WATERBURY – Over 300 people bundled into La Bella Vista Restaurant at the Pontelandolfo Club in Waterbury on a chilly Nov. 2, All Souls Day, to celebrate the 22nd annual awards dinner of Carolyn’s Place Pregnancy Care Center.
This year’s honorees were Sister Suzanne Gross of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, Wesley Wensek and Anne Marie Cullinan, chief academic officer for the Waterbury Department of Education.
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Far more than a “place,” Carolyn’s Place has become a ministry to protect the sanctity of human life since it began on Nov. 4, 1991, with Father Robert Rousseau, now director of the Pro-life Ministry for the archdiocese, and a baby whose memory continues to move hearts and minds. To those who know it, the story never grows old; Father Rousseau, now also pastor of Holy Family Parish in Enfield, told those in attendance the story.
When he was pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Watertown, he found an infant girl in a cardboard box in his dark church. She was quickly transported to Waterbury Hospital and declared to be in good health.
The baby, named “Carolyn,” was soon adopted, but not before a few visits by Father Rousseau and others and inspiring a pledge that no woman should face pregnancy alone. Carolyn’s Place opened its doors one year later.
Making his first appearance at a Carolyn’s Place event and taking the podium to warm applause as keynote speaker, Archbishop Leonard P. Blair congratulated both the award recipients and attendees, who, he said, “represent many people … unsung heroes and heroines in our church who are unrecognized in our community and in our country.”
Championing its work and that of similar organizations “in the midst of an often unbelieving, contrary and sometimes even hostile world,” he said they “represent God’s grace at work among us, responding to the call to extend ourselves in charity, love and life in difficult circumstances.”
He continued, “Don’t be misled by those who create a wedge or suggest something that is not the case.” Citing Pope Francis’ “the church is a field hospital for the wounded,” he said, “I think what you are doing is certainly fulfilling the pope’s challenge.”
M.. Jane Teta, chairman of the board, introduced staff and board members among the audience and recognized and thanked sponsors and benefactors. Honorees then each expressed appreciation for their awards and gratitude for all that Carolyn’s Place has accomplished during the past 22 years.
Sister Suzanne Gross, who received the Ministry Award, has served since 1987 as administrator of Franciscan Home Care and Hospice Care in Meriden. She recognized her team members with whom she works “against so many odds.”
Wesley Wensek was presented with the Walter J. Williams Volunteer Service Award by Father Robert Kwiatkowski and Mr. Williams’s wife and son. Mr. Wensek was cited for his work on behalf of the Baby Bottle Boomerang Program, which is operating in more than 20 parishes.
Anne Marie Cullinan, chief academic officer in the Waterbury Public School System, received the Maureen A. Donohoe Life Award, given to an individual who represents life-affirming values and actively promotes them in the general community. She was recognized for her efforts in implementing the state Department of Education’s Support for Pregnant and Parenting Teens Program (SPPT) in Waterbury.
Ellen Cavallo, Carolyn’s Place director, has been with the organization since its inception.
“Every time someone walks through the door or calls the crisis line is an opportunity to love unconditionally, not to judge but to try to figure out how to get them from A to B, very often moving on to C and D,” she told the Transcript.
“Once that test is positive, they need to know the truth, and yes, we do advocate for life but we can’t make people’s choices for them. We worry like crazy and call upon our prayer warriors.” She went on, “We can help them get into school, get their GED, get a job, whatever it is. We have phenomenal volunteers.”
Local Catholic blogger Bill Dunn, whose “Merry Catholic” reflections are aired on the archdiocesan radio station WJMJ, was master of ceremonies.
Guests browsed before dinner among donated items offered for silent auction while savoring tasty hors d’oeuvres to jazz by duo Gomez and Sadlon.
Carolyn’s Place Pregnancy Care Center may be reached 24 hours a day at 203-597-9050.