WINSTED – Archbishop Leonard P. Blair led a congregation of hundreds of parishioners May 30 in a solemn high Mass celebrating the 100th anniversary of the St. Joseph Parish church building and the 150th anniversary of the founding of St. Anthony School.
See photo gallery at http://thecatholictranscript.zenfolio.com/p617502127.
The cornerstone of the current St. Joseph Church on Main Street was laid in 1914, and the edifice was dedicated in 1916. St. Anthony School was founded in 1865 and is the oldest continuously run Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Hartford.
Father Leo Rizzo da Saracena, known as Padre Leo, was the first Franciscan pastor, serving from 1864-97. Archbishop Blair said in his homily that Padre Leo became so well known that when he and a bishop visited Rome in 1891, parishioners joked, “The Holy Father has at last gotten an audience with Padre Leo.”
The archbishop said that parishioners today are following in the footsteps of those thousands of parishioners who have worshiped there during the 150 years of the parish’s existence. But he reminded them of what he used to tell candidates for the sacrament of confirmation when he was a parish priest: “We are all tempted to think of our faith, of the sacraments, of religious practices as mere things, objects somewhere out there; but Christian faith is not ultimately about things, however good they may be, but it is about a relationship with the living and true God.”
On this celebratory occasion, he said, “What God is giving to us is not some thing, but God is giving us a gift of himself.”
According to The Catholic Church in Connecticut, by Msgr. Thomas S. Duggan (1930), Winsted is “perhaps the oldest Catholic center in Litchfield County.” The first to celebrate Mass in Winsted may have been a Father Tucker in 1850 or 1851, but the first documented Mass was celebrated by Father James Lynch in 1851. The first resident pastor was Father Thomas Quinn, and the first St. Joseph Church building was completed in 1853.
Jurisdiction was transferred to the Franciscan Province of the Immaculate Conception in 1865, according to Hartford’s Catholic Legacy: Parishes, by Joseph W. Duffy (1994). It was transferred in 1901 to the Franciscan Province of the Holy Name, and in 2002 it returned to the Franciscan Province of the Immaculate Conception.
It was under Padre Leo that St. Anthony School was founded, in the basement of the original church building, on Aug. 15, 1865. Franciscan Sisters from Allegany, N.Y., were the first teachers. The first school building was completed in 1887, and the current structure opened in 1965.
“When I take a family around our school, the fact that we are able to celebrate 150 years always impresses people,” said Patricia Devanney, principal of St. Anthony School. “I think that’s an impressive fact in today’s world for this community, this parish community. To have supported a church and a school for all that time is, in a word, impressive, and it is a gift from God.”
She added, “We have a supportive and caring parish, a committed parish. I think our Franciscan mission – the Allegany Franciscans and the Immaculate Conception as well as the Holy Name Province, the friars that have been here – we’ve been blessed with having priests and sisters who believe in Catholic education.”
Franciscan Father Ronald Gliatta, pastor, said in a statement, “Celebrating 150 years of continuous Catholic education in the Franciscan tradition is not only a milestone for our parish and archdiocese, but is also an incredible achievement and victory for Catholic education within our country. From its humble beginnings during the time of President Abraham Lincoln to today, St. Anthony School has served as a shining example of the quality and value of Catholic education in our country.”
He also stated that he was gratified by the presence of Archbishop Blair and of Father Robert Campagna, vicar provincial of the Franciscan Province of the Immaculate Conception, as well as former pastors, the Franciscan Sisters from Allegany, and parishioners.
At a reception following the Mass, Dr. Dale R. Hoyt, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Hartford, said that over 830 years ago Saint Francis of Assisi “profoundly changed the world with his love for Jesus Christ, his message of peace, his identification with the poor, and his care for all creation.” The Franciscan friars who lead St. Joseph Parish today “continue to share the Good News of God’s love that has inspired the people of our time,” he said.
He specifically thanked Mrs. Devanney and her staff “for advancing the mission of Catholic school education that forms, informs and transforms the lives of so many young people.”
Linda Barberet, a kindergarten teacher at the school, said she has been a parishioner there her entire life. “It’s just very comforting to know that the church has been there this long and is still standing,” she said. “We have a good amount of people here in the parish; the parish is still thriving, whereas some parishes are not thriving anymore, so I think for a small community we are lucky to have this beautiful church that is like a cathedral when you look inside.”
Dick and Jean Labich have been in the parish for 14 years. Mr. Labich said, “I think any establishment of 150 years in this day and age is a wonderful thing. The good that’s been done by the priests and nuns for the school, as [Archbishop Blair] said, all of the Masses that have been going on all these years, thousands and thousands, it’s a wonderful thing.”
Steven Sedlak graduated from St. Anthony School in 1956, when it occupied its former structure. “It was a grand building but it’s time had come and gone,” he said. “Being educated by the nuns and the education has served me well in the intervening years,” he added.
His wife Sheila said, “I went to catechism but I was in the public school system. We had catechism every Thursday night, so we went through all of the ceremonies in the church, and the church is very dear to both of us.”