By Joe Pisani

STRATFORD — Bishop Frank J. Caggiano joined hundreds of parishioners to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the Holy Name of Jesus Church on Saturday, blessing the restored facade and urging them to “throw open the doors and invite those who once were with us to come back and discover a new way.”

In his homily at the 100th anniversary liturgy on the day the parish was founded in 1923, the bishop called on the congregation to join with all Catholics in evangelizing during “this time of challenge and great opportunity and never stop proclaiming the Holy Name of Jesus.” He recalled that when he was a boy, his family had to arrive at Mass early because “as soon as you opened the doors, people came and they came and they came.”

“Now, my dear friends, we must open our doors because the Spirit of God is asking us to go and get them,” he said. “To invite them home, to bring them back, to rediscover the beauty, the glory, and the healing power of the Holy Name of Jesus. I would like to tell you it will be an easy task, but it is not because it will require from every single one of us a commitment to go out one person at a time and sit with them and accompany them and allow them to speak from their hearts and create a living bridge to a family that listens to them, wants them, will serve them and most of all, love them as generations have before.”

Bishop Caggiano praised Fr. Albert Pinciaro for his work as pastor over the past five years and for the restoration of the facade, which will be followed by a renovation of the interior of the church after Christmas.

Father said that Holy Name, which began as a parish serving the Slovak immigrant community, has “long been a beacon of hope, peace and prayer for the people of Stratford and neighboring communities.”

“One hundred years ago, our first parishioners provided future generations a magnificent place to pray, learn, and grow in faith and service to others,” he said. “Our parish is growing with an influx of new members in search of home, community and faith. We are rededicating ourselves to creating and sustaining an environment that will meet those needs for all who call Holy Name of Jesus their home now and in the next 100 years.”

Today, the parish is home not only to English and Slovak-speaking Catholics but also Spanish, French/Creole and Vietnamese, Deacon Dan O’Connor said.

The anniversary celebration began with a concert that featured former and current musicians, soloists and choir members. Parishioners then went outside as Bishop Caggiano blessed the restored facade. Upon returning, the liturgy for the Feast of the Holy Trinity was celebrated. Afterward, parishioners gathered in the parish hall for a reception that featured food from the many nationalities represented in the parish.

“We are many but we are one,” Father Pinciaro said. “The challenges and the riches we experience because of this tapestry of diversity are numerous. It is only through the Spirit and the foundation that has been laid down for us that we can frame a future for our beloved parish. That and trusting fully in the truth of the words we pass under every time we enter this edifice — ‘All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

In his homily, Bishop Caggiano told a story about one of his clients when he worked at McGraw Hill publishing company, while he was discerning his vocation to the priesthood.

“She was my most important client, and she was by far the most difficult of my clients … she bought a million dollars worth of books,” he recalled. “So the ritual was the same. When I went to visit her — and even the first time we met — I knew she did not like me. She would not give me the time of day; she would not look me in the face; and most of the time, the conversations we had were in the hallway — she being about ten steps in front of me. I would kind of shout my questions, and she would bark back the answers, until we got to her office and she would slam the door in my face. And I knew the visit was over.”

He endured her indignities until his very last visit, when he informed her, “By the way, I’m leaving.” To which she replied, “What fool is going to hire you?”

He promptly responded, “Jesus.”

“She froze, and for the first time, she turned around, and almost in a whisper she said to me, ‘What did you say?’”

“I said ‘Jesus.’ I said I am going into the seminary. I want to be a priest,” he replied.

She flung her office door open and told her secretary, “Cancel my appointments,” and then told young Frank Caggiano, “YOU, come with me.”

“It was the only time I saw the inside of her office and for nearly two hours, we sat. I said almost nothing, and she told her life story, which was a very hard life,” Bishop Caggiano recalled. “At the very end, she said to me, ‘I wish you good luck.’ I got up and walked out. I was on the sidewalk in the middle of Manhattan, and I asked myself, ‘What just happened?’ Then, a voice inside me said, ‘Now you have seen with your own eyes the power of the Sacred Name of Jesus.’”

He told the congregation, “We have come here because you and I, my dear friends, stand on the shoulders of those generations who have come before, joining their voices with yours to proclaim to the world the Holy Name of Jesus.”

