ALL ARE WELCOME TO ST. EMERY’S PARISH
Although St. Emery’s roots are founded in the Hungarian culture and the Catholic Franciscan Order, as this tour through proud history will attest, today St. Emery’s is a Parish of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Bridgeport, Connecticut. St. Emery’s Church now, and as it always has been before, openly welcomes people from every community, ethnic heritage and nationality who wish to find a place of peace, of worship and to serve the Lord in our Catholic Christian faith.
RECENT HISTORY OF ST. EMERY’S CHURCH (2002 to Now)
St. Emery’s Church becomes An Historic Place
August 7, 2013
On August 7, 2013, the Church of St. Emery attained the distinctive honor of being officially registered as An Historic Place in the State of Connecticut.
Upon review by a 12 member Connecticut Historic Preservation Council (HPC), Department of Economic and Cultural Development (DECD), consisting of distinguished architects and historians appointed by the Governor of Connecticut, it was determined that St. Emery’s Church is fully qualified to be designated An Historic Place
Qualifications were based on the Church’s Romanesque Revival architectural form with a classic bell tower and an exterior enhanced by façade mosaics, arcaded corbel table décor, a rose window and abundant belt-course decorative brick motif. Qualifications were also based on the Church’s interior with large arched cannon-dome architecture, intricate wall gold leaf décor, the prominent sanctuary frescoes, beautiful nave paintings of religious figures, century old stained glass windows, imported European sculptures, marble altars, handcrafted religious bronze wall plaques, rare tapestries and most importantly, the history of the American/Hungarian community as it relates to St. Emery’s Church
During St. Emery’s 70th anniversary celebration in 2002, the Church compiled a detailed account of the rich history of St. Emery’s parish beginning in the 20th Century starting with the Great Depression of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.
It is a wonderful story of the Roman Catholic Hungarian people who had emigrated from Hungary and settled in Connecticut USA determined to build a church, a parish, and a community of the Roman Catholic faith. This history is chronologically documented below, History of St. Emery’s Church.
This Historic Place designation is an outstanding tribute and honor to all the parishioners and Franciscan clergy who founded and faithfully supported this cherished Roman Catholic Parish over 85 years.
Recent Historic Place Publications
Once the church was established as An Historic Place, other research historic information became available.
- Historic St. Emery Church Fresco (May, 2013) – Budapest, Hungary
- The Decending White Dove Mosiac Architect and The Smithonian Connection (July, 2014) – William Lee, Renown Architect
St. Emery’s 80th Anniversary History slide show.
A Trip Through History
(Internet Youtube link)
St. Emery’s Parish Milestone- Diocese of Bridgeport
In 2011, Saint Emery underwent a diocese organizational change marking a turning point in its history. Formally associated with the Franciscan Order for 79 years of religious service, Saint Emery became a parish community under the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut and in close association with the Church of Holy Family in Fairfield, Connecticut.
Stunning Discovery – Lost St. Stephen Statue
August 30, 2011
During the transition of St. Emery’s to the Diocese of Bridgeport, in cleaning out the Rectory a lost statue of St. Stephen was discovered.
The statue (to the right) was most likely commissioned by the Franciscan’s in 1959. The origin of the statue was traced to sculptor Ferene Varga through his son, thanks to the hard work of parishioner Henry Kutash. Ferene Varga died in 1989. The image of the statue is probably one of a kind cast in Athena stone.
According to Varga’s son, who resides in Florida and a sculptor in his own right, the statue is unique and could not be produced again, making the religious icon very valuable.
A rededication ceremony was held on August 30, 2011 at St. Emery’s Church.
The statue is located in front of the Rectory of the Church.
The Hungarian nations flag is being held by parishioner Mark Montgomery.
(Click on photographs to enlarge)
HISTORY OF ST. EMERY’S CHURCH
The Great Depression Era
It was shortly after the First World War and during the Great Depression of the late 1920’s and 1930’s that Hungarian Catholics who settled initially in the West End of the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut began an exodus from the City to the nearby suburbs of Fairfield. It was in the West End that Hungarian Catholics and other Christan denominations nurtured their spiritual lives and maintained their Magyar (Hungarian) language, customs and cultural ties with their homeland.
