Less than hundred years ago the Catholic Church in American was a missionary church. To serve the families of the Stratfield section of Fairfield, Our Lady of the Assumption parish began its history as a mission from St. Thomas Parish of the center section of Fairfield. St. Thomas itself had become a parish only in 1876 after years as a mission of St. Augustine’s in Bridgeport. The pastor of St. Thomas, Rev. William J. Blake, initiated the mission to Stratfield, and celebrated the first Mass in August, 1921, at the home of Mr. and Mrs. James Byrnes of Buena Vista Road. The mission of Our Lady of the Assumption was formally organized on January 31, 1922.
One year later, Assumption became a parish of its own with a resident pastor, Rev. John A. Sullivan. Father Sullivan estimated that in 1923 there were more than 90 men and 110 women in the parish with an additional 150 men and 1715 women in the Tunxis Hill area of Fairfield. In 1926 Rev. Thomas B. Gloster became pastor of Assumption and soon established a mission to the Tunxis Hill area under the protection of the Holy Family. While Father Sullivan had served the community from a two-family house on North Avenue, Father Gloster saw the need for a Rectory and in 1926 purchased the home and property at the intersection of Stratfield Road and Querida Street for this purpose. Records for the roaring twenties are limited but do reveal a steady influx of Catholics into the area. In 1931, Father Gloster estimated there were close to 1,200 Catholics between Assumption Parish and the Holy Family mission.
Despite the suffering brought by the great depression, the parish continued to grow through the decade of the 1930s and experienced two significant and lasting changes. In 1938, the Holy Family mission became a parish of its own, reducing Assumption to about 650 parishioners. In the next year, the new pastor, the Rev. Robert Leo Christopher, began construction of the beautiful church that would become the center of parish worship for generations to come.
Almost immediately after he became pastor on June 15, 1939, Father Christopher launched the pledge drive for the new church building and raised over $20,000 an enormous sum in those days. The new building was completed within a year at a total cost of about $75,000 with the balance of the cost being financed by a mortgage for $52,000, which was held by St. Bernanrd and St. Lawrence cemetery of New Haven at a rate of 3.5%. The builder was the E&F Construction Co. of Bridgeport whose owner, Philip Epifano, had been a parishioner since 1929. The architect was Gerald Phelan of the Bridgeport firm of Fletcher Thompson.
The church was built in the Norman Gothic style so popular at the time. According to a history of the parish written in 1958, it was build of granite quarried in the neighborhood of the church. The tower, surmounted by a cross of hand-wrought iron, the beautiful rose window over the choir loft, the altar of delicately veined Botticino marble, and the tabernacle of solid sculptured bronze can still be viewed today. The church was officially dedicated with a Solemn High mass on February 4, 1940.
The parish continued to grow through the war years as Connecticut, and the Bridgeport area particularly, became the arsenal of America. The years just after the war brought some new developments. A Ladies’ Guild, a center of parish social activity for years to come, was formed in 1947. In 1948, three nuns of the Order of Saint Dominic arrived to take charge of the religious education of the parish children. A house adjacent to the church was remodeled into a convent with its own chapel. It may also have been during this period that the parish was assigned a second priest, with the first curate being Rev. Vincent O’Connor, a generous, kind and well-liked priest who served the parish from 1945 through 1959.
During the 1950s, Fairfield’s growth mirrored that of Bridgeport and the growth of bedroom communities of New York City, and growth at Our Lady of the Assumption mirrored that of Fairfield. There was a need for new services and facilities. In 1951, 5he parish built a church hall for teaching ad parish activities, and three years later this served as a schoolhouse for the first 80 students to be enrolled in Our Lady of the Assumption School. Finally, in September, 1955, a new 16-room parochial school building opened serving 250 students in grades 1-3; and in 1961 the school graduated its first of many classes. Over the years, the Dominican sisters of Newburgh provided outstanding principals and teachers such as Sister Helen Michael, the first principal, Sister Anne Cecilia, and Sister Mary Rita, who after a brief appointment in 1969 returned in 1979 to guide the school until 1996. Noteworthy as well are Sister Mary Denise and Miss Patricia Brennan whose careers at Assumption are representative of all the religious and laity who have served the children of the parish so well over the years.
