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Msgr. Frank Wissel, 76 beloved Pastor of Saint Mary Parish, Greenwich

GREENWICH—Msgr. Frank C. Wissel, 76, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Greenwich, died peacefully yesterday evening (June 19) in Greenwich Hospital.

News of his death has been greeted with sadness by people throughout the diocese. His commitment to education and his devotion to the people entrusted to his care made him a towering presence both in Greenwich and among the inner-city students he had served in in Bridgeport.

Msgr. Wissel’s body will be received into Saint Mary Church on Monday, June 23 at 10 am, where it will lie in state until the Vigil Mass there at 7 pm. The celebrant and homilist for the Mass will be Msgr. William Scheyd, pastor of St. Aloysius Parish in New Canaan. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated for Msgr. Wissel in St. Mary’s on Tuesday, June 24, at 11am. The celebrant will be Bishop Frank J. Caggiano; Msgr. J.  Peter Cullen, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Greenwich, will deliver the homily.

Burial will follow at Saint Mary Cemetery, in the Priests’ Circle.

Msgr. Wissel had retired as pastor less than a week earlier, on June 15, after serving the parish for 17 years.

To honor the occasion of his retirement, a marble statue of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal had been erected outside the church, overlooking Greenwich Avenue. It was donated anonymously by a parish couple in honor of Msgr. Wissel and in gratitude to Our Lady for her intercession in the healing of cancer patients.  

The statue was dedicated by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano on a festive Mother’s Day, May 11, with many parishioners and well-wishers looking on. Carved from Carrara marble by the Arrighini Family of Pietrasanta, Italy, the one-ton statue is an exact replica of the one in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal on the Rue de Bac in Paris, France. The chapel is where Our Lady appeared to Saint Catherine Labouré in 1830, encouraging her to create the medal.

Msgr. Wissel believed the statue would be the source of many blessings, as well as a powerful witness to passersby on the busy shopping street. “It’s beautifully done, a unique gift given by a very special couple,” he said on that happy day. “I never expected it to be dedicated to me. In Brooklyn you’d have to be dead 30 years for that to happen!”

A native of Brooklyn, Msgr. Wissel, 76, was ordained to the priesthood in 1977 by Bishop Walter Curtis. He holds a doctorate in psycho-theology and ministry from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, CA.

Msgr. Wissel was the principal of Kolbe Cathedral High School in Bridgeport from 1981-1991. While there he founded the St. Maximilian Kolbe House of Studies for Boys in Bridgeport, designed to educate young men in a family setting. In 1991 he was named Chaplain to His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, carrying the title of Monsignor.

Appointed pastor of Saint Mary’s in 1997, Msgr. Wissel expanded the number of parish programs and organizations and established a fund to assist the needy, including the large immigrant community. All of this was accomplished, he notes, through the “overwhelming” generosity of parishioners in devoting their time, talent, and resources.

His trademark style of running a successful parish, Msgr. Wissel had noted, was to build a team effort between clergy and qualified lay people. “You have to delegate, and you have to affirm people when they are doing a good job,” he said.

Most of all, he always insisted, a pastor needs to be present. “Serve and love the people,” he said. “Try and absorb all their pains and sufferings. And let them know you really do love and care about them, and you’re happy to be there.”

For many years Msgr. Wissel wrote a popular column in the Greenwich Citizen newspaper. Recently, he offered sound advice that expresses his philosophy of life. “God has given us the Bible,” he wrote. “We are, indeed, our brother’s keeper. We have a choice, being blessed with many things, but unless we share them with the needy, all is for nothing.”

Bishop Caggiano has named Father Cyprian LaPastina, formerly pastor of Saint Gabriel Parish in Stamford and a former parochial vicar at Saint Mary’s, as the new pastor.

Msgr. William Loughlin dies at 87

TRUMBULL—Msgr. William Loughlin died on May 26 at St. Joseph Center in Trumbull, where he lived in retirement. He was 87 years old.

William Loughlin was born on March 3, 1927 in Wharton, N.J.  He attended St. Mary’s School there and Bayley High School in Morristown. Thereafter he attended the Oratory Preparatory School in Summit, N.J., and Seton Hall University, attaining BA and MA degrees. He completed his seminary studies and received a Master of Divinity degree from Pope John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass.

He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Walter W. Curtis in St. Mary Church, Greenwich, on May 3, 1969.

His first assignment was as parochial vicar at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Newton. He also served at Assumption Parish in Westport, St. Philip Parish in Norwalk, St. Augustine Cathedral Parish in Bridgeport and St. Mary Parish in Greenwich.

In the summer of 1983, he was named pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Shelton. That fall, he was appointed director of the newly formed Office of Diocesan Pilgrimages, a position he held until his poor health prohibited travel. He was named a Chaplain to His Holiness by Pope John Paul II, with the title of Monsignor, on July 14, 1988.

