Franciscan Presence in Hartford Commemorated with Mass, Block Party

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

John Leonard

John Leonard and parishioners peruse the dessert table during the friars’ anniversary celebration. (Photo courtesy of Thomas Gallagher)

HARTFORD, Conn. — Visionary leaders, energized friars and an historic church located downtown in a New England city were just the right ingredients to create a vibrant Franciscan community. This fall, the people of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish mark the 25th anniversary of the friars’ arrival.

The community celebrated the milestone on Sept. 26 with a liturgy and a party. After the 4 p.m. Saturday Mass celebrated by pastor Thomas Gallagher, OFM, parishioners commemorated the quarter century of friar presence by enjoying refreshments as they discussed their experiences of the parish. Special mention was made, Thomas said, of the long tenure of Andrew Giardino, OFM, who has been at the parish for most of the time that it has been cared for by the Franciscans.

The Church Street Party, as it was called, was held to celebrate what it means to be a community committed to living the Gospel together. “We celebrate as we care for children and for the elderly among us,” said Thomas, pastor since 2008. “We celebrate as we bless God for the gift of creation and commit ourselves to being responsible participants in the beauty of God’s created world. We celebrate as we take time for quiet prayer and simple phone calls and emails to folks who are alone or homebound. We celebrate as we consider the many ways of welcoming the migrant, the homeless and the refugee.

“By your generous welcome and allowing us into your lives, you have shaped and formed many of us,” Tom told parishioners. “You have allowed us the privilege of being with you in times of joy and sorrow, in times of celebration and in the ordinary events of life. You have shared with us what it means to belong, to hear the Word of God and to live the mission of the Gospel. The good example and openness to God’s grace continues to be a great gift to the friars and to the community that gathers here.”


The entrance to St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church, complete with the bell tower installed in 2014.

Coming to Hartford
Holy Name Province assumed leadership of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in October 1990 after the Provincial Administration decided to pursue additional ministries in urban areas.

The move was part of Holy Name’s “refounding” initiative through which the Province sought ways to broaden its reach both geographically and through collaboration with laypeople.

The Provincial Council established a committee to investigate suitable settings and Hartford was one of two parishes chosen that year. Council members held in-depth discussions to determine appropriate settings for Holy Name Province.

“We decided we needed to do some things differently,” said Kenneth Himes, OFM, a member of the Council in the late 1980s who served as liaison to a committee formed to discuss and research places where the friars’ service could have the most impact.

“We had realized that the Province was good at urban ministry,” said Kenneth, now an instructor at Boston College. “Most of our parishes were in large suburban areas. We realized that we were recognized for serving those communities well.”

“The Provincial Administration wanted to do new types of urban ministries without being tied into doing only sacramental work,” said Kenneth, who visited and recommended ministry sites. “We wanted to reach out to new populations.” He added that much of the energy of the committee came from James Hynes, OFM, who later served the Hartford parish as pastor.

“Our desire was to begin to serve in new urban ministries, ministries that would be unencumbered by our histories,” said Anthony Carrozzo, OFM, Provincial Minister from 1987 to 1996.

As the Province’s committee was doing its research, an opportunity arose through a program being offered by Provincial Vicar Flavian Walsh, OFM, called “Come Home.” Several attendees contacted the friars, which resulted in the Province taking on not only the Hartford parish but also a church in New York City.

“It was decided that Flavian would offer programs for pastors and laity in approaches to inviting people to return to the Church,” said Anthony. “It was through these programs that both Hartford and the parish on New York City’s Upper West Side came onto our radar. The pastor of St Patrick-St. Anthony, Fr. Dawson Trenchard, and the pastor of Holy Name on 96th Street both attended these workshops. Afterward, each suggested we should take over those parishes. We discussed these possibilities at Council meetings and decided to pursue these options.” Anthony contacted the bishops and HNP took responsibility for the two parishes in 1990.

“Both cases were attractive because they offered us new opportunities not only to ‘begin again’ but also because we could develop urban centers alongside parish life,” said Anthony, who now lives in Florida. “Equally important, though, was appropriate personnel who were open to working with our laypeople as partners. Jerome Massimino, OFM, and James Hynes accepted the challenge. They proved to be the perfect choices for these new ventures, so much so that when their terms ended they switched locations.”

