OUR LADY OF FATIMA HISTORY
Current Pastor: Reverend Robert Landback
I rejoiced when I heard them say: “Let us go to the house of the Lord,” and now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. – Psalm 122, vss. 1, 2
Indeed, the fulfillment of a vision was realized on Saturday, August 18, 1956 when parishioners of the newly built church of Our Lady of Fatima, Yalesville, Connecticut, entered the building’s doors for the first time to celebrate its dedication – an event whose overflowing joy continued the next day with the parish’s first Sunday Mass celebrated in the new edifice. The petitions expressed so beautifully in the opening prayer on the day of dedication beckon now, as then:
“All powerful and ever-living God, fill this church with your love and give your help to all who call on you in faith. May the power of your word and sacraments in this place bring strength to the people gathered here. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Sprit, one God, for ever and ever.”
Today, that flame of joy ignited in 1956 burns even more brightly as parishioners and clergy join in unity to renew the covenant made many years ago: that the mission and ministry which seeks to serve Christ in all persons may continue to be made manifest in Yalesville. How appropriate, then, that Our Lady of Fatima church, built of Virginian white brick and designed to include numerous elements which reflect mission style architecture, was named to commemorate the Blessed Virgin Mary’s appearances in 1917 to the children of Fatima, Portugal – a theme well known to those who appreciate the Spanish-mission style so prevalent not only in Portugal but also in southwestern USA and Mexico. Mission style is expressed, in part, by charming simplicity, economy of means and durable materials adorned by artistic appointments which lend subtle, understated beauty.
As we behold the church at its half-century milestone, all may appreciate nuances which, like pieces of a mosaic, join naturally to create a complete and satisfying picture of a place set apart in Yalesville for Roman Catholic worship. To the Alpha and Omega – a timeless God of infinite Love – the marking of time is irrelevant. Yet it is the work of the faithful to observe milestones and to post signs along life’s earthly path which bear witness of that which has been our shared experience. While the physical church may be fashioned of materials such as mortar and brick, slate and plaster, mahogany and glass, it was made out of love — a love which is evidenced by the sacrifices, dedication and hard work of all those who made the dream a reality in 1956.
Here, we offer a summary of our parish’s history rather than an exhaustive and highly detailed account. Except for references to pastors and bishops, names of individuals, church organizations and financial commentary are generally omitted so that readers may focus, instead, on the larger picture of that which has been our shared experience as a Christian community in Yalesville. Our Lady of Fatima parish observed its Silver Jubilee Year in 1981 with an eight-day celebration which marked the young parish’s 25th year of ministry since the church’s dedication. To chronicle the milestones which became the building blocks of the church’s history, a book was produced. Although not a pictorial directory, it included copious photographs which, taken together, gives the reader a lively sense of 1981’s gala event. The book also provided an overview of parish history, placing emphasis on manifold and challenging fund-raising efforts and the fulfillment of all financial obligations over a quarter-century’s duration.
Those interested in learning more about this aspect of parish history, as well as the integral and invaluable service of Our Lady of Fatima’s Men’s Club and other church organizations from the parish’s inception, would be well advised to read thoughtfully the account of 1981. Having done so, the reader will be left with a lasting impression of the generosity and sacrifice required by Our Lady of Fatima’s founding families and clergy. The accomplishments are not only impressive, but they speak of a devotion to God and parish life. This dedication endures, providing impetus to address forthrightly challenges presented currently. Great importance is given to family history. We gain a deeper sense of direction and heritage by examining our roots. A recapitulation of parish family history, then, is in order. The Reverend Eugene Moriarty, Pastor of Holy Angels Church in South Meriden, joined like-minded souls in Yalesville who envisioned a mission church to be established in this section of Wallingford (at the time, Yalesville was part of Holy Angels parish).
We must picture ourselves in the early 1950s standing on Hope Hill Road across the street from the present church campus. There we would behold bucolic farmland which was to become the generous gift of prime acreage by Mr. And Mrs. T. Joseph McNally for the purpose of building a Roman Catholic mission church in this rapidly developing area. Above all, the longing for a church home by Catholics dwelling in Wallingford’s west side – a building of significant size and beauty to meet the needs of a growing spiritual flock – was a force which naturally joined with Father Moriarty’s vision for Holy Angels to extend its ministry by building a mission church in Yalesville.
