STAMFORD — More than 300 people came out to a honor a priest Bishop Frank Caggiano described as “a man of authentic humility” and to celebrate the future of the priesthood in the Diocese of Bridgeport.
Msgr. Thomas Powers, Vicar General and honoree, received a standing ovation at the St. John Fisher Seminary First Annual Rector’s Dinner, which paid tribute to the men studying for the priesthood.
Father Paul Check, sixth rector of the seminary, was emcee of the dinner at Trinity Catholic High School, whose theme was “Forming Fishers of Men.
“I have never been happier since I returned to Fisher in January of last year,” he said. “I can share hope for the future of our diocese tonight from my knowledge of the seminarians … Grace is at work in these men for the praise and glory of God and the salvation of souls.”
Father John Connaughton, Vocation Director, introduced the seminarians and said, “It gives me great hope about the future of the church in Bridgeport. I am always edified by the goodness of the men I meet who express an interest in the possibility of being priests.”
Colin Lomnitzer, whose home parish is St. Catherine of Siena, has been at the seminary for two years and will be starting theological studies at St. Joseph in Dunwoodie this fall. He recounted his pilgrimage to the shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, NY, and the inspiration he received from the witness of the martyred French Jesuits, among them St. Isaac Jogues, who was tortured and maimed by the Mohawks.
“Isaac Jogues chose to give his life for Christ, just as Christ chose to give his life for us,” he said.
Why do men become priests? Quoting Bishop Caggiano, Lomnitzer said, “There is no greater work we do than to offer sacrifices in the name of Christ.”
Father Connaughton then introduced Msgr. Powers and said he “holds the distinction of being my mother’s favorite priest.”
“Monsignor Powers always had a certain insight for recognizing goodness,” he said. “He recognized goodness in people and he would desire to imitate them in striving for virtue.” He added that Msgr. Powers, himself, “is so worthy of imitation.”
Msgr. Powers, who has been a priest almost 21 years, talked about his experiences at St. John Fisher.
“In a special way and unique way, priests are called to follow Jesus’ example by dying to self and offering their entire lives as a sacrifice for the sake of others,” he said. “I know that is why God created me…but had it not been for St. John Fisher Seminary, I am not certain I would have figured that out on my own.”
When he entered in 1992, he was leaning toward the belief he was called to be a father and a husband but felt he owed it to God to seriously consider the possibility that he might be called to the priesthood. His family was surprised by his decision to enter the seminary.
At St. John Fisher, his mind and heart were opened to “the truth, the beauty and the goodness of our Catholic faith.” He was able to probe the depths of the Catholic intellectual tradition and learn about the necessity of prayer, spiritual direction, daily Mass and regular confession.
He said, “I count my seminary year at St. John Fisher as one of the most profound, formative and impactful years of my life.” In total, he has spent eight years there — as seminarian, spiritual director and now, resident.
“What I see is very encouraging and edifying,” he said. “Our eight Fisher men are — to a man — good, joyful, earnest and generous young men who want nothing more than to be formed to the Heart of Christ and to know for certain what He is asking them to do with their lives.”
He added, “God promised that He would provide shepherds for his people and God is always faithful, and so our seminarians are really a part of God’s fidelity to his Church, part of God’s plan to care for his people.”
“God still calls men to the priesthood,” he said, “And I can tell you He is calling very fine men — these same men you have met this evening.”
Msgr. Powers, who was raised in Newtown, attended St. Rose of Lima School and Immaculate High School in Danbury and graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in economics. After graduation, he worked as a financial consultant in New York.
In 1992, he entered St. John Fisher and a year later went to the Pontifical North American College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University and a licentiate from the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. He was ordained on May 24, 1997.
After serving as parochial vicar at St. Theresa Parish in Trumbull and as the spiritual director of St. John Fisher and chaplain of Trinity Catholic High School, he was assigned as an official in the Congregation for Bishops in Vatican City from 2005-15. In 2015, Bishop Caggiano called him back to serve as vicar general, and to reside at St. John Fisher to help in the formation of seminarians.
Bishop Caggiano, who also lives at the seminary, thanked the audience for their commitment to the Church and the seminarians. He praised Msgr. Powers as “an extraordinary priest” and thanked him for his work as vicar general, which “he performs joyfully and generously and with great personal sacrifice.”
He acknowledged two former rectors at the dinner, Fr. Rob Kinnally and Monsignor Kevin Royal, and asked for prayers for Monsignor Stephen DiGiovanni, the first rector, who could not attend for medical reasons. He also praised Father Check as a “man of great faith, a great priest and a great father to our seminarians.”
“We have 29 men who are willing to say ‘yes’ to the Lord, and they are our hope,” the Bishop said. “They are part of this great spiritual renewal we are beginning to see in our midst to one day join their brothers in the priesthood, who are continuing to say ‘yes’ and serve so generously in so many different ways.”
Bishop Caggiano asked for prayers and financial support to continue the work of the seminary so it could develop men to be “happy, holy and healthy priests called to serve Christ the High Priest.”
St. John Fisher Seminary is an initiative of the Diocese of Bridgeport to prepare college-aged men and young adults for major seminary and ordination. Seminarians pursue their undergraduate degrees at Sacred Heart University or Fairfield University while living in community and discerning their vocations.
Since the house opened in 1989 in Trumbull, 92 alumni have been ordained and almost 70 serve in the diocese. The seminary, which moved to the current campus in Stamford in 1995, is undergoing a 30-month renovation to improve and expand its facilities. (To learn more about the seminary, visit www.bridgeportpriest.org.)
Mary Giordano, who with her husband Paul chaired the dinner committee, said the group regularly met with the seminarians. “Getting to know these fine young men fills us with confidence for the future,” she said.
Frank Trotta, who was on the committee with his wife Susan, said, “I’ve been blessed to get to know each of the seminarians over the last year and a half. They are impressive. There is no doubt their priestly formation is greatly enhanced by having ‘house mates’ like Msgr. Powers and the other priests living at Fisher — Father Check, Msgr. Chris Walsh and most recently and most significantly Bishop Caggiano.”
For more information about this event, please visit StJohnFisherSeminary.org