Connecticut, Catholic Church in

views updated


Connecticut has earned a reputation as the wealthiest of the United States, as the home of Mark Twain, and as the nation's insurance capital. Located in the northeast United States, Connecticut was one of the original 13 states. Connecticut's Catholic Church has also demonstrated steady growth through immigration and institutional management to earn recognition as one of the most Catholic of states. Clerical and lay cooperation allowed Connecticut Catholics to establish firm roots and to confront the challenges resulting from rapid expansion.

Calvinist New England initially appeared as infertile ground for Catholicism, but early 19th-century conditions allowed for Catholic immigration and growth. Although the state's founder, Thomas Hooker, asserted

religious independence from Puritan Massachusetts, Connecticut extended few spiritual freedoms to non-Protestants. Connecticut was clearly seen as mission territory for Catholics, even after the creation of the Diocese of Baltimore, which encompassed the state, in 1789. In 1808, Baltimore was made an archdiocese, and the newly erected Diocese of Boston sent missionaries to Connecticut. Until 1818, the state's constitution granted the Congregational Church status as the established religion. In that year, the end of legal restrictions on Catholic organizations presented opportunities for diverse religious practices. As Irish immigrants increasingly arrived to build the Enfield Canal in the 1820s, Catholicism began to take root in this Yankee Protestant state.

Clerical and lay partnership overcame many anti-Catholic obstacles, and prompted Catholic evangelism in Connecticut. With the support of Boston Bishop Benedict J. Fenwick, S.J., Hartford businessman Deodat Taylor raised funds to create both a newspaper, The Connecticut Catholic, and to purchase Hartford's first Catholic church, Holy Trinity, in 1829. The Episcopalian Bishop who sold this church reportedly expressed satisfaction with the business exchange: "Well, Bishop Fenwick, as we have a fine new church building we will let you have the old one." Fenwick replied, with similar contentment, "Yes, and you have a fine new religion and we will keep the old one." During the 1830s, Holy Trinity's second pastor, Rev. James Fitton, S.J., fostered Catholic practice and faith in Connecticut's eastern Tolland, Windham, and New London counties. When establishing New London's first church, Fitton purchased land between two Protestant homes. Though recognizing Protestant resistance to Catholic growth, Fitton believed that this location promised "fire insurance" by discouraging arsonist Protestant gangs. In the following decades, Hartford's Congregational minister Horace Bushnell mobilized anti-Catholicism with aggressive rhetoric: "[O]ur first danger is barbarismRomanism next." Despite such resistance, the Holy See established the Diocese of Hartford, which encompassed both the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island, in 1843.

Missionary activity received more coordinated direction under the diocese's first bishop, William Tyler (184349). Having converted at age 15, Tyler's spiritual development benefited from contact with schoolmate Fitton and the mentoring of Bishop Fenwick. Since Rhode Island contained more than half of this diocese's nearly 10,000 members, Tyler chose this state's capital, Providencerather than the see city Hartfordas his permanent residence. The bishop's humble example of charity, through regular visits to the poor and the sick, provided the diocese's early direction. In the 1840s, Connecticut's dozens of new mills, factories, and quarries attracted Irish and German immigrants seeking employment. Connecticut soon became the United States' third largest manufacturing state, and experienced greater population growth. Several jobs became available during construction of railroads connecting Connecticut's southeastern cities New London and Norwich to Providence and Worcester, Massachusetts. Jesuit priests from Worcester's Holy Cross College traveled a circuit through eastern Connecticut's Catholic communities. Bishop Tyler's successful financial appeals to Parisian and Viennese benefactors allowed the diocese to recruit priests from Ireland's College of All Hallows. By the end of Tyler's tenure in 1850, the diocese boasted 12 churches and 14 priests.

In the following two decades, Connecticut's rapidly rising Catholic immigration contributed to the diocese's development beyond missionary status. While Tyler's model of humility attracted admiration from some non-Catholics, successors acted more as vocal advocates for an increasing Catholic population in the Diocese of Hartford. More than a million Irish immigrants settled in the United States from 1840 to 1860, and Connecticut's Catholic population doubled during the 1850s alone. When native-born Protestants limited Catholic political and economic freedom, Hartford bishops offered protection to these immigrant Catholics. Bishop Bernard o'reilly (185056) defended Catholics from violations of religious liberty. Under the pseudonym "Roger Williams"Rhode Island's founder and proponent of religious freedomO'Reilly wrote to local newspapers in defense of Catholics who suffered religious persecution. For example, O'Reilly sought clemency for a Catholic private whom the U.S Army reprimanded for refusing to attend Sunday Protestant services. In 1855, members of the anti-immigrant know-nothing party assembled to "inspect" a Sisters of Mercy convent in Providence. O'Reilly summoned the mayor and city marshall to prevent an imitation of the burning of Boston's Ursuline convent in 1830. nativism, which elevated American-born Anglo-Saxon Protestants above European-born Catholics, reached a peak in preCivil War Connecticut. The nativist Know-Nothing party leader, William T. Minor, gained election as Connecticut governor from 1855 to 1858. Despite Catholic protests, Minor supported laws that outlawed Irish-Catholic militia associations and proscribed the registration of Catholic property in the name of the bishop. O'Reilly's courageous protection of Hartford Catholics proved critical for resisting these serious challenges to normal Catholic religious practice.

