and of all Catholic parishes, began in the Upper Room, when the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, changed bread and wine into His own Body and Blood at the Last Supper; on the Hill of Calvary, when He sacrificed His life on the Cross to set us free from sin and death; and on the day of Pentecost when, having risen from the dead and ascended into Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, sending them to the ends of the earth to spread the Gospel and to celebrate the sacraments of salvation.
Through the centuries, the Church has grown and spread across the world, guided by the Holy Spirit and spurred on by the witness of the Saints and the blood of the Martyrs.
In the Beginning
Nichols, Connecticut, where our parish is located, is located in southeastern Trumbull, and is part of the territory of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, which was established by Pope Pius XII in 1953. The Diocese of Bridgeport comprises all and only Fairfield County, in southwestern Connecticut. Prior to that, it was part of the Diocese of Hartford, established in 1843 by Pope Gregory XVI, which then comprised all of Connecticut. Earlier still, it was part of the Diocese of Boston, established in 1808 by Pope Pius VII, the territory of which, at the time, encompassed all of New England. Originally, when the Catholic Church was first being organized in the United States, Trumbull was part of the territory of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, established in 1789 by Pope Pius VI, which, as the first Catholic diocese in the United States, comprised all the territory in the young and growing nation.
On February 11, 1955, the Most Reverend Lawrence J. Shehan, the first Bishop of Bridgeport, canonically established a new Parish, to be located in Nichols, territory which until then had been part of the Parish of Saint Charles Borromeo in Bridgeport. Bishop Shehan appointed Father Edward D. Halloran to be the first Pastor of this new parish, which is thought to have been named for Saint Catherine of Siena in honor of Father Halloran’s mother, Mrs. Catherine Halloran.
Interestingly, two of the younger brothers of the Venerable Servant of God Father Michael J. McGivney, Founder of the Knights of Columbus, served as Pastors of Saint Charles Borromeo Parish in Bridgeport during the early 20th century: Msgr. John McGivney and Msgr. Patrick McGivney. During their respective terms of service, the territory of Saint Charles included what is now Saint Catherine of Siena Parish. This link gives our parish a special bond with the priest who founded the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the world, and whose cause for beatification and canonization continues to advance.
With the assistance of Father Thomas B. Gloster, Pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish, the Diocese of Bridgeport had purchased some 11 acres of land and two houses on Shelton Road in Trumbull in the early 1950s. This was to be the site of our parish church and campus. While arrangements were being made for Sunday Masses to be offered within the Parish boundaries, Masses were offered for one month at Thomas Hooker School in Bridgeport, beginning on February 20, 1955. As of March 20, 1955, with the permission of the Trumbull School Board, Mass was offered at Nichols School for over three years.
As plans for the church progressed, Bishop Shehan arranged for the Most Reverend Fulton J. Sheen, the celebrated author, television personality, and host of the award-winning television show Life is Worth Living, to present a lecture on March 22, 1957, at the Shakespeare Festival Theater in Stratford, the proceeds of which benefitted the Church Building Fund for Saint Catherine of Siena Parish.
This lecture was so successful that Bishop Shehan and Father Halloran, in gratitude, designated the sanctuary of Saint Catherine of Siena Church as a gift of Bishop Sheen. Then an Auxiliary Bishop of New York and National Director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, Bishop Sheen went on to serve as Bishop of Rochester, New York, and later as Titular Archbishop of Newport. He died on December 9, 1979, and is interred in the crypt of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. His cause for beatification and canonization has been introduced.
Ground was broken for our parish church in August of 1957, the year which appears on the church’s cornerstone. The church is designed in the Norman Gothic style by Architect J. Gerald Phelan. Its stained glass windows – depicting Apostles, Religious Founders, and the patron saints of the Catholic churches in the City of Bridgeport – were crafted in Brussels, Belgium, and are signed by the artisan, J. Vosch.