It was Saint Stephen of Hungary Parish (1887 – 1971) – Bridgeport that was the spiritual home for Hungarians embracing the Catholic faith.
The Beginning of St. Emery’s Parish in 1930-1932
The City of Bridgeport at this time was part of the Catholic Diocese of Hartford that embraced the entire State Of Connecticut. It was the pastoral concern and sensitivity of the Most Reverend John Nilan, Bishop of Hartford and the Reverend Stephen Czernitzky that the spiritual needs and well being of the Hungarian Diaspora that moved to the town of Fairfield be cared for. It was on New Years Day that 547 persons gathered for the celebration of the Eucharist at a temporary chapel on Hibiscus Street in Fairfield. This sacred gathering was the beginning of the Parish Community of Saint Emery Roman Catholic Church. Bishop John Nilan, the founding pastor, Reverend Benedict Biro (1932 – 1952) and a small group of founding fathers/mothers chose to place the newly formed Parish under the patronage of Saint Emeric (Emery) of Hungary.
Saint Emery Unknown to Many – The Patron Saint of Youth
Saint Emery, our Patronal Saint, is a rather obscure saint not known to Americans but certainly one endeared to Hungarian Catholics. Saint Emery, pious son and crown prince of Saint Stephen (Szent Istan) of Hungary. Stephen brought the Catholic – Christian Faith to the Magyar tribes living in the Carpathian Basin of Eastern Europe. Saint Emery
shared his father’s reign and Christian disposition of both hospitality and tolerance of various nations and peoples. Unfortunately, his premature death never allowed him to ascend to the throne. His Father, Stephen, and he were canonized by the Catholic Church in 1068. Saint Emery became known as the patron Saint of Youth and his symbols of depict is usually one holding a white Lilly with a small child at his feet. By the way, Saint Emery is also the unofficial Patronal Saint of America due to the fact that the person who named America – Signor Amerigo Vespucci had a a very dear love, respect and veneration of Saint Emery of Hungary. So each and every time we see, say or sing “America” we unofficially invoke the life, deeds and spirit of our Patronal Saint.
Under the Franciscan Order
Our parish through the great zeal, love and dedication of Friar Benedict Biro, O.F.M., was given to the pastoral care of the Franciscan Friars – the Commissariat (later custody) of Saint Stephen, King. This small band of zealous Friars came from the historic region of ancient Hungary referred to as Transylvania (now present day Romania) to minister to their fellow Hungarians.
The Founding of St. Emery’s Church in 1932
The year 1932 was certainly a banner year for our Parish Community. The groundbreaking for the present church took place on Easter Sunday, the blessing and laying of the cornerstone by Bishop Maurice M. McAuliffe Bishop of Hartford and on
November 5th (the Feast day of St. Emery) the dedicate and consecration of both church and alter. Soon after the brick and motor aspect of the founding of our Parish Community, Friar Biro and other Franciscan Friars worked un-tiredly to establish various societies and groups that would gather the people under a common cause or purpose. Such groups were – St. Margaret of Hungary Altar Society, St. Emery Rosary Society, St.Emery Ladies Guild, Father Biro Men’s League, Holy Name Society, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Children of Mary Sodality and of recent vintage, St. Emery Seniors.
‘A United Nations Parish ‘
These and other societies/groups began to attract not only Catholic families of Hungarian extraction now living in Fairfield but people from different ethnic heritages. Very early in our formation, we not only maintained our Magyar heritage but were true to form through the intercession of Saint Stephen to be tolerant and accepting of all people and nationality. We certainly became a United Nations Parish and a portion of the Kingdom of God.
