September 2006 - Volume 11, Issue 2

How I'm Spending My Summer Vacation

By The Most Reverend William E. Lori, S.T.D., Bishop Of Bridgeport

Photo of Saint John Parish in DarienMost of us look forward to the summer months as a time of decreased activity. This doesn't seem to be one of those summers! To say the least, it's been busier than usual. So I thought it might be helpful for me to offer you a brief mid-summer update on the most important issues facing the diocese at this time.

Please let me begin with Saint John Parish in Darien. We've all been distressed by this situation but, with God's help, progress is being made. We owe the new pastor of Saint John's, Father Frank McGrath, a debt of gratitude for all he is doing with parish clergy and lay leadership to bring about reconciliation and renewal.

The independent investigation and report by Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP, painful as it is, revealed the scope and method of Father M. Jude Fay's financial wrongdoing and clarified the response of the diocese. A copy of the full report was mailed to all parishioners and was also provided to the office of the U.S. Attorney, which is conducting its own investigation. I ask your continued prayers as we move ahead.

The Deloitte report describes existing parish financial procedures and controls and offers recommendations for strengthening them. Two months ago, I created a Task Force of lay members of the Diocesan Finance Council and pastors on the Diocesan College of Consultors to study the Deloitte recommendations and then to prepare a specific plan in accordance with those recommendations.

This group is already hard at work. In September, I expect to announce a comprehensive plan to strengthen financial controls in each of the 87 parishes.

Speaking of finances, our Chief Financial Officer, Norm Walker, has done an outstanding job since coming aboard a year and a half ago. You may have read his interview in the last edition of the paper. If you missed it, you can find the interview and also the 2005 combined financial statements of the diocese and the related audit report of Grant Thornton online.

We closed the 2006 fiscal year on June 30, and will publish the 2006 financial statements and auditor's report in the fall.

Second, I note that our nursing home transaction is on track to completion. On May 1, the diocese announced its partnership with Harborside Healthcare, a successful for-profit corporation that runs 62 nursing homes, many in the northeast. After carefully reviewing all options with lay and clergy advisors, the diocese entered into a 99-year ground lease with Harborside at St. Joseph's Manor in Trumbull; Pope John Paul II Center for Health Care in Danbury; and St. Camillus Health Center in Stamford. Embedded in each of these ground leases is a "Catholicity covenant" - a binding commitment that effectively enables the diocese to retain pastoral, spiritual, and ethical oversight of the three homes.

The proceeds from the transaction enable the diocese to pay the State of Connecticut-backed revenue bonds issued to finance the facilities and improvements, and also to pay what is owed the diocesan lay pension and insurance programs. Most importantly, the three homes will continue to be authentically Catholic, with the services of a priest chaplain, daily Mass, the ready availability of the sacraments, chapels, religious art, and other forms of pastoral care.

All of us deeply regret the decision of the Carmelite Sisters to leave St. Joseph's Manor after so many years of faithful service. As I indicated in the farewell Masses I celebrated for them, we are grateful for all they have done and are inspired by their service. We will do our very best to build on their legacy of compassionate care to the elderly throughout the diocese.

Third, I am happy to report progress with our Catholic schools. To read more about the reopening of Sacred Heart Elementary School in Stamford, the renovations at Saint Augustine Elementary School in Bridgeport, and the exciting renewal of our four elementary schools in Danbury. I would like to add that construction of the new home for Saint Catherine Academy in Fairfield, which serves children with serious learning disabilities, proceeds apace, as do plans to expand Trinity Catholic Middle School in Stamford. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Dr. Margaret Dames, Superintendent of Schools, almost all the new principals for our elementary schools have been hired, and our superintendent finally has two deputies - Sr. Mary Grace Walsh, A.C.S.J., and Mr. John Cook.

All the school advisory boards are in place and soon we will announce a Diocesan School Board, a board that will include highly qualified lay persons as well as a number of priests who, under the direction of Msgr. Laurence Bronkiewicz, helped develop the new school finance model.

I am very grateful to all - laity and clergy - for help in reorganizing our schools and in the ongoing work of improving them.

Lastly, let me tell you about the Pastoral Plan for Evangelization and Catechesis. It is progressing. Last spring, I conducted "listening sessions" around the diocese in which clergy, parish leaders, catechists, Catholic school teachers, and many others shared "best practices" in communicating the faith as well as frustrations and challenges. This led to a draft plan which was shared with the Diocesan Pastoral Council and the Presbyteral Council. Subsequent meetings with focus groups and the Territorial Vicars have strengthened the plan. I am working, by fits and starts, on a companion pastoral letter on evangelization.

We are hoping to create a plan firmly rooted in the Faith and flexible enough to be a planning and directional document for our diverse parishes. We plan to launch this plan in late October.

In the weeks ahead, I will be giving a retreat to the Sisters of Saint Francis of the Martyr Saint George in Alton, Illinois, a wonderful congregation of Sisters who engage in teaching and health care ministry. Blessed with many vocations, it is a religious community with whom I have enjoyed a warm friendship from my earliest days as a priest. Afterwards, I will take a few days off for prayer and also plan to visit my parents over the Labor Day weekend.

Please keep me in your prayers and know that I am thinking of you and praying for you. May the balance of this summer be safe, healthy, happy, and holy!