Msgr Weiss Extols St Rose Parishioners, Virtues, Volunteers Upon 160th Anniversary Of Parish
“It’s welcoming...it’s our own. May it always continue for another 160 years.”
Those words summed up a potent message conveyed by St Rose of Lima’s Monsignor Robert Weiss as he stood before Bridgeport Diocese Bishop Frank Caggiano, local and visiting clergy, and hundreds of parishioners, benefactors, and volunteers who attended a mass and reception celebrating the Newtown landmark Roman Catholic congregation’s 160th anniversary on August 25.
While Msgr Weiss extolled the virtues of St Rose’s multi-generational parishioners, volunteers, and clergy members during public remarks that day — and an earlier interview with The Newtown Bee — it was Bishop Caggiano who took the opportunity to humbly praise the congregation’s longtime leader.
“Everyone at this church loves you and trusts you very much,” the Bishop astutely observed.
What became evident following those brief remarks was that the synergy between Msgr Weiss and other parish leaders, along with so many past and current congregants, has fueled the success and sustainability of this local landmark that has served so many.
As Msgr Weiss describes it, St Rose has been and remains a spiritual home, refuge, gathering place, and house of worship to countless residents throughout its 160 years, serving many local families from glorious baptisms, through the Catholic milestones of holy communions and confirmations to celebrated weddings and somber funerals.
In between, the church has hosted thousands of Sunday, holy day, and holiday masses, as well as being open to lone individuals who come to think or pray — and maybe light a candle to brighten their hope or to remember a lost loved one.
According to a historical retrospective compiled by the monsignor and his staff that was distributed during the anniversary event, in 1756, a family of four Acadians arrived as the first Catholics to settle in Newtown. This family of four, including a son and a daughter, was part of the 7,000 or more Acadians who had been exiled from their homes when the British seized Nova Scotia during the prelude to the French and Indian War.
Some 300 of these displaced people were shipped to New Haven and distributed among the neighboring settlements. But unlike some other less fortunate refugees, the family assigned to Newtown was received with compassion.
It is generally believed that the Acadians were visited by Catholic missionary priests during their seven-year stay in Newtown. And the historical digest suggests that the first Mass to be celebrated in Newtown took place during this period, although it was not documented.
Another account states that the chaplain of Lieutenant General Rochambeau and his French army troops celebrated Mass in Newtown on July 1, 1781.
But it was Irish immigrants who escaped the potato famine of 1845 who were said to be the “pioneers of Saint Rose Parish. It was their faith and zeal, under the spirited and tireless leadership of the Catholic clergy, that formed the foundation for their remarkable growth that followed,” the brief historical document relates.
In May 1848, Newtown passed into the care of the Norwalk parish, and in March 1851, it became a mission of Danbury. Many pioneer Newtown Catholics used to tell of walking all the way to Danbury for Mass when the priest was unable to come to Newtown.
On July 31, 1859, Newtown was organized as a parish under the patronage of Saint Rose of Lima. The Reverend Francis Lenihan was the first resident pastor of Saint Rose Parish, taking office in July 1859 and serving until February 1862.
On August 1, 1873, the Reverend James McCartan arrived at Saint Rose as the new pastor. Since the size of the congregation was rapidly soaring toward the 1,000 mark, Fr McCartan believed the need for a new and larger church was evident. So he went to work supporting the acquisition of the property on Church Hill Road where the current church stands, and on May 7, 1882, he saw the cornerstone for the new church installed.
There has been lot of other activity on the site, including the construction of the present building and adjacent parish school, since that first cornerstone was laid. And like the many parish leaders who preceded him, Msgr Weiss, who arrived from Shelton in 1999 at the request of then Bishop Edward Egan, was charged with helping sustain and grow the parish.
His first mission was to carry out a ten-point plan of development for the parish.
Since “Father Bob,” as he is still affectionately called, came to Newtown, he and myriad parish leaders put in place St Rose institutions like its youth ministry among 64 active ministries, along with hosting visiting and student clergy members who came from around the country and the world. And its liturgy has been “enhanced with incredible and faith-filled Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, Readers, Altar Servers, Music Ministers and our famous Currency Engineers,” the history states.
Part of the most recent $1 million-plus improvements to the church and grounds included the addition of a church vestibule.
“We never really had a vestibule before,” Msgr Weiss said. “But we thought people needed a place to gather together after services.”
Improvements also included the development of the “Garden of Peace,” anchored by three huge bells — gifts to St Rose from the Franciscan order following the Sandy Hook shooting.
“At first, we thought they would just be a temporary gift, but once we learned they would be located here permanently, we decided to create this Garden of Peace with one bell commemorating those lost on 9/11, those lost on 12/14, and the last one honoring all the children of the world, along with our military service members and first responders.”
Turning back to the many who helped make St Rose of Lima the Catholic institution it is today in Newtown and in Connecticut, Msgr Weiss credits many of the “talented and well-educated” congregants who played large and small roles in making the parish what it is today.
“St Rose is a very unique community with a rich and amazing wellspring of talent and resources,” Msgr Weiss said. “But our church, like this community and the world, face new challenges every day. So we need to remain creative in our ministerial approaches while maintaining this beautiful environment of consolation, celebration, and respite for all — and especially those who are struggling with the burdens of their everyday lives.”
May it always continue for another 160 years.