Rapid Growth – Addition of Convent (1952) and Parochial School (1956)
As the Parish Community grew in numbers, especially young parents starting families, Friar Biro and the founding fathers/mothers, especially members of the Ladies Guild, initiated the building of a Cathetical Center in 1951. The mission of Religious Education (CCD as it was referred to then) was entrusted to the women religious of the Congregation of the Daughters of the Divine Charity. This group of Sisters founded in Bavaria, Germany but coming from Hungarian speaking areas of Eastern Europe came to the United States to minister both in teaching and working with young women in the
Hungarian language. Initially, the Sisters staffed the Parochial School at St. Stephen of Hungary Parish – West End of Bridgeport. A convent was established on the grounds for the Sisters in 1952 and a more modern facility built in 1961. This Cathetical School, which opened in 1954, ministered to thirty-four students and with the passing of time became too small and inadequate for the growing number of children in the parish. With the grace of the Almighty God, the approval of the newly created Diocese of Bridgeport and the dedication support of the parishioners, Most Reverend Lawrence J,. Sheehan, the First Ordinary of the Diocese of Bridgeport and later Cardinal of Baltimore, blessed and broke ground for the school addition on August 29th, 1955 and returned a year later on October 7th, 1956 to bless and dedicate our school.
Parochial School (1956 – 1987) – Thirty-One Successful Years
Our Parish Parochial School over the thirty-one years became both the present and future of our Parish Community. Nearly Two generations of our young families both past and present received their religious and academic formation/education. It was certainly a gift from Almighty God and the Church to have had the Daughters of the Divine Charity (Staten Island) who through their deep faith, hard work and labor of love to have taught ‘as Jesus taught’ and formed thousands of young women and men in the truths and Mysteries of our Catholic-Christen faith. Due to a lack of parish-family students, changing neighborhoods and demographics, our Parish parochial School was closed in June 1987. With the grace of God, the Daughters of Divine Charity, after the school closed remained ministering in our parish and directing our Religious Education Program. It was due to a lack of vocations and the changing needs of the Church that the Daughters of Divine Charity – the St. Joseph province withdrew from our Parish June 1995. Our Parish School is presently dedicated itself to educating young people due to the establishment of the Brooklawn Acedemy, (a state sponsored charter school), in September, 1998. Other portions of the school serve as the home of Our Lady of the Assumption Regional Catholic School Pre-Kindergarden Program, Regional Business Office and ministry to Alcoholics Anonymous.
Friar Benedict Biro, O.F.M. First Friar for 20 Years (1932-1952)
After the Birth into Eternal Life of Friar Biro, the Franciscan Friars faithfully and lovingly continued the pastoral care and spiritual growth of our parish – all Pastors/Parochial Vicars to the present have either been born in Transylvania (Hungary) or of parents with Hungarian parentage. Vocations have come from our own people to serve our Hungarian faithful. These Friars have been:
Friar Hippolyt Dessy, O.F.M. (1952-1961),
Friar Dennis A. Szocs, O.F.M. (1961-1976),
Friar George Meszaros, O.F.M. (1976-1977),
Friar Robert D. Nemeth, O.F.M. (1977-1998)
Friar Louis M. Pintye, O.F.M. (1998-2011)
Our Parish was served by two Friars – Friar Louis and Friar Szlezak, O.F.M., Senior Friars in Residence (Holy Name Province New York City). In 2011, St. Emery became a diocesan parish (see above Recent History (2002 to Now)) with Father Guido G. Montanaro as Parish Administrator.
Close of the Franciscan Order Worldwide
It was on Deceember 31st, 1992 that the Order of Friars Minor (Rome) suppressed the Custody of St. Stephen King as a Franciscan entity. Due to the lack of vocations and the Fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, the restructuring of the Francisan Order worldwide had brought to glorious close the life and ministry of group of friars who served the People of God here at St. Emery’s, Ohio and Pennsylvania for well over sixty years.
On January 1st, 1993, the pastoral care of our parish was entrusted to the Franciscan Friars of the Order of Friars Minor – province of the Immaculate Conception (New York City). Our parish community celebrated their Silver Anniversary on November 17th, 1957, our Golden Anniversary on November 7th, 1982, our Seventieth Anniversary on November 3rd, 2002 and our Seventy Fifth Anniversary on November 4th, 2007.