Thus, on January 17, 1954, Archbishop Henry J. O’Brien gave his consent and the vision was on its way to becoming a reality. (As an interesting aside, Father Moriarty had originally chosen the name “Blessed Sacrament” for his parish’s new mission church. However, Archbishop O’Brien decided instead that it should be named “Our Lady of Fatima” in honor of the Marian Year and to commemorate, as mentioned earlier, Mary’s appearances in 1917 to the children of Fatima, Portugal – the first church in the Archdiocese to bear this title).
To capture part of the spirit of those years and days leading up to the dedication ceremony of 1956, one must envision a Yalesville congregation full of expectation – one meeting for Mass at the Yalesville School (Church Street). Indeed, from January 31, 1954 and for over two and a half years, this would be Our Lady of Fatima’s temporary place to gather to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. That expectation intensified on June 12, 1955 when 800 joy-filled parishioners watched Father Moriarty break ground – the advent of the new church’s construction phase.
In the ensuing fall, the Archdiocese determined that the parish’s boundary lines would encompass almost the entire west side of Wallingford from the Cheshire line to North Farms Road and from the Meriden line to the North Haven/Hamden town lines. By May of 1956, the church and wing (a parish hall extended at 90 degrees from the church nave) were nearing completion. Expectation was yielding to the visual fulfillment of a beautiful new church.
We now come full circle to where we began this commentary: the dedication of the new church, August 18, 1956 by the Most Reverend Henry J. O’Brien, D.D., Archbishop of Hartford. Here are some excerpts from the parish history contained in the 25th anniversary book: “Following the laying of the cornerstone, a solemn Mass of Dedication was celebrated by Rev. P. James McNally, C.S. Sp., son of Mr. And Mrs. T. Joseph McNally who donated the land for the church. Fifty priests attended the ceremony as well as civic officials of Meriden and Wallingford.”
“The dedication sermon was delivered by the Right Reverend Monsignor John J. Hayes of Stamford who was chancellor of the Diocese of Hartford when the new church was first planned. Msgr. Hayes said the erection of this country church is a fulfillment of God’s command to the Apostles. ‘Go teach ye all nations and bring the Gospel to every creature.’”
“In his remarks, Archbishop O’Brien said, ‘I wish to congratulate your pastor upon the beautiful church he caused to be erected. In the beginning, I did not realize that Yalesville was such a thriving community, but I was persuaded by Father Moriarty that it possessed a great potential. His courage arose from his faith and confidence in the Parish, and this is a great opportunity for the people to assist their pastor, who is convinced of your spirit of cooperation and has experienced your generosity.’”
From the welcoming main entrance with its covered portico (reminiscent of Spanish mission style), graced above by a rosette window depicting the appearances of Our Lady at Fatima, to the gracious tabernacle in which the Blessed Sacrament was reserved, parishioners knew that they were entering the Lord’s house in Yalesville.
Once inside, the discretely-stenciled mahogany beams above, coupled to the bluestone slate below, added increased anticipation as the eye naturally arrived at what was to be the center of the new church’s Eucharistic celebrations – the austere but aesthetically compelling altar fashioned of veined limestone with cast aluminum symbols, adorned above by a floor-to-ceiling canvas mural of Our Lady of Fatima (a rendering by liturgical artist, Thomas Guidone.) The side walls of the nave were made complete with the 14 Stations of the Cross, created by parishioner George Bonyai, each displaying its respective Latin inscription as prescribed by Father Moriarty. These, in juxtaposition with windows thoughtfully created to flood the nave with warm, rich light, surrounded parishioners as they sat in new mahogany pews for the first time in their new church home.
Beyond the dedication of 1956 With the death of Father Moriarty on November 22, 1959, the Rev. Albert N. Healey was appointed administrator of both Holy Angels Parish and Our Lady of Fatima Mission Church. It was in September of 1960 that Our Lady of Fatima achieved full parish status and received its own resident pastor – the Rev. Edwin B. O’Brien (counselor for Catholic activities at Yale University and director of the Chapel of St. Thomas Moore). Father Gerald A. Monniere, of Holy Angels, was named assistant. One thousand families were now members of the newly established parish.