The church was constructed by the E&F Construction Company of Bridgeport, and was blessed for liturgical use on September 21, 1958. The Mass was celebrated by Father Halloran, with Father John J. Bennett as Deacon and Father Daniel J. Foley as Subdeacon; the homilist was Father Joseph A. Heffernan. The Fairfield University Alumni Glee Club served as the choir for the Mass, and the organist was Father Thomas A. Murphy, S.J. Bishop Shehan was present in choro for the Mass and blessed the church.
When the Parish of Saint Catherine of Siena was established, the reigning Pope was Pius XII; the President of the United States was Dwight D. Eisenhower; and the Governor of Connecticut was Abraham A. Ribicoff. In 1955, the average house cost $22,000; the words “In God We Trust” were added to all U.S. currency; the arrest of Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama, set the U.S. Civil Rights Movement in motion; the USS Nautilus became the first operational nuclear-powered submarine; and the popular game show “The $64,000 Question” aired for the first time.
The sanctuary of St. Catherine of Siena Church at the time of the church’s opening for liturgical use in September, 1958.
As the years unfolded, the Parish of Saint Catherine of Siena grew and expanded. Recognizing the importance of handing on the gift of the Catholic Faith to new generations, by 1964 the parish had grown to the point that a school could be considered. Father Halloran secured a commitment from the School Sisters of Notre Dame to teach at the school – a service which continued until the retirement of the school’s longest-serving Principal, Sister Anne Marie Dorff, S.S.N.D., who led the school from 1978 until 2009.
In 1964, construction began simultaneously on the school building and on the parish rectory, both of which were designed by William F. Griffin, AIA, a Saint Catherine’s parishioner. In September, 1965, the first three classes of Saint Catherine of Siena School began: Grades 1, 2, and 7, with 71 students enrolled, originally meeting in the Church Hall. Two more classes were added in 1966, when the school building was completed. Two more classes were added in 1967, and the school reached its full capacity of eight grades and 250 students in 1968. Kindergarten was added in 1975.
In April, 1967, Monsignor John F. McGough was named the second Pastor of Saint Catherine of Siena Parish by the Most Reverend Walter W. Curtis, the second Bishop of Bridgeport. Msgr. McGough was followed nine years later by our third Pastor, Father Richard J. Monahan, who was also appointed by Bishop Curtis, and who served Saint Catherine’s until his retirement from active ministry in 1991.
The 1970s and 1980s saw continued growth, together with the completion of several special projects, including an addition to Saint Catherine of Siena School in 1987, designed by parishioner Alfred Szymanski, AIA, of Fletcher Thompson, and built by the P. Francini Construction Company of Derby, Connecticut. Additionally, during this period, a new side parking lot was installed, the church was air conditioned, and the mortgages on the church and the school were retired.
Our sanctuary, in an undated photo, as it appeared in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s.
The Pastorate of Msgr. Shea
In July, 1991, Monsignor Richard J. Shea [pictured to the right: (L-R) Msgr. Richard Shea, our fourth Pastor; Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York; and Father Joseph Marcello, our fifth and current Pastor, at the tomb of St. John Vianney in Ars, France. Cardinal Dolan holds the chalice of St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, the patron saint of priests. ] was installed as the fourth Pastor of Saint Catherine of Siena Parish. Appointed to serve our Parish by then-Bishop Edward M. Egan, Msgr. Shea had had served since 1976 as Principal of the nearby St. Joseph High School. Msgr. Shea’s 23-year pastorate saw enormous expansion and improvement.
Soon after Msgr. Shea’s arrival, a new roof was installed on the church, as well as new exterior doors. The stained glass windows were restored, and the Church Hall was upgraded. Saint Catherine of Siena School was completely refurbished, and a Pre-K classroom was added. In 1996, “Project Renovare” was undertaken, an initiative of liturgical renovation in the church, which included the addition of a side chapel, new lighting, and new granite flooring.
