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.