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Villa Notre Dame celebrates 50 years
| January 16, 2012 • by Sr. Kay O’Connell
Posted in Local News


At a daylong celebration that marked the dedication 50 years ago of Villa Notre Dame, the convent of the School Sisters of Notre Dame on Belden Hill Road in Wilton, almost 100 Sisters who live there now, or are from area convents and Baltimore, gathered to rejoice and especially to reminisce.

Sr. Marie Justine Nutz, dressed in the original habit that Mother Mary Paschal Carton wore 50 years ago when she put a trowel of cement on top of the cornerstone, recalled those early days in Wilton. She brought the foundress of the Northeastern Province of SSND vividly to life as she recalled the early days of building and fund raising, of welcoming novices and postulants, of working with E and F Construction of Bridgeport and Robert Mutrux of Wilton, the architect. She remembered V.K. Jonynas, the Lithuanian émigré who created the stunningly beautiful stained-glass windows of the chapel.

December 8, 2011, began with a morning Mass presided over by their chaplain, Fr. Thomas Elliott, CSC. The congregation was welcomed by a Call to Worship given by Sr. Kathleen Cornell, provincial of the Atlantic-Midwest Province, of which Wilton’s Villa Notre Dame is now a part. Fr. Ernest Esposito, former vicar for clergy and religious of the Diocese of Bridgeport, concelebrated. Giedra Jonynas Troncone, Wilton resident and daughter of the artist V.K. Jonynas, was an honored guest at the Mass.

Sr. Claire Bonneau, VND, organist and liturgist, and the community Schola provided the inspiring music for the liturgy. Guest trumpeter Christ Doney’s trumpet call opened the liturgy and appeared joyously throughout it.

After the liturgy, Sisters and guests processed, singing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” and led by a trumpet call, to the five angles of the pentagon-shaped building to bless and rededicate it to the Congregation’s mission of being educators who are “intentional unifiers,” concerned for the marginalized wherever its Sisters are. All the staff of the various departments were blessed and thanked.

A short time later, up at the front door, the postulants of 1961 celebrated with gusto, singing one of their class songs, “Welcome here to our dear Notre Dame. We’re so glad you’re here; we’re so glad you’ve come.”

Journalists and photographers from local papers interviewed Sr. Maria Providencia Rodrigues, in 1961 a Wilton pioneer, who had traveled from Puerto Rico for the celebration. She wears the second habit (1963) of the School Sisters.

Connecticut State Rep. John Hetherington was present at the noon luncheon and read a beautiful citation from the Connecticut Assembly. Wilton’s First Selectman Bill Brennan came to the late-afternoon dinner. He expressed the thanks of Wilton residents for the presence of Sisters in their midst.

During a festive dinner with their guests, other Sisters shared stories, both humorous and tender, of the beginnings of what was then the Motherhouse of the new Northeastern Province of SSND. Postulants of 1961 remembered how much fun they had showing Wilton residents around the brand-new building.

Novices had been able to view the laying of the cornerstone by Bishop Walter W. Curtis of Bridgeport and Mother Pascal that day, but then had to return to their traditional year-long cloister. At dinner they spoke of their disappointment at not seeing their parents and other guests, and remembered it in one of their class songs (to the tune of “Talk of the Town”):

“We can’t show our face; can’t go anyplace;
It’s so hard to bear; people stop and stare,
Everybody knows we’re cloistered, we’re the talk of the town.”

Presiding over the day’s celebration were Sisters Virginia Muller and John Vianney Zullo. They planned the day with Sr. Anna Marie Zeitner, hospitality coordinator; Sr. Maryann Calabrese, CND, pastoral minister; and Sr. Claire Bonneau, liturgist.

Sr. Brenda Lynch, archivist, worked with Sr. Robert Marie Moser, technology coordinator; Sr. Carolyn Andrewes, heritage coordinator; Sr.Kay O’Connell, historian; and Sr.Marie Justine Nutz on the PowerPoint show that accompanied the afternoon presentation.

A proverbial good time was had by all.