NEW CANAAN – Parishioners from across the Diocese of Bridgeport gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of collaboration through parish partnerships while encouraging more parishes to connect and pursue goals together.
By Kathy-Ann Gobin
“We are on the path now of the revival of our Church, to work as a larger parish family,” said Diocese of Bridgeport Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, emphasizing The One mission in the diocese, to focus every aspect of the Church on bringing individuals closer to God. “Tonight, we are celebrating walking with each other, as parishes have joined in a friendship with other parishes.” Parish leaders and parishioners from St. Mary Parish in Stamford and Saint Thomas More Parish in Darien previously met in June and were excited to share how their partnership has evolved and helped both parishes flourish in many ways.
Saint Mary’s Pastor Rev. Gustavo A. Falla said he was grateful for the support and guidance not only from sister-parish Saint Thomas More but also Foundations in Faith and the Saint Francis Xavier Fund. “Saint Mary’s has secured $98-thousand in grants that has helped us to cover the study of our church for the work that needs to be done,” said Fr. Falla about the more than 100-year-old French Gothic church on Elm Street in Stamford which has been plagued with water leaks and is in need of restoration. The additional funds needed to get drawings and put the work out to bid came from St. Thomas More donating $48,000 of its 2021 Annual Catholic Appeal (ACA) overages to the St. Mary Water Infiltration project, at the suggestion of Joseph Gallagher, Chief Development Officer for the Diocese of Bridgeport. In June, St. Thomas More Church made a second donation of $50,000 to offset costs of the renovations starting this fall.
Fr. Falla was also happy to share that the parish secured $2.225-million in funding in the form of a loan from Fairfield County Bank to begin the restoration work needed which includes fixing roof flashing and gutter issues, replacing missing or damaged slate on the historic church as well as repairing water damaged areas. The parish is also planning to sell one acre of property it is not using to repay the loan, the project that is expected to begin in mid-October.
As parishes throughout the diocese meet and exceed their ACA goal they are working together to form relationships with other parishes to continue to support the overall mission of the Diocese. “Collaboration has always been a part of the church,” St. Thomas More Pastor Fr. Paul Murphy said. “We are one Church and this is one way of manifesting that.” Fr. Murphy said he was grateful for the enthusiastic support of those gathered and noted how worshiping together brings out the best in everyone including how the communities of music and youth ministries are collaborating throughout the Diocese of Bridgeport. “This is a true collaboration and celebration of the people of God building up the universal Church,” said Fr. Murphy, adding that an overarching goal is to make the church a better place to be in many different ways including elevating the community, its spiritual leaders and the physical places of worship. “It ought to be beautiful. It ought to be a place worthy of worship,” Fr. Murphy said.
Kelly Weldon, Director of Foundations in Faith, an organization that provides comprehensive support to enhance pastoral care for parishes and programs in the diocese, said that the number one ingredient for a good partnership is listening. “We listened to the St. Mary team as it related to their needs. The SFX Committee has been an enthusiastic partner with them and have provided grants in the amount of $65,000 to move this project along,” Weldon said. “Our priests take care of us and it’s our job to find ways to support them.”
Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Bridgeport is another example of how parish partnerships, community commitment and support can help faith flourish. Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church merged with Saint George Lithuanian Catholic Church in July. Pastor Rev. J. Abelardo Vasquez and Deacon David Rivera, Director of Religious Education at Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, said they are able to serve several different communities speaking four different languages with the support of funding from the Saint Francis Xavier Fund, which has allowed them to expand the parish’s Urban Center for everyone to gather. In fact, they said three years ago they had about 150 students now they have close to 450 students for religious education instruction. “Our RCIA is flourishing with 63 catechumen and we have 45 kids in the youth group. We are meeting the needs of the Haitian, Brazilian and English communities,” Deacon Rivera said. “We want to show everyone the beauty, culture and reality of what it is to be a Catholic.”
Brian Young, who hosted the event at his home in New Canaan, co-founded SFX with the bishop. Young and Joe Sindelar were presented with blue and white baseball hats with SFX embroidered on them as a gift of gratitude for their ongoing support. Young said he is excited about the good work being accomplished by the Saint Francis Xavier Fund and he is pleased to see the progress being made in connecting parishes together. “It’s so exciting to see where we are,” Young said of the collaborative work being done throughout the diocese. “We need each other. Our kids and our grandkids need to know we are all a part of the universal Church” he said.
Bishop Caggiano agreed. “I am grateful for what we have done in 10 years,” Bishop Caggiano said, “and I am hopeful for what the next 10 years will look like.”