New church leaders in Meriden, Wallingford embracing community, bringing cultures together

New church leaders in Meriden, Wallingford embracing community, bringing cultures together


Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series of stories looking at the impact of the Archdiocese of Hartford’s reorganization in June.

The Rev. Jorge Castro was shocked when he learned he would be returning to the parish where he had served as a vicar two years earlier.

“When I got my assignment, they could see my reaction,” Castro said. “Holy Trinity is one of the biggest in the archdiocese.”

Most Holy Trinity Church, at 84 N. Colony St. in Wallingford, with its 3,675 families and 10,000 individual members, is among the few churches that did not close or merge with another church or parish during June’s reorganization of the Archdiocese of Hartford. Castro was assigned to Holy Trinity as part of the process.

As of June 29, the archdiocese went from 212 parishes to 127. Of the 127 parishes, 68 have remained as they are, and 59 merged into unions of two to six churches. The Archdiocese of Hartford serves Hartford, Litchfield and New Haven counties. A total of 186 churches remain open, while 26 closed as part of the reorganization.

Like Holy Trinity, St. Rose of Lima in Meriden is another church that did not merge or close. Its 70 percent Latino population is one reason it remained open, according to the Rev. James Manship, who came to the Meriden church as part of the reorganization.

Much of Holy Trinity’s strength is its diversity, Castro and church officials say. The church, constructed between 1876 and 1887, is among the older structures in Wallingford.

“There is growth in both communities,” Castro said referring to the Anglo and Latino parishioners.

At 35, Castro’s youthful energy is key in a parish that is busy every night of the week with service ministries.

“I call him Father Dynamo,” Jerry Farrell Jr., a former Wallingford town councilor, said of Castro. Farrell serves as parish historian and is on the church’s building committee.

“He’s young, he’s dynamic and he’s moving the parish ahead by getting everyone to work together,” Farrell said.

The church holds five weekend Masses. Its Christians in Action group helps the disadvantaged. Mission Possible, another church group, travels to Appalachia and New York to help build and rebuild homes. Once a month, Holy Trinity hosts its family Mass, which is centered on children. About 95 percent of Castro’s evenings are booked.

Castro comes to Holy Trinity for the third time in his ministry. While at seminary, he served a term as a transitional deacon eight years ago. Once ordained, he was appointed as a parochial vicar or assistant pastor at Holy Trinity, from Jan. 12, 2013, to July 21, 2015. He then became pastor at St. Louis Church in West Haven.

Christine Mansfield, another former town councilor, serves on the parish council and views the church community as a reflection of the town’s diversity. Services held in Spanish and English create a unity between the groups, as does English-speaking members working alongside Latinos in the church’s various ministries, she said. Deacon Dominic Corraro is chairman of the foreign languages department at Notre Dame High School in West Haven, where he teaches multiple foreign languages, including Italian and Spanish.

“It’s a perfect example of where our communities have united,” Mansfield said. “There are so many facets of our parish that have grown. The diversity of Wallingford has drastically increased. It’s a spiritual home for many Catholics. It connects us.”

Castro, Mansfield and Farrell see the reorganization of churches in the Archdiocese of Hartford as a necessity, despite the sadness felt by parishioners whose churches closed. Mansfield compares it to pruning a rose bush that only grows stronger at is roots. Farrell pointed to the isolation felt by parishioners who no longer have to worship in empty or sparsely attended church buildings. Holy Trinity has added 25 families who were searching for another church.

“A lot of people were attached to the building,” Castro said. “A lot of people were sad. The building is not the religion.”

Manship, of St. Rose in Meriden, came from another Latino church with the same name in New Haven and wasn’t surprised at the reorganization and closures. The bilingual pastor has spent the past two months getting to know his parishioners.

“There is a settling out going on in Meriden right now,” said Manship, noting the church has added some families from some of the closed churches. “It’s been difficult for the priests.”

In addition to New Haven, Manship served in parishes in Hartford’s north end and in Bristol. He attended St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. Before entering the priesthood he worked in manufacturing plants in Middletown and Berlin.

In 2009, he was arrested for filming two East Haven police officers’ harsh treatment of Hispanics and became the center of a federal investigation against the police department.

“I don’t like to be called an activist. It disturbs me,” Manship told the New Haven Register in 2012. “I’m not an activist. I’m a priest.”

After building a community at St. Rose of Lima in New Haven, the parishioners called on him for help after several of them were assaulted by four officers. The situation grew so tense, the East Haven police chief tried unsuccessfully to get him reassigned.

But Manship is about community. His former church also hosted dance programs, feasts for the patron saints of the towns its members came from and a mariachi academy for children. The church also offered classes to learn English and other adult education programs.

He and the Rev. James Richardson, vicar, have spent the last two months in Meriden meeting parishioners and strengthening the community. Manship rides his bicycle through the neighborhood for a closer look.

“My suspicion is we’re here because of the Latino community here,” Manship said. “There is integrity and caring in both communities, there is a great deal of generosity here.”

Manship blames a growing secularization for the exodus from Catholic churches. Sex scandals involving priests and cover-ups exacerbated the bleeding. At St. Rose in Meriden, the former pastor, the Rev. Joseph Devine, inherited significant debt and had to cut an English service at 7 a.m. The debt and Mass elimination cost the parish members, Manship said.

“There is a need for us to restructure and regroup,” Manship said. “In the ‘Joy of the Gospel’ by Pope Francis, he said the parish can be incredibly flexible. It’s important to be in the homes to know the lived experiences. It’s important for priests to know the stresses on our families.”

St. Rose on Center Street is among the oldest churches in the archdiocese, he said. It was built by the Irish immigrants who were discriminated against in other parts of the city. Many of those families have moved away. In the 1950s, Puerto Ricans from Aguada, Puerto Rico, found a home in the church.

The average Sunday draws 850 parishioners. About 70 percent are Hispanic, and many are young families.

“This is a tight community of large families that connects and provides some strong stability,” Manship said. “My priority is to take the plunge and meet as many people as I can.”

He’s also reached out to the chaplains at various nursing homes and has taken an interest in the needs of the oldest church members.

Despite not liking the activist label, social justice is important to Manship. When speaking about attracting millennials, Manship points to a recent gathering of young people protesting hate speech and racism in Boston.

“That’s where we need to be,” he said. “We need to go outside the four walls.”

Manship has also reached out to the Rev. Thomas Sievel, the pastor of the newly created Our Lady Queen of Angels Parish, a merger of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Joseph, St. Laurent, St. Mary, and Holy Angels churches in Meriden. The St. Laurent and St. Mary church buildings are scheduled to close. The merged churches have retained their names but belong to one parish.

“That’s a real project right there,” Mansfield said. “It’s a real blending of culture.”
Twitter: @Cconnbiz

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