The Great Pastors
Who Led Sacred Heart Flock From the Church as a Mission Church to
completion of the Norwalk & Danbury R. R., Catholics began to move
in and settle about the halfway mark known as Georgetown. The spiritual
needs of these families were taken care of by priests from both
St. Mary's Church, Norwalk, and St. Peter's Church, Danbury. Holy
Mass was celebrated in private homes both in Georgetown and Branchville.
In the 1860's and 1870's, Catholics of the Georgetown area walked,
rode in crude carriages or on horseback, and even via oxen to St.
Peter's in Danbury, a distance of ten miles.
By the late
1870's, the number of Catholics had increased considerably, so the
use of Bennett's Hall, located over the Connery Brothers store(Current
location of "Curves for Women"), was secured for services.
The Rev. Thaddeus P. Walsh was appointed first pastor of Georgetown,
with Ridgefield and Redding Ridge as missions. He took up his residence
in Georgetown in 1880. He must have been a man of great dedication
and energy. The accounts of his personal efforts and sacrifices,
very humbly related in his reports, deserve a place in church history.
in a house on Main Street in Georgetown and drove his horse to Ridgefield
and to the Redding Ridge Church, now St. Patrick's, which was until
1971 a mission church. Later, he moved to Ridgefield but continued
to tend his flock in Georgetown. The valiance of this good priest
can be appreciated when one reads that he had to get a new horse,
to carry him over the difficult roads, because his old horse got
too lame. However, he added, he personally paid for the new horse,
"because these people are too poor." Frequently, in reporting his
progress of this ministry, he referred to the poverty of the people.
To the Bishop he wrote, "please do not ask me for an Easter Collection
or any special collection. My people are too poor." An annual contribution
of $6.00 could not be met by some. One Sunday collection totaled
of Georgetown had already made plans for a church and the present
grounds were purchased and transferred to Father Walsh shortly after
his coming. Catherine Miller, the wife of David H., supplied the
construction mortgage for the church. James
Corcoran, who built his house next door provided the land (The
Pryor family later acquired the Corcoran homestead and would later
donate it to the church). Father Walsh immediately began the erection
of a church which was soon completed and solemnly dedicated in the
late in the summer of 1881 by Rev. Lawrence S. McMahon, "under the
protection of the Sacred Heart of Jesus". So important was this
occasion that a special train was run from Danbury to Georgetown
to accommodate all who wished to attend this big step in the progress
of the Catholic Church in this area.
continued to minister to the needs of the Catholics of Georgetown
until his death in 1886. Father
Walsh was succeeded by Father Patrick Byrnes, then Father O'Keefe
in 1893 and Father Shortell in 1893. Under the direction of Father
Shortell, the original church building was greatly enlarged, the
interior redecorated, the marble altar, the marble sanctuary and
a new organ installed, making it one of the best mission churches
in the diocese. Father Shortell continued as pastor of Sacred Heart
Church until his death Oct. 4, 1934. All lived in rented places
until the present rectory was built under the direction of Rev.
Walter F. Kenny, who became the first resident pastor.
who many present residents of this area remember, too, was a powerful
spiritual leader. A book could and should be written about him.
He worked side-by-side with those dedicated men who built the rectory.
He welcomed all who came in his path. A humorous and revealing account
deserves including: A man nightly crossed the church land, always
in rather "tippled" condition. One evening, when his walking
was more difficult than usual, Father Kenny suggested he give him
a ride home. When Father Kenny, with difficulty, got him to the
door of his home, he was met by the man's wife, who screamed at
him, "So, you're the one who is getting him into this state
night after night."
was built on a steep spot that required a great deal of land fill.
Nightly, Father Kenny would stand outside the gate of the wire factory
to solicit some of the church members who worked there to truck
a few loads of earth.
under Father Kenny's leadership, the first summer vacation school
was sponsored. Senior High School and college students from St.
Joseph's College in Hartford came to Georgetown. They lived with
the local families. The students taught youngsters of school age,
visited homes and the elderly, furthering the spirit of Christian
love by social concern. Sister Mary deLoures, a sister of Father
Kenny, had a hand in this innovative venture.
tremendous growth under Father Kenny's pastorship, Father William
A. Gildea became the spiritual leader in 1940, but only for a brief
time. He died in 1941. Father Charles Corcoran assumed the responsibility
and in 1946 was succeeded by Father Myron Miller. He remained with
Sacred Heart's fold for five years, then was transferred to Springdale.
my first year in the parish, we were blessed with the spiritual
leadership of Father Joseph F. Cleary, J.C. D. We were privileged
to have him for twenty years. his sudden death of a massive heart
attack in the rectory had a traumatic effect not only on every member
of Sacred Heart, but on all of the entire region, who had come to
know and love him.
