far ahead of the Church in committing to radical nonviolence, her ecumenical spirit, her example as a woman in the Church who took it upon herself to start a newspaper and social movement — and to apply the Gospel in these social issues.”

Her canonization “would move her from the margins of the Church’s story right to the center,” he has said. “It’s a way of preserving and amplifying her message, and also the challenge that she posed to all people to think of what it means to follow Christ in our own context, in our own lives.”