“That name has power precisely because it is the name of the Savior and Redeemer,” he said. “It is the name of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, whom we honor today, who took flesh and shared life in all things but sin, so that every human life knows they have a God who knows what it means to laugh and to cry — a God who knows what it is to have friends and who knows what it means to be betrayed. A God who taught us what it means to love because He is love with his Father and Spirit.”

He asked the congregation to recall the countless times they and their forebears knelt at the Holy Name of Jesus, in times of thanksgiving, crisis, petition, penance and worship.

“Think also of how many knees were bent and had their sins forgiven and the chains and slavery of the Evil One broken, think of all those who had their knees bent in the Sacrament of Marriage, where the two became one and from that one, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren were born who filled these halls with praise and acclaim,” he said. “Think of all those who knelt in the hours of sickness and old age and had the Spirit come to them and whisper to them consolation and strength. There have been countless knees that have bent to the name of Jesus here in the parish that guards and proclaims his name.”

Bishop Caggiano praised the parish for the work it has done and Fr. Pinciaro for his leadership and inspiration. The pastor was then given a standing ovation.

It was a proud day for the parish. Admiring the restored facade earlier in afternoon, Deacon O’Connor said, “It’s a beautiful day for us to begin our second 100 years as the church of Stratford.”

Richard and Margo Zboray, who have been parishioners for two years and are co-chairs of the parish Leadership Team, praised Fr. Pinciaro, who is affectionately known as “Father Bert,” for his efforts and said the diversity and social outreach of the parish make it a special place.

“We were welcomed with open arms and felt accepted,” Margo said.

Anne Wargo said her husband Bob’s family has worshiped at Holy Name for four generations and that their two sons received their sacraments at the church.

“Once you’re at Holy Name,” she said, “you’re always here.”

Carol Kascak said her late husband Mark’s family was among the founders. She was married in the church in 1982 and later took RCIA classes and was welcomed into the Catholic faith.

In his comments, Fr. Pinciaro reflected on the 100 years of history and noted that 5440 people had been baptized, 4253 received First Communion, 4662 had been confirmed and 2254 were married.

Holy Name was the second Roman Catholic parish founded in Stratford and was established by the then-Diocese of Hartford to serve the growing Slovak immigrant community. The new parish worshipped in the former St. James Church on Broadbridge Avenue and then moved to a wooden church on Barnum Avenue in 1923.

On March 23, 1941, the current English Gothic church was dedicated, and the wooden church was moved nearby and became the parish hall. It supported an elementary school from 1957 to 1991. That year, the Slovak parish of St. John Nepomucene in Bridgeport joined with Holy Name.

DARIEN – Dozens of people gathered at Saint Thomas More Church to learn more about how to recognize and support actions to stop human trafficking in this region and around the world.
“Trafficking is happening here,” said Jamie Manirakiza, Executive Director of the Partnership to End Human Trafficking (PEHT). “It’s discreet and coercive in nature. It’s not like the drama in movies such as Taken. Victims are in plain sight.”

Manirakiza gave a presentation in the Parish Hall about how the organization, located in Bridgeport, uses the “Three E Strategy”: Empower, Educate and Embrace in offering a sustainable long-term strategy to aid in the fight to end human trafficking.

“Our primary function is to provide housing and long-term support for victims,” Manirakiza said. “They need healing, restoration and hope.”

A video of survivors sharing their story was played for the more than 50 people gathered at the meeting. The video highlighted the struggles victims face after escaping from a life of being trafficked. Four of the women PEHT is helping are currently living in Bridgeport.

Manirakiza said human traffickers prey on the most vulnerable in society.

Victims are often recruited with false promises of jobs and a better life. They can be recruited from other countries but traffickers also target at-risk populations, such as the poor, those without jobs, the homeless and people who are disconnected from stable support networks.

“Wherever you have the Internet, which is in every corner of the globe at this point, you have sex and labor trafficking,” Manirakiza said, adding that it’s important to teach kids about the dangers of the internet and about safe dating since it’s not uncommon for young people to be lured on the internet with elaborate vacations or fancy clothes only to be tricked into being trafficked.