While continuing as director of the pilgrimage office, he served as parochial vicar of St. Mary’s in Greenwich, St. Luke Parish in Westport and St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Fairfield. In addition, Msgr. Loughlin served on the Priests’ Council.

An evening Vigil Mass and a Mass of Christian Burial will celebrated for Msgr. Loughlin at St. Bridget of Ireland Parish in Stamford. The date and time is still to be determined. Bishop Frank J. Caggiano will celebrate the funeral Mass.

Msgr. Loughlin will be buried with his family in St. Mary Cemetery, Dover, N.J.

Sr. Joan Connelly, SSND

Sister Joan Connelly, a Catholic school educator and pastoral associate for more than 50 years, died of cancer on March 21, 2014 at Lourdes Health Care Center in Wilton. She was 79 years old and had been a professed member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame for 58 years.

Joan Margaret Connelly was born on Aug. 7, 1934, in Providence, R.I., the first in a family of four girls. She studied at Rhode Island College of Education for one year before entering the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Baltimore in 1953, taking the religious name Sister Mary Thomas Villanova. She professed her first vows in 1955 and her final vows in 1961.

Sister Joan earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Nazareth College of Rochester, a master’s in American studies from St. John’s University in New York and a second master’s in religious studies from Providence College in Rhode Island.

She taught at schools in New York, New Jersey and New Hampshire before coming to this diocese to teach history and religion at St. Mary School in Bethel from1970-71.

Starting in 1978, Sister Joan began a long ministry as a pastoral associate and director of adult religious education. In 2001, while still a pastoral minister, she also became co-director of the SSND Associate Program for her province. She became director of the program in 2004.

In 2013 Sister Joan moved to Villa Notre Dame in Wilton, where she continued to be active in community service to SSNDs and her neighbors. She was regularly ministering to the sick, elderly and shut-ins of St. Luke Parish in Westport in the weeks before her death.

A Mass of Christian burial was celebrated for Sister Joan on March 24 in the chapel at Villa Notre Dame in Wilton. Burial followed at St. Mary Cemetery 
in Bethel.

Fr. Martin Hitchcock, former St. Mary’s pastor

GREENWICH—Father Martin Hitchcock, former pastor of St. Mary Parish in Greenwich, died on March 12, 2014 in Hilton Head, S.C., where he resided after retiring. Father Hitchcock, who was 88, had taken early retirement in 1991 for medical reasons. He suffered from multiple sclerosis.

“He would never tell anyone he was sick, never complained,” says Msgr. Frank Wissel, St. Mary’s current pastor.

“He was a quiet man,” Msgr. Wissel adds. “Anything he did for people—and he did a lot—nobody else knew about it.”

Born in Great Barrington, Mass., in 1926, Father Hitchcock entered St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield and completed his theological studies at St. Mary Seminary in Baltimore, Md. He was ordained by Bishop Henry J. O’Brien in St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Hartford, on May 3, 1951.

When the Diocese of Bridgeport was first formed, Father Hitchcock was assigned to St. James Parish in Stratford and then St. Peter Parish in Danbury. While at St. Peter’s, he served as chaplain of the Newman Club at Western CT State University (WestConn).

He was appointed assistant superintendent of schools in 1964 and became superintendent in 1967. During that time he resided at St. Mary Parish, Bethel; St. Joseph Parish, Danbury; St. Lawrence Parish, Shelton; and Notre Dame Parish, Easton. He was also a member of the Diocesan Liturgical Commission.

In 1971 he was named pastor of St. Mary’s, a position he held for over 20 years. During his time there he converted the former convent and school into a state of the art parish center, much used for parish activities. He also served on the Presbyterial Council from 1976-78.

Father Hitchcock was pleased to recall that among his altar boys were the future Msgr. Frank McGrath, pastor of St. John Parish in Darien; Msgr. Thomas Driscoll, pastor of Notre Dame Parish in Easton; Father Thomas Thorne, pastor of Assumption Parish in Westport; and the late Father Richard Futie, former pastor of St. Mary and Sacred Heart parishes, both in Stamford.

“He went out of his way to take care of priests,” says his good friend Father Joseph Saba, former pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bridgeport. “Saturday night meals with him were memorable. He taught me how to fold crepes. You couldn’t eat crepes unless they were properly folded.”

A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated for Father Hitchcock on April 1 at St. Mary’s. Bishop Frank J. Caggiano was the principal celebrant. Msgr. Wissel delivered the homily.

Burial followed in his mother’s plot in St. Joseph Cemetery, Canaan, Conn. At his request, Father Hitchcock was buried in a simple Trappist coffin.