Catholics who sought advanced status in Connecticut political culture benefited from the efforts of O'Reilly's successor, Bishop Francis P. mcfarland (185874). McFarland's experience as a philosophy professor at St. John's College in Fordham, New York, allowed the new bishop to bring intellectual cachet to the diocese. During the U.S. Civil War, McFarland utilized this scholarly reputation to mobilize Catholics behind the Union cause. McFarland's denunciation of slavery discouraged Catholics in the diocese from violent anti-African attacks, such as those occurring in neighboring New York City in 1863. During the war, Connecticut Catholics sacrificed freedom and life for national unity. This example temporarily quieted anti-immigrant nativism, and the state accepted Catholic militia organizations in the Connecticut National Guard. McFarland also welcomed opportunities to speak at Protestant churches. By engaging non-Catholic Americans in dialogue, both O'Reilly and McFarland frustrated attempts to portray Catholicism as un-American.

The diocese expanded substantially in the following decades, and this growth raised questions about how an increasingly Catholic population would interact with the predominately Protestant U.S. citizenry. In the 1870s, the diocese changed dramatically in response to these dual challenges of immigration and integration. The fruits of growth appeared as the diocese boasted 16 parishes in 1872. Strong state industriesConnecticut produced half of the nation's firearms by 1860attracted further immigration. In 1874, therefore, the Holy See established the Diocese of Providence, thus leaving the Diocese of Hartford entirely within Connecticut borders. At the same time, immigrants from eastern and southern Europe requested national parishes to preserve immigrant language and culture. Even as second-generation Irish and German-American Catholics received incremental acceptance into mainstream U.S. political culture, these newest immigrantsfrom Poland, Italy, Hungary, Lithuania, and Slovakiarevived nativist stereotypes of Catholicism as an alien, immigrant, and un-American faith. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Hartford bishops accommodated diverse ethnic and linguistic expressions of Catholic traditions, and established national parishes even in regions where territorial parishes previously existed.

Despite Hartford's advances in size and status, the 1882 initiation of the Knights of Columbus in New Haven revealed how the new challenges of ethnically disparate immigrants threatened Catholic unity in Connecticut. New Haven's Father Michael J. McGivney founded this Catholic lay organization so that increasingly stable Irish Americans could organize in the struggle for acceptance into U.S. society and economy and, at the same time, maintain their faith. While Bishop Lawrence S. McMahon (187993) recognized the Knights as a potentially positive force against nativist anti-Catholicism, he discouraged lay Catholic societies from overemphasizing Irish ethnic pride to the detriment of Catholicism's universal appeal. Irish Americans dominated most of the Knights' official positions, but the organization's constitution listed no ethnic or racial requirements for membership. Such assurances satisfied the diocesan leaders that this new organization would welcome participation of an increasingly international Catholic community in Connecticut.

In the final decade of the 19th century, Connecticut's bishops demonstrated strong suspicion that Americanism's emphasis on integration or assimilation into U.S. culture might undermine Catholic identity. From 1891 to 1894, the lay-owned Connecticut Catholic increasingly advocated "Americanization" of Catholicism and characterized U.S. institutions as "the greatest." Bishop Michael Tierney's (18941908) installation in 1894 witnessed a sharp change in this publication's editorial tone, and the diocese purchased and renamed its paper The Catholic Transcript in 1896. Subsequent issues emphasized the multinational character of Connecticut's Catholic population. When Tierney inaugurated a petit seminaire in 1897, this six-year seminary emphasized training in language skills and awareness of national differences. Connecticut's seminarians studied in France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Italy, and French-speaking Canada. Tierney's international emphasis elevated different expressions of Catholicism over integration to American culture.