Human trafficking is among the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprises and is estimated to be a $150 billion-a-year global industry.

Manirakiza showed mugshots of the same women after multiple arrests over time and the deterioration of their physical appearance in addition to their obvious mental and spiritual anguish, provoked audible gasps from those gathered.

“If you have volunteered at a soup kitchen or food pantry you probably served someone who has experienced being a prostituted person,” Manirakiza said and explained how victims can be made to work long hours with little pay if at all and many feel like they have no recourse because they may not have proper legal documentation to go to authorities or they fear retaliation against themselves of their loved ones from the trafficker.

“Victims in human trafficking endure unimaginable suffering,” said Cece Donoghue, a parishioner at St. Thomas More Parish and a member of the Order of Malta.

A few years ago, Donoghue said she learned about modern day slavery in the tri-state area after attending a program at the United Nations through the Order of Malta, a lay religious order of the Roman Catholic Church, which seeks to glorify God by promoting the sanctification of each member through his or her work with the sick and the poor and witness of the Catholic faith.
“I learned about people being bought and sold in my own neighborhood and I wanted to help raise awareness and educate others about it,” Donoghue said.

In fact, recently authorities charged a man and a woman with sex trafficking minors in Norwalk.
The Partnership to End Human Trafficking is one of several organizations trying to make a difference.

“We are here to support individuals in their healing journey,” Manirakiza said, adding that PEHT will be assuming the operations of a similar program in Hartford soon.
PEHT also offers survivors an opportunity to create survivor-made products for home, pets and life. The items are offered online and at the PEHT shop located at the Bishop Arcade historic shopping center on Main Street in Bridgeport.

CT Area of the Order of Malta members support the survivors at PEHT and work with them in the PEHT SHOP making products, mentoring survivors and assisting them with moving into their own home after completing their two-year recovery program.

How to help

Manirakiza said some ways to recognize human trafficking include if people seem scared, avoid eye contact or don’t talk to you. She said there is an element of trauma bordering on loyalty to their trafficker.

She said vetting businesses you may hire, making intentional decisions about what and where you purchase food, clothing or other items are ways that individuals can have an impact on trafficking. It is a supply and demand issue, she said.

Pursuing legislative and policy changes on the state and federal level or engaging with people in the service industry are effective ways to start.

“As people of faith we recognize that planting a seed, like the mustard seed, is important,” she said, adding that a seed of awareness can offer hope to those you may suspect of being victimized.

The informational meeting was eye-opening to many in attendance.

“It’s really shocking that it’s gotten to this point, that people are so evil,” said Lisa Schofield, a parishioner of Saint Thomas More. “The most shocking thing is that it’s so close to home,” she said.

Schofield and fellow attendee, Patricia Hellman of Ridgefield said they would both make more deliberate decisions in what they purchase, who they hire and plant that mustard seed of awareness to those they may encounter in the service industry.

Donoghue said the Bridgeport Diocese is actively continuing to combat trafficking through the many programs of Catholic Charities and other Diocesan programs that are designed to lift people up and out of poverty and despair. Raising awareness is paramount to ending human trafficking.
“Talk about it. Raise awareness,” Donoghue said at the conclusion of the meeting. “Let’s keep the conversation going.”

Sitting around the table for a recent Father’s Day meal, my family started discussing people we knew who were going away on extravagant summer vacations. I’ll admit, most of us began to express our jealousy and desire to hop on a plane to an exciting destination. It was then that my mom piped in. She reminded us that we were all out for a meal together as a family, which was more than enough to be grateful for.

As we enter the summer months, our social media feeds will likely be full of pictures of people enjoying themselves on vacation. It will be hard not to fall into the trap of envy and jealousy, letting it consume us as we scroll.

But in doing this, we would be missing out on all the small moments that create our beautiful, extraordinary, messy lives. Moments of inspiration and creativity, laughter, joy, nostalgia, and everything in between.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” That statement is increasingly true in a world where we can share our good fortune at a moment’s notice. But it is important to remember that we only see each other’s good moments— curated, filtered and vetted before posting.