In 1998, a two-phased “Project H.O.P.E.” was unveiled to prepare our parish for the next half-century. In 2000, the first phase of Project H.O.P.E. was completed as the Halloran Pastoral Center was dedicated, providing much-needed office and meeting space, together with secure storage space for parish records.
On March 19, 2001, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, the Most Reverend William E. Lori, until then an auxiliary bishop of Washington, was installed as the fourth Bishop of Bridgeport in ceremonies held at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. The following day, at 7:30 a.m., Bishop Lori celebrated his first parish Mass in the Diocese of Bridgeport at Saint Catherine’s. His parents, Francis and Margaret Lori, of Clarksville, Indiana, who were still in Connecticut for the Installation celebrations, were among the attendees.
Also in 2001, the parish embarked on the second phase of Project H.O.P.E., called “Faith in God – Faith in Families.” This campaign made possible the construction of the McClinch Family Center, a large and beautiful event space for parish meetings and social events.
In May, 2011, Msgr. Shea celebrated the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination with a Mass of Thanksgiving at Saint Catherine’s, which was attended by Bishop Lori. Three years later, on the occasion of his retirement from active ministry, a grateful parish presented Msgr. Shea with a new car, together with a specially crafted Altar, for his use in the celebration of daily Mass in his retirement.
On the occasion of his 80th birthday in April, 2016, Msgr. Shea returned to St. Catherine’s for a celebratory Mass, during which the Marian Prayer Garden on the church grounds was dedicated in his honor.
Msgr. Shea, Cardinal Dolan, Fr. Marcello, at the tomb of St. John Vianney in Ars, France.
On September 19, 2013, the Most Reverend Frank J. Caggiano, until then an auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn, was installed as the fifth Bishop of Bridgeport, during a Mass celebrated at Saint Theresa Church in Trumbull. The receptions before and after his Installation Mass were held at the McClinch Family Center, here at Saint Catherine's. These receptions were attended by thousands of the faithful and other honored guests, by hundreds of priests from the Dioceses of Bridgeport and Brooklyn and beyond, and by over thirty bishops, including the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America, the Most Reverend Carlo Maria Viganò.
Soon after arriving in the Diocese of Bridgeport, Bishop Caggiano convoked a diocesan Synod to plan for the pastoral and ministerial future of the diocese. We are honored that the working sessions of the Synod were held in the McClinch Family Center at Saint Catherine of Siena Parish.
On March 15, 2015, Father Joseph A. Marcello was installed as the fifth Pastor of Saint Catherine of Siena Parish. An alumnus of Saint Catherine of Siena School, Father Marcello’s pastorate has focused on building a welcoming, inviting parish, which joyfully, authentically, and energetically lives its Roman Catholic faith, centered on the living presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
In recent years, St. Catherine’s has warmly welcomed hundreds of new families into the parish, and called forth their talents for the good of our community, and in service to Our Lord and one another.
On August 15, 2017, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Father Marcello announced Christ at the Center, a major initiative of liturgical renewal to beautify and enhance the sanctuary of our church for future generations. Designed by noted architect Duncan G. Stroik, AIA, the project will be completed in 2019, and the church will be consecrated by Bishop Caggiano on March 24, 2019.
The Mission Continues...
The story of buildings and milestones tells only part of the story of this or any parish. Indeed, the most consequential aspects of that story have not been recorded by history and may never be known, except to God. The most important parts of our parish history are the stories of souls: of men and women, young and old, rich and poor, well-known and unknown – yet each of infinite value – who have encountered the Lord Jesus Christ here, have come to friendship with Him here, have received His mercy and forgiveness here, and here have been set on the path to eternal salvation. This is the reason our parish exists, and this is the mission we carry into the future.
Therefore, with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the founder of the Church, with confidence in the never-failing intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God and Mother of the Church, and with gratitude to God for the foresight and the sacrifices of those who have gone before us, we look to the future with trust in God’s providence and with zeal for our mission of evangelization, as we seek to invite everyone we can into friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ, in the communion of His Church.
Our sanctuary pictured soon after the 1997 renovation.