He led us
all from the Latin Mass into the English dialogue Mass. One little
frail woman who had always prayed from her rosary quietly during
the Mass, began to follow the prayers in the Misslaettes and enter
vocally. One day, with pride, she said to me, "I now pray the
Mass and can read English."
women lectors were added to the lay participation. Today, we also
have men and women extraordinary ministers, who share in the liturgy
and also extend the sacramental visits to the sick and the shut-ins.
Music, once with organ and a few voices, is now a wonderful offering
to the Lord of voices of the whole congregation, all started by
It is impossible
to describe Father Cleary. He had the gift of shedding his
spirituality on all he met. One of his legacies is the collection
of his writings, "Spiritual Thoughts of Father Cleary".
He was a gifted pianist and also loved to sing a solo of some choice
"oldie" at the annual church "Minstrel Show".
His devotion to children was expressed, not only in sponsoring their
education in St. Mary's School through the church coffers, but by
a gift of $100 to the family at the birth of a child. He was a classicist,
yet a gracious person, easy to meet.
with the legacies from John Pryor and Elizabeth Hubbard, built Pryor-Hubbard
Hall. With a warm glow of pride, he remarked at the dedication,
"This is the first building I had a chance to construct."
D. Birge came as pastor in 1972 after the helpful work of Father
John Norton. Although he laughingly said he was not concerned with
repairs or constructions, he had the interior and exterior of the
rectory painted and then directed the extensive renovation of the
effort remains as a tribute to his excellent taste and the cooperative
zeal he brought forth from the many who volunteered in such strenuous
work as removing and reinstalling pews, painting, cleaning windows
and candelabra, redecorating statues and polishing all metals. To
enter and take even a glimpse of the church remains a treat.
Father Birge visit with the children was an experience in observing
real emanating love. They gave him relaxed responses with beaming
faces and he looked equally relaxed and jovial- true spiritual communication.
He has real catalytic influence. He sensed the very soul of not
only the individual but the entire Sacred Heart area.
contribution through Father Birge's effort was the installation
of a new exceptionally fine organ in 1972. This has added to the
quality of music at Sacred Heart, where we have the unique privilege
of listening to Mary Fox, an accomplished organist who was recently
honored for her 60th year of devoted service.
Father Birge sought change of duty and into our lives came Father
John M. Conlisk. Father Conlisk's homily in the first Mass I attended
revealed the scholarly depth and spiritual strength he has. To share
in the Mass with him fills one with the spiritual awe this sacrifice
compels. All, from child to aged adult, (as I am), continue to feel
reinspired to greater effort in the daily living out of our faith.
At our first
lay advisory meeting, under the pastoral leadership of Father Conlisk,
he made reference to Pope John Paul XXIII's emphasis on lay participation
and lay leadership as one of the goals he sought for Sacred Heart
Parish. The result of his effort would make a long list in addition
many on-going services not overly demonstrated, rather a matter
of individual spiritual effort.
group and personal contacts and homilies, Father Conlisk's great
admiration of Pope John XXIII brought the gift of this great pope
closer to most of us. Also, the increased understanding of Vatican
II continued to grow.
aid in planning needed revisions in the rectory, changing the porch
into a Pastor's office so he had privacy for counseling. Later,
the exterior of the church foundation was repaired after removal
of tree roots that threatened the entire structure. the surrounding
grounds were then landscaped so that Sacred Heart, at all seasons,
now with its quaint architecture and scrubs, makes a choice Connecticut
scene. the renovation of the rectory basement, this past year, has
made it into a comfortable meeting hall with a kitchen.
of these alterations and the additional leadership of growing St.
Patrick's Church which, too, was under his care, never took anything
away from his devotion to the Holy Mass, his homilies and the personal
counseling of the many who needed his spiritual lift.
accepting the pastoral leadership of St. Patrick's, will become
their first pastor in their 101 years of the church's existence.
His quiet yet strong leadership was recognized by his flock at St.
Patrick's. Fortunately, the distance between Sacred Heart and St.
Patrick's is close, so his faithful parishioners of Sacred Heart
while praying for his leadership at St. Patrick's may still catch
an occasional glimpse of him.
of June 12, 1981, we are blessed by Father James Dennis as our pastor.
The warmth with which he was greeted at all the masses on June 13th
and 14th was a reflection of his genuine pleasure in greeting us.
We can understand the regrets expressed by his flock at St. Joseph's
in Brookfield with whom he worked for eight years.
has had an extensive background with pastorships in large churches,
among them St. Peter's in Danbury and St. Edward the Confessor in
New Fairfield. He smilingly stated that he has been a "rolling
stone." From our introduction we are more than eager to offer
him all the support, efforts and prayers to make his life among
us blessed with the finest in Catholic spirit for years and years
first hundred years, we souls of Sacred heart, those among us today
and the many who have preceded us, have indeed been privileged.
