The Bishops of Bridgeport
by Monsignor Stephen M. DiGiovanni, H.E.D., Author of The Catholic Church in Fairfield County
Four men have succeeded in building up the Catholic Church in this part of the Lord's vineyard called Fairfield County. For a relatively young diocese (founded in 1953) with only three bishops, we have already sent forth two Archbishops and two Cardinals.
Bishop Lawrence J. Shehan
Lawrence J. Shehan (1898-1984) became the first Bishop of Bridgeport upon the division of the Diocese of Hartford in 1953, and the establishment of the Diocese of Bridgeport and the Diocese of Norwich. During his nine years in Bridgeport, Bishop Shehan devoted himself to the organization of the new diocese, approved the construction of 24 new churches and the establishment of 18 new parishes, as well as the founding of numerous parish schools and of three diocesan high schools. He worked diligently to organize youth ministry (CYO) and to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
Bishop Shehan also began parish ministry for the growing numbers of Hispanic, Portuguese, and Brazilian immigrants in the diocese, and founded Saint Joseph's Manor in Trumbull for the care of the elderly, under the direction of the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm. In 1960, Bishop Shehan called the first synod of Bridgeport to standardize the organizational and pastoral efforts of the entire diocese. In July 1961, Bishop Shehan was named Co-adjutor Archbishop to his home Archdiocese of Baltimore, later serving as its Cardinal Archbishop.
Bishop Walter W. Curtis
Walter W. Curtis (1913-1997) followed as the second bishop of Bridgeport in 1961, beginning his pastoral work that would, in his words, provide a seat in Catholic schools for every Catholic child in the Diocese of Bridgeport. He attempted to establish a Catholic school in every parish, and completed Bishop Shehan's vision of five diocesan high schools in Bridgeport, Fairfield, Trumbull, Norwalk, and Stamford. Bishop Curtis also founded Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.
As a Father of the Second Vatican Council, most of Bishop Curtis' administration concerned the implementation of the conciliar decrees, subsequent legislation, and pastoral programs initiated by the National Council of Catholic Bishops. This included social concerns, work among the growing immigrant Catholic populations, improved health care, Catholic education, and many other areas. Upon his retirement in 1988, Bishop Curtis was succeeded by an Auxiliary Bishop of New York, Bishop Edward M. Egan (b. 1932).
Bishop Edward M. Egan
Among Bishop Egan's first directives in the Diocese of Bridgeport was increasing vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. He established his own seminary in Trumbull, the Saint John Fisher Pre-Seminary Residence, which opened its doors in June 1989, six months after his arrival in Bridgeport. Within four years of its founding, the Trumbull facility proved too small, and Bishop Egan decided to move it to its present location in Stamford. The Fisher Residence continues its fine program for discernment and formation of priestly vocations, and has provided our diocese with dozens of young priests.
Bishop Egan's next works were the reorganizing of diocesan finances and endowments through the $40 million Faith In The Future campaign, as well as the regionalization of parish schools. By creating a system of school regions, by which the local parish schools would be supported and funded by all the region's parishes, Bishop Egan saved and improved the Catholic school system in Fairfield County. He established the only private school for children with special needs in Connecticut, Saint Catherine Academy, as well as initiating many other educational projects.
He also reorganized and expanded Catholic Charities, as well as many of its outreach programs such as soup kitchens and free clinics. He established scattered housing for AIDS patients throughout the County; increased the number of facilities for the elderly with the Bishop Curtis Homes; opened a home for the assistance and support of pregnant mothers in the Malta House; and improved the funding for both Catholic Charities and Catholic schools by the establishment of the Inner-City Foundation for Charity & Education. Besides providing for new priests, Bishop Egan's work for the priests of the diocese included the completion of the Catherine Dennis Keefe Queen of the Clergy Retired Priests' Residence in Stamford. Indeed, so important is the priesthood in Bishop Egan's estimation that Bridgeport became one of a handful of American dioceses that cared for its priests from the very beginning of their training until their final days of ministry.
On May 11, 2000, Pope John Paul II announced that Bishop Egan would succeed the late John Cardinal O'Connor as the Archbishop of New York. Archbishop Egan was installed on January 19, 2000, and was elevated to the College of Cardinals on February 21, 2001.
Bishop William E. Lori