After renting a house as a temporary residence, Father O’Brien set about the task of drawing up plans for construction of a handsome new rectory – a building also fashioned of Virginian white brick in the “Georgian colonial” style yet naturally joining the architecture of the church in harmonious companionship. The elegant, center hall colonial afforded ample living accommodations for three priests and housekeeper, replete with offices, meeting rooms and garage parking for parish clergy. After several years, the pastor addressed the problem of adequate seating for a growing parish by converting the hall (“church wing”) into permanent worship space. According to the 1981 account: “The stage and meeting area gave way to new mahogany pews, stained glass windows, beams and chandeliers. At the same time, the St. Joseph altar was removed and the nave opened up to the new church wing necessitating extensive interior remodeling. Two additional confessionals at the rear of the wing completed the conversion, which increased the seating capacity to one thousand.”
During Father O’Brien’s pastorship, the parish grew to 4,000 members. Thus, the need for a new Parish Social Center became both obvious and compelling. Father O’Brien’s resourcefulness converted parish pledges to a terminated Archdiocesan high school project into funding for a new parish hall/social center – a facility which, when finished, formed a trilogy of buildings on the parish’s campus, all of which were in architectural harmony one with another. The spacious new Parish Social Center sported a fully-equipped kitchen, stage and numerous amenities both practical and conducive to a vibrant parish’s social, educational and community outreach programs. After the installation of air conditioning equipment in the church and permanent utility poles and electric service for the carnival and parking space, the construction of the existing parish plant was complete. Changes mandated by Vatican II were put into place, including the relocation of the main altar and formation of a Parish Council with supporting committees.
Father O’Brien’s pastorship ended with his death on February 13, 1974. He had led his fledgling new parish through its formative years – to a point that gained Our Lady of Fatima, Yalesville, a much-admired status for its vision, generosity and vibrancy. Effective June 13, 1974, Archbishop John F. Whealon appointed Monsignor James. A. Connelly (former Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Hartford) to succeed Father O’Brien as pastor.
Msgr. Connelly’s warm, well-considered approach quickly gained him the respect and devotion of his parishioners. From the offset, it was clear that he would make sure that the physical plant would be well maintained, enhanced and that the spiritual and, especially, educational needs of the parish fully met.
To this end, a number of notable enhancements to the existing buildings were made, among which: an expansion of the parish center’s kitchen and equipment; expansion of the parish center to include classrooms, offices, library and air conditioning; refurbishment of the church’s interior, replete with physical changes in the sanctuary to address liturgical requirements; the installation of an electronic carillon and, years later, a new church organ installed adjacent to the altar area so that choir, cantors, organist and other musicians could be more directly involved in liturgical celebrations.
During Monsignor’s long and spiritually fruitful pastorship, the parish witnessed much growth in many areas of its active life, both in fellowship and ministry. Parish organizations and the religious education program continued to flourish. (An excerpt from the 1981 account: “The Ladies Guild achieved premier status as the parish organization which renders leadership and support to the parish-oriented activities of a social nature.”) It was a joyful occasion when parishioner Gary Simeone was ordained to the priesthood. Father Simeone celebrated his First Mass with his parish family of Our Lady of Fatima on May 24, 1975.
Outreach under Monsignor’s leadership took a bold and charitable step forward when, in February of 1980, the parish adopted a family of Laotian refugees: Chu Sao Hin, his wife Lai Kin, and their daughters Ly Ly and Mui Mui – a venture in faith marked both by success and love. Monsignor Connelly’s devotion to our Lord and Blessed Mother was both deep and obvious. He mused that it was not by accident that he should have been chosen to be pastor of Our Lady of Fatima – a conviction which, in part, made parish life the center of his attention during his 19 years of unswerving dedication to his spiritual flock.