We have been under the spiritual guidance of truly great priests,
each one strong in a unique way, each one blessed in guiding our
individual souls and parish home with the love and patience as exemplified
Activities and Organizations
small cluster of twelve families in 1881, the Sacred Heart membership
has grown to 519 families with new members coming monthly. In addition,
there are many from other parishes who come regularly to the services
at Sacred Heart.
for religious education naturally reflects similar growth. In the
first pioneer days of the church, the lone priests offered what
education they could with much responsibility carried by the family
as was the case, country-wide, before parochial schools were established.
We at Sacred Heart never had a large enough number of children to
establish a school. As the number of children grew, parents, chiefly
mothers, met with groups of children in their homes. Later, the
School Sisters of Notre Dame from Wilton coordinated the religious
instruction program and assisted the lay catechists.
In the years
since the sacred Vatican Council the religious education program
has developed under the guidance and leadership of several Directors:
Mrs. Beverly Arndt, Mrs. Anne Witterholt, Mrs. Eleanor Rae, Mrs.
Mary Zibelli, and presently Sr. Joan Pesce, C.N.D. Our present religious
education program has a total of 346 students ranging from first
to twelfth grades. Classes meet in various places including the
homes. Forty men and women give dedicated service to the parent
participation of our young Catholics. An increasing parent participation
is a significant part of the method, so ultimately it will become
a truly family-life education.
feature of our parish life is the work of the students under the
volunteer leadership of Mrs. Beverly Ardnt. the presentation of
Godspell, each time offered, has been an amazing production of dramatic
professionalism. It has been not only a genuine entertainment, but
also a spiritual experience for the youth actors and the audience.
in addition, these high school youngsters are involved in social
actions in the Sacred Heart area.
years, various organizations sprouted. At one time a Holy Name Society
existed, also a woman's group named the Needlework Guild. they made
clothes for the orphans of St. Agnes Home in Hartford. This latter
group has continued and today is known as the Ladies Guild. Under
the direction of this organization, many social functions occur,
through the effort of its members. Many important contributions
to the church life have been made. For example, the oriental rug,
which adds such an elegant tone to the sanctuary, is one of the
many contributions of the Ladies Guild, the cost earned through
their variety of group and individual work.
today, though not organized, have donated hours of professional
work in the renovation of the Pryor-Hubbard Hall, the church and
lately, as previously mentioned, the meeting hall beneath the rectory.
properly in sequence of time, the Parish Advisory Council was organized
as one of the significant influences of the Second Vatican Council.
Men, women, and youth are elected by the parish members. They serve
in an advisory capacity to the pastor on spiritual and temporal
matters and in developing plans for the future direction of the
total parish effort.
description of individual and group activities cannot be made, even
if limitless space were available. The self-sacrifice and hours
of difficult labor with the zeal that comes only from dedication
to our Lord made the impossible at times become a reality. No seemingly
slight chore was mundane.
matter of finance has a real halo over it. At the time Father Thaddeus
Walsh wrote to the Bishop. "My people are poor," an annual
contribution of $6.00 could not be met by some. One Sunday collection
totaled sixty-five cents. A great effort was demanded to meet the
first debt of $300.00; In furnishing the church "the cheapest
vestments were bought". Through the years of continuing growth
and effort, Sacred Heart is debt free, no mortgage, absolutely solvent
a tribute to those who gave generously of money and hard work.
XXIII was termed "an interim Pope". His term did prove
brief, but the power of his spiritual efforts continues to grow
most gratifyingly. Fortunately for us, Father Cleary seemed to be
tuned in on the spiritual waves emanating from Pope John XXIII.
Father Cleary, and leaders of the Lutheran Church and Methodist
Church met regularly. Interfaith religious services continue to
be held during Lent and at other times of the year. Senior Citizen
interfaith luncheons are an animated annual occasion. A genuine
spiritual love and brotherhood continues to grow at a pace.
overt event of ecumenism, several church affairs such as the annual
church musical or "Minstrel show" (where I first heard
Father Cleary sing with real gusto) and the summer supper, had a
"coming-together-of-all-people" effect. The show was a
delightful evening to many from all denominations. Many of the skits
are frequently recalled by those who still hope such recreation
can be revived. The supper was a gastronomic event for the entire
area. Sacred Heart "cooks" have become famed for their
gourmet offerings. Members of other churches, many who would not
have had any contacts with Sacred Heart came to these events and
felt at ease, an essential for the now developing shared religious
a fitting time, therefore, for our centennial to occur. We have
been blessed with both spiritual and temporal growth-not bounded
by any perimeter. May the Lord shine his light on us similarly in
the years ahead.