Steady immigration and church accommodation of these "new immigrants" in national parishes allowed the Catholic Church in Connecticut to grow with great speed at the turn of the century. During Tierney's 14-year tenure, the diocese nearly doubled in the number of parishes and clergy, the number of women religious almost tripled, and he oversaw the construction of five hospitals. From 1908 to 1932, Bishop John J. Nilan (191034) continued Tierney's legacy and increased the number of parishes from 221 to 290, including 29 national and four Eastern Rite parishes.

As Connecticut's Catholics became increasingly professional, Nilan also oversaw expanded opportunities in higher education. Nilan approved the establishment of two new Catholic colleges, Albertus Magnus in New Haven and Mount Saint Joseph's in West Hartford. Nilan's permission allowed Connecticut clergy to participate in national education projects. Monsignor Thomas J. Shahan, ordained for Hartford, served as rector of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. from 1909 to 1928. Shahan also was principal editor of The Catholic Encyclopedia, and is considered a founder of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, also in Washington. Another Hartford priest, Father Patrick McCormick, created both The Catholic University's School of Education and the Sister's College summer program (est. 1911), which offered women religious undergraduate training for teaching.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Bishop Maurice F. McAuliffe (193444) directed the diocese in serving the predominately second-and third-generation Americans who now represented the majority of Connecticut's Catholic population. Catholics who sought higher education for their children could utilize the newly established Catholic colleges, Annhurst Junior College for women in Woodstock and the Jesuit Fairfield University. Hartford's priests also confronted challenges particular to World War II. McAuliffe maintained correspondence with the 55 wartime chaplains who entered military service from the diocese. On the home front, priests were appointed as counselors to advocate for youth in juvenile courts, and more than 2,000 women religious served in the diocese's educational and health care facilities. While fewer national parishes were founded in this period, the influx of Catholics who worked in defense factories prompted the diocese to establish new territorial parishes in the state's largest cities.

After World War II, Connecticut emerged as an important center for a large influx of postwar Ukrainian immigrants. When the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow officially declared legal authority over the Ukrainian Catholic Church based in Galicia (western Ukraine), Ukrainian-Americans maintained this Church's continued allegiance with Rome. In the 1950s, several papal decisions confirmed the enhanced significance of the United States and Canada, and particularly of Connecticut, for Ukrainian Catholics. Connecticut's northwestern city of Stamford became the seat of a second exarchy (the first being in Philadelphia) for Ukrainian-American Catholics in 1956. This exarchyan organization similar to vicariates apostolic of the Latin Riteserved adherents of Byzantine rites in New York and New England, under the leadership of Bishop Ambrose Senyshyn, O.S.B.M., Stamford's first ordinary (ex-arch). Divided into seven deaneries, including one in Hartford, the new exarchy included 86,324 Catholics, 101 priests, and 53 parishes. In 1958, the Holy See created an independent Byzantine Rite ecclesiastical province for Ukrainian Catholics in America, establishing the Metropolitan See of Philadelphia (Archeparchy-Archdiocese) and the Eparchy of Stamford.

This period also witnessed the elevation of Hartford to archdiocesan status. During this period, the diocese of Hartford oversaw a Catholic population which grew in size and developed in status. In 1952, 927 priests served in 279 parishes, and 2400 women religious worked in 120 parochial schools. Connecticut's Catholic population reached nearly 750,00033 percent of the state's 2.25 million residentsin 1953. In that year, the Holy See established the Archdiocese of Hartford and created the Dioceses of Bridgeport, Norwich, and Providence as suffragan sees in the new province. The Diocese of Hartford served Hartford, New Haven, and Litchfield counties. Bridgeport's territory included the wealthy and populous Fairfield County. Eastern Connecticut's four countiesMiddlesex, New London, Tolland, and Windhamconstituted the Diocese of Norwich.

The Diocese of Norwich expanded pursuit of Catholic education and ecumenism in eastern Connecticut. Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan (195359) became the first episcopal leader of Norwich's 53 parishes, 124,000 Catholics, and 24 missions. In six years as ordinary, Flanagan oversaw the creation of six new parishes. Bishop Vincent J. Hines (196075) established 11 new parishes, some of which had originally been formed as mission congregations. During these decades, three Catholic high schoolstwo in Middletown and one in Uncasville earned solid reputations and substantial numbers of student applicants. Hines's successor, Bishop Daniel Patrick Reilly (197594) promoted ecumenical dialogue, most prominently with the Episcopalian Diocese of Connecticut. Reilly's services extended to several national and international Catholic organizations, such as Catholic Relief Servicesthe world's largest non-governmental relief organization. Reilly also joined a five-member Executive Committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose 1983 pastoral on nuclear armaments provoked national discussion among Catholic and non-Catholic scholars and government officials. Despite these extensive responsibilities, Reilly also oversaw the establishment of eight new parishes. In the year 2000, Bishop Daniel A. Hart (1995) led a diocese which counted 226,000 Catholics, 78 parishes, 139 diocesan and 64 religious priests, and five Catholic high schools.