The Province assumed pastoral care of the Hartford parish on Oct. 1, with Jerome Massimino, as guardian and pastor and Andrew Giardino and John Alderson, OFM, as associates.

“What strikes me as I reflect on these ventures is that, while location is significant, the friars chosen to lead is far more important,” said Anthony. “A perfect location without energized and visionary leaders simply would not have succeeded. I’m grateful that we landed on these locations but far more grateful to the friars, both living and deceased, who have made them uniquely Franciscan places of welcome and participation.”

The dedication of the Franciscan Urban Ministry Center on June 14, 1992. In this photo, Frank Sevela prepares the book for Bishop Peter Rosazza. Other friars include Jerome Massimino, right, Christopher Coccia, far left, Stephen Murtaugh and Andrew Giardino. The former pastor is at Jerome's right. (Photo from the 1993 Provincial Annals.)

The dedication of the Franciscan Urban Ministry Center on June 14, 1992. In this photo, Frank Sevola prepares the book for Bishop Peter Rosazza. Other friars include Jerome Massimino, right, Christopher Coccia, far left, Stephen Murtaugh and Andrew Giardino. The former pastor, Fr. Dawson Trenchard, is at Jerome’s right. (Photo from the 1993 Provincial Annals.)

Growth of Parish
St. Patrick-St Anthony Church is the oldest Catholic congregation in Connecticut, dating to 1829. It evolved from several parishes that transitioned and unified due to demographic changes and physical needs. According to the parish website, the parish has played a central role in the rich history of the Catholic Church in Connecticut since its very beginning. A series of situations and changes — including a fire in 1875 and a merge in 1958 of St. Patrick and St. Anthony parishes — created the community that it is today.

The early parish had a connection to the benefactor of the friars in Western New York, Nicholas Devereux, who came to the U.S. from Ireland in 1806. He advanced $10,000 for the congregation to establish its first church, according to Peace and Good in America by Joseph White.

Through the past 25 years, many friars, including some in formation, have served at this historic parish, whose motto is “Open minds, open hearts and open doors.”

In October 2010, when St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish marked the 20th anniversary of its Franciscan presence, many returned to Hartford to celebrate. They included Michael Johnson OFM, who grew up in Hartford, and Frank Sevola, OFM, who was stationed at the parish twice: from 1991 to 1993 and from 1998 to 2002.

Through the years, outreach to the business community and downtown merchants and shoppers has been the thrust of ministry, according to Frank, who wrote about the parish in The Provincial Annals. “The ministry was greatly enhanced by the acquisition of the parish convent next to the church and friary,” which were transformed into the Franciscan Center for Urban Ministry in 1992.

Since 1990, varied ministries and programs have been established and have grown at St. Patrick-St. Anthony. They include hospice care for people with AIDS; a prayer shawl ministry; transitional housing for women, including dinners prepared by parishioners 365 days per year; a daily sandwich ministry; a sister parish in Haiti; partnerships with the House of Bread and St. Joseph’s University; a Secular Franciscan fraternity; grief ministries; a ministry for separated and divorced Catholics; ministries between Muslim women and members of the parish; and the Clare Gallery, an art gallery started by the late John Murphy, OFM

Other parish ministries that have developed significantly during the past quarter century, according to Tom, are celebrations of the Eucharist, vespers, spiritual direction, and adult faith formation. The parish also has “an outstanding music ministry,” Tom said, and a religious education program that has grown “from a handful of families to hundreds.”

In addition, short-term programs have been provided to assist parishioners with challenges. They include a program called “Praying the News,” launched in the summer of 2008, and prayer services in response to the 2012 school shooting in nearby Newtown, Conn.

Marianne Midura, a lifelong parishioner, said that the change since the friars took over has been “incredible.”

“The Franciscans came in like a tornado with all kinds of ideas and, after that, everything was more defined,” said the Hartford native who has participated in roles ranging from the Finance Council and Ladies Guild to the First Friday Club presentations and AIDS ministry. “They made sure that everything was centered around liturgy.”

“The growth in our ministries has been huge,” she added. “We used to be a neighborhood parish. Now people come from 140 zip codes.”

“The spirit of welcome in the parish is fantastic,” Frank said, recalling a visit he made this summer to Hartford where he noticed “the feeling of being in such a good, vibrant, Franciscan ministry.”

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.

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