SIMSBURY – An eager buzz of the sentence, “Here comes the banner,” could be heard at the end of the inaugural gala of the Hartford Bishops’ Foundation, Inc., when Archbishop Leonard P. Blair was called to the podium and a dozen or so others joined him on the stage, clutching a huge banner.
The dramatic finale of the formal, $1,000-a-plate event on Dec. 3 to kick off the capital campaign of the recently established Hartford Bishops’ Foundation, Inc., was the unfurling of the 20-foot banner that announced the evening’s proceeds of $770,075. It was a number that garnered a big smile from Archbishop Blair, a round of high fives on stage and thundering applause from the500 guests, who were all on their feet as cameras and cell phones flashed from every table.
Besides Archbishop Blair, Archbishop Emeritus Daniel A. Cronin, Archbishop Emeritus Henry J. Mansell, Auxiliary Bishop Christie A. Macaluso and Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Peter A. Rosazza attended.
Guests were wined, dined and entertained. Upon arrival at the Riverview, they mingled with the bishops, priests and religious; business leaders; local, state and federal legislators; members of the foundation; archdiocesan employees; and parishioner donors from across the archdiocese.
The gala marked the kickoff of the foundation’s Forward with Faith capital campaign to raise $12 million by the end of 2017, initially to renovate and renew the Cathedral of St. Joseph, as well as to support other goals.
The Hartford Bishops’ Foundation, Inc., was created as a way to strengthen the local church’s ties to business, government and community leaders in a common effort to improve the lives of people who live in Hartford, New Haven and Litchfield counties. Ultimately, the archdiocese will seek to raise more to support four other “pillars”: the archdiocese’s schools, parishes, charities and the Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield.
In forming the foundation earlier this year, the archbishop said he was evoking something from the past to teach us something that we can do today. “In the past,” he said, “it was not unusual for clergy to foster civic engagement beyond the church.”
He said he hopes the foundation, comprising members with varied religious and nonreligious backgrounds, can revive that spirit in the interest of serving and strengthening the broad community as it faces 21st century and beyond.
Jim Smith, chairman and CEO of Webster Bank, and his wife Cathy hosted the gala, which included a reception, formal dinner, live auction and Las Vegas-style entertainment, replete with a light show and music.
Mr. Smith welcomed and thanked the guests. He said his and his wife’s support of the effort reflects their desire to ensure the continued grandeur of the mother church, which is, he said, “the physical manifestation, the symbolism, of what the archdiocese stands for, its strength and its physical beauty.”
“We hope to attract the resources to enable the archdiocese to fulfill its mission,” he said.
Guests were entertained for several hours by a host of stage- and floor-show performers who engaged heir audience tableside in skits and song.
Oz Griebel, president and CEO of the Greater Hartford Metro Alliance, thanked Archbishop Blair for his leadership and vision in establishing the Hartford Bishops’ Foundation, Inc. He commended its aim of fortifying the church’s ties to society and said he looks forward to supporting the church’s mission within the wider context of the spiritual, social and material wellbeing of everyone in the three counties.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin told the Transcript after the dinner, “The cathedral is the cornerstone of a really important neighborhood in the City of Hartford. The Asylum Hill neighborhood is of tremendous value within the archdiocese, and we are grateful for the vision of both rebuilding and strengthening the cathedral and grounds with an eye to strengthening and beautifying the entire neighborhood and city.”
J.P. Van Rooy, a benefactor of Catholic projects, said of the gala, “It is certainly an event that will mark the start of the movement of Catholics of this archdiocese, realizing that they are part of a vision. It’s a major message of the evening.”
Helen Bennett, executive editor of Digital First Media’s Connecticut group of newspapers, magazines and websites, including the New Haven Register, Register Citizen of Torrington, Middletown Press and Connecticut Magazine, shared her observations about the gala in an email.
“New Haven and Litchfield counties are part of the Archdiocese of Hartford and as faith is a part of the lives of so many people in the communities we cover, we see it as a natural part of the news we do around the state. Part of this is connecting with the archdiocese – including in the digital world we live in, such as through use of social media.
“We hope to continue to share the news of the foundation’s work with our readers as it accomplishes its goals with the cathedral –and the pillars that include schools, charities and more.”
Father James Shanley, rector of St. Joseph Cathedral, talked about the beauty of the cathedral.
He said the cathedral’s towering stained glass windows enhance the physical beauty of the sacred space and lift one’s eyes and heart heavenward.
“However, when you walk into the cathedral and look around you, you see the incredible beauty of the people. Their diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, language, country of origin, economic standing, sexual orientation, marital status, family circumstances and education might cause you to think you have found heaven on earth.”
While guests and donors gathered for photos later, Father Shanley said of the evening, “I think it was a great experience for many people from many different walks of life, celebrating the work that has been done by the Archdiocese of Hartford, celebrating the work that will be done by the Archdiocese of Hartford and celebrating and appreciating those who came out to support it.”
The foundation will operate under the leadership of Archbishop Blair, supported by Dominican Father Steven C. Boguslawski, vicar general and moderator of the Curia; and Father Shanley. John LaFramboise is the foundation’s CEO.