Life is a kaleidoscope of moments, each accompanied by a unique set of emotions. Our human connection allows us to be with each other in moments of joy, as well as moments of struggle—and this is where a hidden beauty lies.

Can we learn to embrace all of these moments? Both the joyful and the difficult. It may seem like others have it better, but we all have ups and downs. Our humanity makes that something we can always be sure of.

In the same way, can we learn to find genuine joy in others’ good fortune even in the face of our own hardships?

We mustn’t judge others or begrudge them their happiness. James 4:11 says, “Do not speak evil of one another, brothers. Whoever speaks evil of a brother or judges his brother speaks evil of the law and judges the law. If you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.”

It is easy to judge others by what we see online. We feel a separation from them on the other side of a screen. But we never know what someone is like until we talk to them face-to-face. We could all use a little more love, understanding and acceptance in our lives.

In our humanity, we often fall victim to the judgment of others. “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye’” (Matthew 7:4-5).

If we look around at what we have and find the joy and wonder there, we won’t have any room left for judgment or comparison of others, for our hearts will be full.

BRIDGEPORT—Each spring, so many teenagers look forward to their high school prom with anticipation and excitement, helping to plan it, choosing an outfit, and then dancing with friends and classmates. The students of St. Vincent’s Special Needs Services are no different. With a 1970s disco theme as their backdrop, they held their annual prom at the school in Trumbull on Friday, May 27 after two years of a heavily-restricted event due to COVID-19.

As the sounds of the Bee Gees and KC & the Sunshine Band filled the room, the students, many wearing sequined shirts, colorful beads, and bell-bottoms, moved to the music and posed at the photo booths as their aides, some in roller skates, guided them on the dance floor. Disco balls, streamers, glow sticks, and strobe lights created the perfect atmosphere for these prom-goers, all with multiple developmental disabilities and complex medical needs.

“There is so much excitement!” said Geri Durnin, principal of St. Vincent’s Special Needs Services. “The kids couldn’t wait to see everyone—and they love to be in photos. This day is so special for all of them. It’s really a ‘Celebration’!”

Part of what makes it so special is the role the students played in planning this prom. According to Durnin, they chose the theme, made a playlist of songs such as “Boogie Oogie Oogie” and “That’s the Way,” and helped their teachers create the décor by painting, gluing, and designing some of the artwork. Each classroom picked one year of the decade and made bulletin boards highlighting ‘70s icons like “The Partridge Family” and John Travolta, all of which hung on the walls for viewing during the prom. In doing so, students learned not only 1970s pop culture but also about life in that era and the cost of items then and now.

“We incorporate the kids’ abilities in the preparation, and work education into it all,” said Colleen Gorman, a special education teacher and behavioral management specialist. “They get involved with the planning from the ground up.” Gorman added that since her classroom had 1978, they discovered which foods and brands were popular that year such as Ben & Jerry’s and Ding Dongs.

“With everything we do, we try to give our students as many typical opportunities as anyone else, and we just want them to have a good time,” said Durnin, who also commended her staff for the work they do. “I’m so appreciative of them for making it so special for the kids. They are absolutely wonderful.”

Thirty-eight students ages 15 and up attended either the morning or afternoon prom with the graduates being crowned kings and queens. Though this event has occurred for at least 30 years, the past two were scaled back significantly, and even now, parents could not join in as they had before the pandemic. Nevertheless, the feeling of unity and joy shown through all aspects of the day. Gorman said those with visual impairments enjoyed seeing the bright lights and colors, and those in wheelchairs were “sitting up tall, taking it all in.”

“The kids love the hustle and bustle of the day,” she said. “The environment is very stimulating for them.”

No one needed any excuse to “c’mon, get happy” at this prom—special in so many ways. When asked what her favorite part of the day was, one girl smiled brightly and answered, “The dancing!”

By Emily Clark

As I grow older, I notice more and more that we all have strengths and weaknesses. My sister is getting married in May, and the role of maid-of-honor comes with many tasks to complete and things I have to plan. I always had an inkling that this wasn’t my strong suit, but I am now learning just how much that is the case.