Erected in 1953, the Diocese of Bridgeport witnessed rapid growth and increased Catholic educational opportunities for Fairfield County. Bishop (later Cardinal) Lawrence Shehan (195361) established Notre Dame as the diocese's first Catholic high school, in 1957. Norwalk and Stamford received Catholic high schools soon afterward. Sheehan also opened 15 new parochial elementary schools, and created 15 new parishes. Bishop Walter W. Curtis (196188) furthered Shehan's work by creating schools in each diocesan parish, and establishing two more Catholic high schools. After continued efforts by Bishop (later Cardinal) Edward Egan (19882000) and Bishop William E. Lori (2001), the diocese boasted three universities, including Bridgeport's Sacred Heart, and an official newspaper, Fairfield County Catholic, with a circulation of 90,000. By the year 2001, this diocese contained 87 parishes, 265 priests, and 365,000 Catholics (43 percent of the county's total population). Parishes offered services in several languages, including Creole, Portuguese, Vietnamese, and Laotian.

The postWorld War II Archdiocese of Hartford experienced substantial development in size and status, and also responded to the challenge of immigration of Catholics from Spanish-speaking regions. Bishop Archbishop after 1953Henry J. O'Brien (194568) founded 45 parishes, expanded hospitals, and promoted racial equality through pastoral letters, clergy retreats and conferences. The diocese created no national parishes for Spanish-speaking immigrants, but sponsored Spanish-language education of priests. Having traveled to Puerto Rico for such language training, these priests could minister more easily to Spanish-speaking communities in Connecticut.

Hartford's leadership has also encouraged laypersons to accept greater responsibilities for church administration. Archbishop John F. Whealon (196991), a recognized Scripture scholar, sought to ease pressures on diocesan priests by increasing responsibilities for nonclerics. The archdiocese initiated a permanent diaconatethe fifth in the United Statesin 1969, and incorporated laity as eucharistic ministers and lectors. Whealon's appointments to archdiocesan offices established new precedents by including women religious and laypersons. Whealon appointed Sister Dolores Lipta[a-z], [a-z].S.M., as archdiocesan historian in 1979 and Vivian Stephenson as the first lay editor of The Catholic Transcript in 1981. In 1985, Sister Helen Margaret Feene[a-z], [a-z].S.J., became chancellor of the archdiocese, one of the first women in the United States to receive an appointment to such an important decision-making office.

In the late 20th century, discouraging signs confronted the Archdiocese of Hartford. A study by two Yale University professors reported the existence of substantial work-related anxiety among the clergy. Whealon publicly expressed concern about confusion and apathy among U.S. Catholics. From 1969 to 1994, the archdiocese's Catholic population decreased from about 830,000 to 810,000. Although the number of parishes grew from 208 to 224 from 1970 to 1990, the number of women religious dropped from nearly two thousand to 950, and Hartford's priests declined in number from 583 to 502.

Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin (1991) has promoted vocations, evangelization, and social justice as the archdiocese's goals for the 21st century. Despite reversals in the archdiocese's steady growth, making it 14th in population nationally, it ranked fifth in donations to Catholic charities. Emphasis on "human dignity" united Cronin's support for minorities, immigrants, and the disabled with action against abortion, capital punishment, and poverty.

Connecticut's wealth and educational institutions offer opportunities, and responsibilities, for this state's Catholic population. Strong leadership from the Hartford metropolitan, the bishops of Bridgeport and Norwich, and increasingly active laypersons will enable the Catholic Church in Connecticut to harness these resources for further growth and spreading the Catholic faith.

Bibliography: s. m. digiovanni, The Catholic Church in Fairfield County, 16661961 (New Canaan 1987). c. kauffman, Faith and Fraternalism: The History of the Knights of Columbus, 18821982 (New York 1982). j. r. kelley, Catholics in Eastern Connecticut: The Diocese of Norwich (Norwich 1985). d. a. liptak, Hartford's Catholic Legacy: Leadership (Hartford 1999). b.p. procko, Ukrainian Catholics in America (Lanham 1982).

[t. carty]

About this article

Connecticut, Catholic Church in

Updated About content Print Article