Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

rosazza_ctmensconf1009-74fNEW HAVEN – He has been called the "People’s Bishop," "Bishop of the Streets" and "Padre Pedro." Until a few years ago, he was as familiar bicycling around town in his trademark beret as he was in bishop’s robes and holding a crozier. You know him by his white Vandyke beard and mustache, smiling brown eyes and impish humor.

He is the much-beloved Peter A. Rosazza, an auxiliary bishop of the Hartford Archdiocese, and he is now retired.

As mandated by canon law, Bishop Rosazza submitted his resignation to the Holy Father on his 75th birthday, Feb. 13 of this year. On June 30, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI had accepted his resignation, effective that day. He had been a bishop for 32 years, longer than any other bishop now serving in Connecticut and most of the country.

In a statement, Archbishop Henry J. Mansell wrote: "I am happy to say that in retirement Bishop Rosazza will continue to serve our Archdiocese in many ways: in Confirmations, special events, advice and counsel, etc. I am profoundly grateful for all his talented and dedicated work for the Archdiocese."

Bishop Rosazza spoke to the Transcript about his ministry and was quick to give credit to the people who have helped him along the way. "I’ve had wonderful secretaries," he said. "I’ve had five of them. People don’t give folks like that enough credit." His secretaries, in alphabetical order, have been: Maureen Arnone, Agnes Laudano, Mary Long, Lucy Pelosi and Wendy Piner.

He was one of the bishops who drafted the U.S. bishops’ 1986 pastoral letter, "Economic Justice for All." The impetus for that 208-page letter came from Bishop Rosazza’s motion at a November 1980 meeting of the bishops’ conference asking for a pastoral letter on capitalism.

He was born in New Haven (prophetically, on Bishop Street), grew up in Torrington and attended Dartmouth College; St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield; St. Bernard Seminary in Rochester, N.Y.; and Seminare St.-Sulpice in Paris. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Hartford in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on June 29, 1961.

He was assistant pastor at the Church of St. Timothy, West Hartford, and then taught French, Spanish and Italian at St. Thomas Seminary. In 1972, he became co-pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Hartford, the mother church of the city’s Hispanic community.

When he was ordained a bishop on June 24, 1978, he became the Archdiocese’s first bishop to be fluent in Spanish. He also speaks Portuguese, French, English and Italian. Until his retirement, he was one of only three bishops still serving who were appointed by Pope Paul VI.

"It sort of came out of the blue," he said. "Archbishop [John F.] Whealon called one day, Feb. 13, 1978, my birthday. My secretary said, ‘There’s a man on the phone but he won’t give his name.’ He had the letter from the nuncio [Archbishop Jean Jadot] and Pope Paul VI’s letter appointing me an auxiliary bishop. They were looking for pastoral guys, someone who spoke Spanish."

He continued to minister at Sacred Heart until 1981, when, at his request, he was transferred to Waterbury. Seven years later, he was appointed regional bishop of New Haven, where he still resides on the grounds of the Hospital of St. Raphael.

Bishop Rosazza co-founded the Naugatuck Valley Project, a coalition of churches and labor unions. "That was an important project, to keep jobs in the valley," he said.

He also co-founded the Elm City Congregations Organized (ECCO), a community organization of 18 churches in the New Haven area. He is a member of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Social Development and World Peace. Bishop Rosazza is a liaison with Brazilian Catholics for the Committee on Migration and Refugees.

"I’m also bishop advisor for the National Catholic Student Coalition [NCSC]," he said. NCSC is made up of student leaders who strive to empower students to further the mission of the Church. "I’ve seen a lot of young people become great leaders. That’s been a nice involvement, year after year. They stay the same age, and you get older," he quipped.

As the Transcript was going to press, students and alumni of NCSC were planning to honor Bishop Rosazza at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.

As vicar general for the Hispanic apostolate, Bishop Rosazza has seen the Office for Hispanic Evangelization blossom. "Now there’s a big community in Torrington," he said. "We get some priests from Latin America. We got the Dominican Sisters of Fatima to come in under Archbishop [Daniel A.] Cronin."

He said the Hispanic office was also able to get grants to support ministries, and he pointed to the recent ordinations of Spanish-speaking Father Robert Villa (2002) and Father José Mercado (2006). Father Mercado has succeeded Bishop Rosazza as director of the Office for Hispanic Evangelization.

He also pointed to the recent ordination of nine new permanent deacons, which include four Hispanic men: Alexander López, Edwin López, Roberto Lugo and Michael Torres.

"The [Hispanic] community is growing," he said. "I’ve also seen greater respect for the community as time goes on. For example, we now have interpreters in the hospital [St. Raphael’s]."

He recalled a case of medical neglect that resulted in a young Hispanic girl’s death some years ago. "That was terrible. You get angry," he said. Things have improved since then, he said, thanks to a stronger awareness of prejudice and injustice. There is now bilingual education and community organization that empower the Hispanic community, he said.

"On the parish level, the priests [in Hispanic communities] have done a very good job. I’ll put those priests in the Spanish ministry against any priest in the country," he said.

About 10 years ago, Bishop Rosazza, riding his bicycle, was involved in an accident with a motorcycle and was almost killed. "I was right by St. Rose Church [in New Haven]," he said. "I was thrown 80 feet and broke my right arm and later needed rotator cuff surgery. I rode the bike just once after that."

He gave his bicycle away recently, perhaps a symbol of things he knows he must let go. But, though he is retired, he will not disappear.

"I won’t have to be involved in problems, trying to solve difficulties," he said. "I will offer my services and give priests a break. If the Archbishop asks me to do whatever, I’ll do it. He’s a wonderful man. We’re blessed to have him as our Archbishop. He’s been great to work with. He’s very intelligent and also very compassionate."

Will he give away his beret?

"Oh, no," he said. "I’m keeping that."