In any family, the celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries are truly special occasions on which we look back in gratitude for the many graces that God has bestowed on us in the past, and we look forward with great hope for the many blessings that are yet to come.
In its upcoming 175th birthday year, beginning in November, it is truly right and just to sing in the manner of the epic poets of the glories of the Archdiocese of Hartford. Our song, however, is not boasting, but really a hymn of thanksgiving for the blessings and protection with which almighty God has guided this section of his vineyard with a strong hand. How appropriate, on this occasion, the words of Psalm 59 are: “As for me, I will sing of your strength, and each morning acclaim your love.”
There is a growing tendency in everyone to learn of the beginning, indeed the foundation of every enterprise. We experience this on the 175th anniversary of the establishment of Hartford as a diocese. The Diocese of Hartford was established on Nov. 28, 1843, by Pope Gregory XVI. What preceded this event?
The territory of the Diocese of Hartford originally was a part of the Diocese of Boston, which was erected in 1808. The history of the now Archdiocese of Boston and the historical work, Hartford’s Catholic Legacy — Leadership, give us a great deal of important and interesting information. In 1823, Bishop Jean-Louis Lefebvre de Cheverus, the first bishop of Boston, visited the small group of Catholics in Hartford. They numbered about 20, but as the history of the Archdiocese of Boston relates, the small group became the nucleus from which the organized Church grew. (HAB vol.2 p.92)
As has been the story in so many places, immigrants to our country have written the pages of the founding and early history of each diocese. This also was true for Hartford. Many Catholic immigrants, particularly the Irish, French, German, Polish and Italians, came to this relatively new nation to seek work and a better way of life. They brought with them physical strength and a strong faith. It was their physical labor that helped build the Enfield Canal and similar projects. These workers and their families were of firm Catholic faith and they requested priests and churches for the celebration of Mass and the sacraments. The bishop acquiesced to their request and labored to assist in the raising of funds necessary for the purchase of land and the building of the Catholic Church. Eventually, they had their first church. Other churches quickly followed.
From these humble beginnings, the Church grew with great success through good times and bad times in our country. The Civil War had not yet occurred, the industrial growth of the nation had yet to begin and the migration to the West was just beginning. From its earliest days, the Catholic Church in Hartford was planted well. The growth, development and accomplishments of this diocese are all the result of firm faith, apostolic zeal and the providential bestowing of almighty God’s strengthening graces and blessings.
That is why we approach the 175th anniversary of Hartford as a diocese singing to the Lord a grateful song of praise and thanksgiving. From Bishop William Tyler, Hartford’s first bishop, to Archbishop Leonard Blair, our shepherds have guided their flock with wisdom and strength. In collaboration with a great number of priests, deacons and men and women religious, they have provided for the spiritual welfare of those entrusted to their pastoral care in the counties of Hartford, Litchfield and New Haven.
May the God who has begun this good work in us, bring it to completion.
Msgr. Thomas M. Ginty is the rector of the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford and the chairman of the archdiocese's 175th anniversary committee.