Christ the Redeemer celebrating 50-year anniversary

Editor’s Note: This article is based largely on an account written by Christ the Redeemer parish members Stanley Kavan and Eleanore Turkington.

“It had been rumored for months, a parish division was inescapable,” Stanley Kavan wrote in a recount of the history of Christ the Redeemer Church. “Despite having doubled the number of Sunday Masses, there was no longer any way to contain the parishioner flow at St. Mary’s. The time had come. In late September, 1966, the Most Rev. Henry J. O’Brien, Archbishop of Hartford, appointed Rev. Richard Toner, a former assistant at St. Mary’s in Branford, to be pastor of Milford’s new parish, Christ the Redeemer.”

The paris was to be formed in Milford’s northwest quadrant, on Oronoque Road, an area that church officials predicted would see residential growth in the future: Archbishop Henry J. O’Brien created Christ the Redeemer parish on Sept. 18, 1966.

Today, marking its 50-year anniversary, Christ the Redeemer is preparing to celebrate the milestone with an anniversary dinner Friday, Sept. 30, from 6 to 10 p.m. at Costa Azzurra Restaurant and an anniversary Mass Sunday, Oct. 2 at 10:30 a.m. at the church.
Getting started
Fifty years ago, as St. Mary’s Church was preparing to split its parish, “It was believed that 450 of St. Mary’s 2,000 families would be affected,” according to Kavan and Turkington’s account.

CCD classes for the new parish were arranged at Lauralton Hall; a Women’s Guild and a Men’s Holy Name Society were organized, trustees were appointed and a lector group organized, and building plans began to form.

“For $100,000, landowner Burton Van Hise sold title to 12 acres and a country house (later to become a rectory), a site cornered by Oronoque and West Rutland roads,” Kavan wrote.

Money came from the archdiocese, and St. Mary’s gave $100,000, plus a loan for the new building. Architect John Handy designed a church and hall, and Joseph Vitale Construction Co. was awarded the building contract. The estimated cost was $211,000.

The first Mass was held at Mathewson Elementary School Sept. 25, 1966, and Masses were held there as the parish awaited its new building.

A ground-breaking for the new church took place Aug. 18, 1968, and the church was dedicated Dec. 13, 1969.
A growing parish
In the 1970s, the parish flourished, Kavan wrote. Into the eighties, the parish kept enlarging.

The 1990s brought the Lexington Green development of 262 homes and started to fulfill that prediction that the northern section of Milford would grow. “From them came many new parishioners,” according to Kavan’s and Turkington’s historical account.

“At its 25-year mark, the church was in its fullest bloom, fiscally sound and its ancillary elements bustling: Home and hospital communion service, Guild bake sales, youth group activities, formation of a monthly Children's Mass and children’s choir and more,” according to Kavan.

A time of disorder followed, however. In 1994 Father Toner was hospitalized and needed  surgery. Father Robert Ladamus was sent from St. Mary’s to oversee Christ the Redeemer, and while Father Toner was expected to return, toward the end of the year he announced his retirement.

Father Ladamus was appointed his successor.

“But within a year’s passing, uneasiness began surfacing about Father Ladamus’ financial stewardship,” Kavan wrote.

A group of parishioners brought matters to the archbishop, and shortly after it was announced that Father Ladamus was being relieved of his duties for medical reasons, the church history notes.

Father John Moskus was appointed to take his place, and things ran smoothly for a time. But in 2002 this newest parish leader faced medical problems and retired.

He was replaced by Father Daniel Connaghan, whose tenure was short: In his third year, facing health concerns and family matters, he received permission to leave his pastorate for an indefinite time, Kavan wrote.

In 2005 Father Connaghan was replaced by Father Thomas Kelly. But the next year Father Kelly was offered a sabbatical to study in Rome. Father Michael DeVito was appointed to serve as temporary administrator until Father Kelly returned. But Father Kelly did not return, again creating a vacancy at the church.

“With Father Kelly opting not to return to this post upon his completion of study, and Father DeVito declining to submit his candidacy to succeed as pastor, preferring instead a position in his former Hartford area so as to be closer to his aging mother, Archbishop Henry Mansell appointed Father Cyriac Malikai,” the church history notes.

Sharon Cappetta, a member of the church council, and Elaine Woody, president of the council, said Father Cyriac brought long-missing stability to the church: They describe his leadership and tenure, in some ways, as a miracle.

Under Father Cyriac’s tenure, the Mabel Saloomey Center was built, largely with money that Mrs. Saloomey left to the church upon her death, creating four classrooms and finally providing space for the parish CCD classes. The parish prospered, united and moved forward.

But once again, health issues attacked the church in 2011. Father Cyriac suffered a serious heart attack, and his parish feared he would leave them.

When Father Cyriac suffered the heart attack — he had collapsed in front of the church one Sunday, well after Mass had ended, and it was good fortune that someone drove by and saw him — “We got together and prayed for his recovery,” said Woody.

The prognosis was grim, but his parishioners “never stopped praying for his recovery,” she said.

When he recovered, “It was a miracle,” Woody said.

Father Cyriac was 69 when he suffered the heart attack, and he could have retired. But he returned. “I want to be serving the people,” he said.

“We were never so happy as when Father came back,” Woody said.

Cappetta and Woody describe him as caring, loving, humble. “He gives us a good example to follow,” Cappetta said.

Kavan wrote: “As the parish marks its own 50th anniversary, 1966 to 2016, it also marks the 10th year of Father Cyriac’s pastorate, a period that has been noteworthy, stable and tranquil.”
Celebrating a parish
Today Christ the Redeemer Church, one of five Catholic churches in Milford, is a parish of 650 families, and it is once again the community that it started as.

“A Catholic needs to go to Mass on Sunday, but here it’s more than that,” said Woody. “There’s the connection with Father Cyriac and the parish.”

“People will sit here after the 10:30 Mass until the lights go off,” Woody said. “They’ll sit here and spend time together.”

With numerous activities and church programs, there is a real sense of involvement. Woody and Cappetta said the parish connection is in some ways a throwback to days gone by, offering time for families to sit together, pray together and then relax and talk to each other.