Ahead of diocesan synod, Bridgeport bishop returns his residence to seminary

Bishop Frank Caggiano, left, talks with members of the Knights of Columbus following Caggiano's September 2013 installation Mass at St. Theresa Church in Trumbull, Conn. (CNS/Fairfield County Catholic/Amy Mortensen)

As part of a series of diocesan changes, the bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., announced Tuesday plans to repurpose his nearly 9,000-square-foot home and possibly relocate his diocesan offices but said he will leave solutions to larger pastoral questions to Fairfield County's first synod in 32 years.

In a "state of the diocese" address at All Saints Catholic School in Norwalk, Bishop Frank Caggiano discussed current administrative challenges ($32 million in diocesan debt), progresses (the 2014 fiscal year is expected become the first in many years ending without a deficit) and future plans (diocesan reorganization).

"I need you to know all of the facts because we are family and we are all in this together," he told the audience of more than 500 lay leaders and clergy, 350 of whom are synod delegates.

As for pastoral challenges -- such as declines in sacraments and Mass attendance (about 80,000 of 470,000 Fairfield County Catholics attend Mass weekly) and fortifying Catholic schools and enrollment -- Caggiano mainly deferred to the diocese's fourth synod to find solutions.

The yearlong strategic planning process opens Sept. 19 and will focus on four themes: empower the young church; build up communities of faith; foster evangelical outreach; and promote works of charity and justice.

In order to assist the synod, Caggiano likened the work before the diocese in the next year, ensuring its processes and procedures reflect best practices, to checking the foundation of the house before beginning to build upon it.

"Leadership needs to lead by example before others can follow. And therefore before any other institution is going to undergo change, I think the diocese has to go first," he said.

The metaphor met reality as Caggiano announced he will return his current residence to its original purpose as St. John Fisher Seminary. 

Bishops' residences have come under scrutiny in the past year, particularly in Newark, N.J., and Atlanta, as some Catholics have come to expect their local shepherds to mirror Pope Francis by choosing more modest living quarters.

Repurposing his 8,900-square-foot Trumbull home has been a priority since Caggiano arrived in the diocese in September 2013. Two weeks after his installation, he received a letter from a man asking, "How do you justify living in a house as big as you do?"

"And I wrote back to him," Caggiano told NCR in April, "and I said to him, 'I'm brand new. I need to discern an appropriate use of this house.' Because I can clearly say that for me to have it as my residence the way it is makes me very uncomfortable."

[Related: "New Bridgeport bishop reaches out through simplicity, dialogue"]

While the home has undergone renovations in recent years, the bishop told the audience in order to house the seminary, it will require an extension of additional bedrooms, bathrooms and a chapel. In 2013, the diocese saw nine enter into the first year of priestly formation at St. John Fisher and eight men ordained, up from just two in 2009. 

The project -- still pending city and canonical approval -- would cost about $2.2 million, roughly half of the estimated repairs for the current seminary building in Stamford. Options for that facility include either fundraising to cover the costs or to turn them over to a nearby high school. As for the new seminary, Caggiano plans to maintain an apartment on the home's second floor.

"So we're taking a building that has one purpose, we're making it multipurpose, and I would have the added benefit to being a formational presence to the seminarians who are going to be living there," he told NCR earlier this year.

In addition to relocating the seminary, Caggiano said during his "state of the diocese" -- which he intends to make an annual event -- he has considered a move of the diocese's main offices, the Catholic Center, to downtown Bridgeport. At 60,000 square feet, he called the current space at Jewett Avenue "a maze" that faces maintenance costs that could reach into the millions. A task force is expected to report by the end of the year on the viability of a move and possible sale of the current building.

Other highlights of the "state of the diocese":

  • The Catholic Center is working to create a mission statement and is in process of reorganizing to a secretariat governing system of six working groups addressing areas such as strategic planning, education and administration.
  • Current debts total $32 million, largely in intermediate and long-term liability. The diocese expects fiscal year 2014 will end without a deficit and anticipates cutting operational costs by $500,000 for the 2015 fiscal year.
  • The annual bishop's appeal has raised $11 million and is projected to raise another $500,000 by year's end; in addition, the diocese will look to retool the appeal to grow giving beyond the current 20 percent of Catholics.
  • Catholic schools face $14.6 million in operational debt to the diocese (largely in past medical and property insurance premiums); for the first time in several years, the Faith in the Future fund will pay a dividend ($925,000) to Catholic education, and the diocese will call for state assistance for its schools.
  • Efforts are ongoing to re-promulgate all diocesan safe environment policies.
  • In November, an app will launch providing Mass schedules and other parish and diocesan information.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is broewe@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here