It was also a blessing both to Monsignor and parish when, in 1980, the Reverend Leo J. Daily retired from his duties as pastor of nearby St. Joseph’s in Meriden and took up residence at Fatima. Father Daily’s seasoned, steady approach to running an active parish church proved invaluable with the passing of years – a subject to which we shall return.
Late in 1992, failing health dictated Monsignor Connelly’s decision to resign as pastor. Tears flooded his cheeks as his customary ecclesiastical speaking voice yielded to a quiver – Monsignor then announced his departure from Fatima. Indeed, his parish family in Yalesville had been the centerpiece of his pastoral vocation – a sentiment made obvious by the expression on parishioners’ faces at the conclusion of his final parish Mass. (After retirement, Monsignor Connelly continued to struggle with the challenges of failing health, dying on March 3, 1998. His body was returned to his beloved parish of Our Lady of Fatima for a Mass of Resurrection – a solemn occasion which touched all present.) His memory lives on, enshrined in the memories of those to whom he ministered. How fitting, then, that the parish’s Religious Education Center was dedicated to him on June 13, 1998.After Monsignor’s resignation as pastor, several months of interim leadership ensued under Father Paul Halovatch, who was then the assistant pastor.
Parish life in more recent times
On July 6, 1993, the Reverend Salvatore F. X. Cavagnuolo was appointed as the church’s new pastor. Father Sal was warmly received by Our Lady of Fatima parishioners, many of whom fondly remembered him from the 1970s when he had served as assistant to Msgr. Connelly. His arrival blessed the parish with a feeling both of homecoming as well as a renewed sense of direction. With his links to the parish’s past but with eyes fixed on the future, Father Sal has led our parish community for many years to the advent of the church’s 50th anniversary of its dedication – an event celebrated in August of 2006.
Father Sal’s native perspicacity, witty charm, devotion to church and family (and golf!) has served him well during his ongoing pastorship. From new roofs and air conditioning replacement, to leaking buried oil tanks and a list of parish maintenance projects too extensive to mention here, this pastor has deftly faced the demands of an aging physical plant with indefatigable energy and resolve. Father Sal’s abilities as a craftsman in many disciplines, wedded to unflagging common sense, continues to serve the parish extraordinarily well.
Though retired and in his 90’s, Father Leo Daily made sure that Father Sal left no stone unturned (or light switch on) when it came to running the parish. Father Daily may sometimes have appeared to be a hard-boiled Irish curmudgeon, but his dedicated pastoral inclinations and one-of-a-kind sense of humor cracked his shell, exposing the yolk of a warm heart and sincere priestly vocation.
In June of 2016, upon Father Sal’s retirement, Our Lady of Fatima welcomed Reverend Robert Landback as its’ Administrator. Fr. Robert was ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood by Archbishop Henry J. Mansell on May 12, 2012. He is the first former Episcopalian priest to be admitted to the Catholic priesthood in our Archdiocese under the Pastoral Provision created by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1980. He is Chaplain of the Archdiocesan chapters of Courage (an international apostolate which ministers to persons with same sex attraction) and EnCourage (which ministers to their family members). Father Robert is himself married and has four grown children.
A year later, June of 2017, Father Robert Landback was appointed as the pastor.
A church is, of course, more than the sum-total of its history. There’s a heartbeat of love which characterizes Our Lady of Fatima parish. This tacit heartbeat is the work of the Holy Spirit in Yalesville. It is made manifest by the prayerful, quiet deeds of those who, through the years, have rejoiced to be part of this church’s liturgical celebrations and ever-expanding ministry. Each Assistant Pastor, Deacon and dedicated lay person has helped pastors, past and present, to build a church made not just of brick, but of God. Each sacrament bestowed naturally intertwines in the lives of all parishioners to form the cement which holds us together as a Christian family in Yalesville.
And so, the parish serves to renew the covenant made at it's dedication – that land once serving as a farm would become the very place to lay the cornerstone of a vibrant, Spirit-led parish church. As Our Lady of Fatima Church looks forward to the coming years of ministry, let us conclude this chapter of parish history as we began, in the words of the Psalmist:
“One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek: To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
That I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord and contemplate his temple.” – Psalm 27, vss. 5,