It is hard not to take this as a personal failing. Some people are so good at the little details that go into planning trips and parties and know just how to wrangle the troops together to get things done in a way that is efficient and productive. And in our hustle-and-bustle world, those traits are often revered. But that is just not me. I am much happier working behind the scenes—gathering decorations and coming up with verbiage and creative signage.

This is becoming more apparent in my professional life, as well. I would much rather take notes on a meeting, than present information to a group. It is why I am a writer and an editor, rather than a teacher or an event planner.

That being said, all different kinds of people are required to get things done and make the world turn. There is a balance needed in all things. We need creative thinkers just as much as we need he analytical thinkers. As James 1:17 says, “every perfect gift is from above.”

We all make up the Body of Christ with all our multitude of gifts and talents. “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10-11). As long as we are using our talents for good and for the greater glory of God, we can’t go wrong!

One of the great reliefs of getting older, for me, is that now I have the vocabulary and self-awareness to know where my strengths and weaknesses lie and can actively seek out situations in which I can capitalize on my strengths.

When we are younger, we don’t always have the authority to be able to choose those situations. I have found that this knowledge has made a big difference in the way I live my life as an adult. It has taken years of experience to learn where my appropriate boundaries are and what situations it is necessary and healthy to push myself.

God instructs us not to hide our talents from the world but instead to share them and use them to serve others. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). I have enjoyed writing this column because I do feel like I am letting my light shine. I love hearing from readers, and when they can find some wisdom from and connection to something I’ve written, it makes me feel like I am doing something good.

As Lent approaches, perhaps we can offer our gifts and talents to the Lord. Whether that be offering to help plan a fundraiser at a local parish, offering to take notes at the next youth group meeting, or lifting our voice in song at Mass. How can we serve our community with our God-given talents, and how can we give thanks to the one who bestowed them upon us?

BRIDGEPORT– On Tuesday, August 3, from 4:30 PM-6:00 PM, roughly 150 people turned out on each of the Catholic Academy of Bridgeport’s four campuses for their first-ever “Summer Social.” Both longtime and newly enrolled families gathered together to enjoy free ice cream, music, games, and giveaways. There were laughter, fun, and smiles all around.

“A surprise was that several alumni even showed up on each campus, from the recently graduated right through sophomores in college,” Said Angela Pohlen, CAB’s Executive Director. “These grads came back to see their school and show support. What a true testament to what our Academy is to our families.”

The wonderful event captured the essence of CAB’s “Something More” promise, and the Academy hopes the “Summer Social” will become an annual one for its very special school community. Thank you to everyone who came out and made the night so memorable!

The Catholic Academy of Bridgeport welcomes all faiths, and we offer generous financial assistance to all who qualify. To enroll your child for the fall, please go to APPLY NOW or call (203) 362-2978. Limited spaces for 2021/2022! Some grades are already full.

BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Frank J. Caggiano will celebrate a special Mass this Saturday, open to all, in honor of all healthcare workers throughout the diocese.

You can watch Mass by clicking here. The broadcast will begin at 10:55 am.

This special celebration of Mass will take place at 11 am at St. Joseph Church in Brookfield.

Bishop Caggiano said he felt it was important that the diocese recognize healthcare workers in his pastoral exhortation, “Let us Enter the Upper Room with the Lord.”

“Over this past year, many of our healthcare workers offered heroic service on behalf of those who fell ill with the coronavirus, often risking their own lives to care for those who were sick. While I am sure that we have kept them in our prayers each day, we also look forward to this opportunity to affirm their healthcare ministry,” he said.

Registration is not required, the Mass is open to all.

BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Frank J. Caggiano will celebrate a special Mass this Saturday, open to all, in honor of all healthcare workers throughout the diocese.

This special celebration of Mass will take place at 11 am at St. Joseph Church in Brookfield.

Bishop Caggiano said he felt it was important that the diocese recognize healthcare workers and participants in the Ambassador program called for in his pastor exhortation, “Let us Enter the Upper Room with the Lord.”

“Over this past year, many of our healthcare workers offered heroic service on behalf of those who fell ill with the coronavirus, often risking their own lives to care for those who were sick. While I am sure that we have kept them in our prayers each day, we also look forward to this opportunity to affirm their healthcare ministry,” he said.

Registration is not required, the Mass is open to all.