The Closing of St. Stephen’s Church of Hungary
It was on October 10th, 1971, that the Diocese of Bridgeport in consultation with the Parish Communities of St. Stephen of Hungary (Bridgeport) and St. Emery (Fairfield) decided that due to changing demographics in the West End of Bridgeport, and the lack of the number of parishioners, that the Last Mass would be celebrated at St. Stephen’s. In short, two Hungarian parishes merged to make one strong Hungarian Community in
Fairfield, CT. There is another Hungarian Parish, St. Ladislaus in South Norwalk, CT who also ministers to Hungarian Catholics. The story of this merger is quite impressive due to the fact that in 1932, St. Stephen’s Parish gave birth to their child (St. Emery’s). St. Stephen allowed the birth of his son, St. Emeric. As St. Stephen’s weathered many storms and transistions over the years, St. Emery’s came to the rescue in her advanced years to bring needed support and a ‘spiritual renewal’. When time and need allowed to become two unique and distinct Parish Communities had united through our common Catholic-Christian tradition and a common Hungarian heritage for the past thirty-one years has become one parish again, St. Emery’s.
Changing times and demographics, the high cost of living in Fairfield County, the greatest exodus of young couples to live in more affordable section of the state, the inter-marriage between Hungarians and non-Hungarians have allowed to make-up of our Parish Community to not only change but begin to dwindle in numbers. Once again, we are becoming a neighborhood parish ministering to not only Hungarians but to whom ever wishes to embrace our Catholic-Christian faith and to celebrate the sacramental and liturgical tradition of the Church.
Restoration of the Church (2000)
As a means to provide for the younger families and to celebrate the Millennium in 2001, our Parish Community under took the first full-restoration of the interior of our parish church and sanctuary. The Sanctuary was changed to be in compliance with the restoration of the Liturgy as envisioned by the Second Vatican Council – a new altar, ambo, baptismal fount were imported and installed from Italy. The reredoes (old altar) on which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved remains the focal point of our worship as it has for the past seventy years. New lighting, heating and air-conditioning were installed.
Three Shrines in the Church bespeaks of the various heritages we envision to maintain. One dedicated to the Holy Family – Jesus, Mary and Joseph. One dedicated to our Franciscan Family – St. Francis, St. Clare, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. John of Capistrano and Blessed Padre Pio. The third dedicated to our Hungarian Saints – St. Stephen, Our Lady of Hungary and St. Emery.
Blessing of the Restored Church
Our Parish celebrates four Masses each weekend. The Sunday Mass at 11:30 am is celebrated in the Hungarian Language. Our newly restored church was blessed and our new altar was dedicated by the Most Reverend Edward Michael Egan, J.C.D., on Sunday, May 7th, 2000. It was only days after this dedication that he received appointment as the cardinal-Archbishop of the archdiocese of New York. Bishop (now cardinal) Egan spoke quite eloquently of our need to preserve both our spiritual heritage as Catholic-Christians as well as our heritage and customs as Hungarians. Since our restorations, which was a challenge for most and rather painful for some, our Parish Church has become known as “the Cathedral of Fairfield”. We are proud of this recognition but its accomplishment was certainly that of the Lord alone.
Traditions Live On
Our parish tries to maintain its age-old Hungarian language, customs and traditions brought to the shores of America by our Hungarian immigrant ancestors. We share these with our entire community being quite sensitive of trying always to include and celebrate other ethnic traditions as well. We remain faithful to our Hungarian spiritual traditions: Blessing of Easter Food/Baskets on Holy Saturday, the Resurrection Procession at the conclusion of the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, the celebration of our Patronal Feast days – St. Emery – November 5th – usually with a patronal Feast day Dinner – this year the entire proceeds benefited the victims of the September 11th, 2001 tragedy, and St. Stephen – August 16th. Throughout the year our dedicated Ladies Guild and Holy Name Society sponsor fund raisers providing Hungarian Pastries for Christmas and Easter, various dinners – Roast Beef, Lenten Supper on Ash Wednesday, the making of Hungarian donuts and sausage. Of particular note is the Annual Parish picnic, the First Sunday of August held on the grounds of our formal school. Traditional Hungarian foods, pastries and entertainment bring Hungarians and non-Hungarians from far and near.
Almighty God has blessed us ever so abundantly over the past seventy years. We ask for His continued blessings and graces as celebrate our Seventieth Anniversary this year. As we say in Hungarian: “ISTEN ALD MEG A MAGYART”, MAY GOD BLESS THE HUNGARIANS. MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ME. MAY GOD BLESS AMERICA.