By 1957, the parish had become so large, that the mission established a short while before in Easton formally became a separate parish with its own pastor. Father Christopher supervised the construction of Notre Dame’s church in Easton before turning over to his successor. Father Christopher passed away on September 17, 1958 at the age of 62. A dedication written at the time summed up his career as a priest: A beautiful, complete parish plant he built for us, but much more he gave us in spiritual guidance and kindly concern for our welfare. His abiding humility and quiet humor endeared him to us all, beyond measure.
In 1960, Msgr. Thomas F. Henahan became pastor after serving in this capacity at Holy Family in Fairfield and St. Ambrose in Bridgeport. Deeply rooted in the tradition and magisterium of the Church, he implemented the changes called for in the Second Vatican Council in a way that ushered in the new but respected the old. The Second Vatican Council called for both liturgical changes and greater participation of the laity in the life of the Church. As an example of the former, priests began facing the congregation while saying the Mass in English and accepting the offertory gifts from the participants. As regard to the latter, Msgr. Henahan established a Parish Advisory Council in the 1960s composed of elected representatives of the laity who offered advice and guidance to the pastor. In addition, lay involvement was demonstrated by the ordination of the parish’s first permanent Deacon, George Saulnier. In 1978, George and his wife Elizabeth organized the Emmaus retreat movement for the teenagers of the parish. Within a few years Emmaus has spread throughout the Diocese and beyond.
Msgr. Henahan served over 20 years in the parish, overseeing many changes including the building of the Rectory at its current location. He celebrated his 50th anniversary as a priest in 1980, retired in 1981, and resided in his beloved parish until illness forced him to move to St. Joseph’s Manor. Always known for his devotion to the Blessed Mother, he served Our Lady of the Assumption with dignity touched by humor.
In 1981, Rev. William J. Conklin succeeded Msgr. Henahan as pastor after serving 10 years as pastor of St. Joseph’s in Shelton. In 1983, Father Conklin called upon the parish to assist him in renovating our church properties. Many renovations took place in the Church, Rectory and parish hall buildings. However, this project saddled the church with a tremendous debt which was a constant source of concern for Fr. Conklin until his death in September of 1992.
In 1992, Msgr. Blase Gintoli became the pastor of Assumption. Born and raised in Bridgeport, he was in the first graduating class of Notre Dame High School. He came to Assumption after serving as pastor of Holy Rosary Parish in Bridgeport. After 18 years as our pastor , Mgsr. Gintoli retired to warmer weather in Florida in January 2011. Over 500 parishioners, friends and family attended Msgr. Gintioli’s final Mass and Retirement reception.
In 2011, Rev. J Barry Furey was a priest for almost 40 years, ordained in 1971 by then-Bishop Curtis. Originally, he came from New Jersey, and attended Seton Hall and St. Francis College in PA where he meet and became friends with another student, Blase Gintoli. Rev. J Barry Furey was pastor for 23 years before he came to Assumption Church in February 2011 as the newly appointed pastor. Fr. Barry loved music and love to sing. Parishioners were honored to hear Fr. Barry accompany his sermon with a song, Thank You Lord, which he wrote. Sadly, Fr. Barry unexpectly, passed away while on vacation on June 27, 2012.
In 2012, Following the untimely death of Fr. J. Barry Furey, the Rev. William M. Quinlan was appointed administrator of Our Lady the Assumption Parish in August of 2012. Fr. Quinlan was born in the Bronx, NY. He earned his BA from Manhattan College and his J.D from Yeshiva School of Law. After several years practicing law, he finally answered a long heard call to the priesthood. Fr. Quinlan was ordained in 1999 by Bishop Edward Egan, later to become Cardinal Egan. He went on to attend Catholic University in Washington D.C. where he earned his JCL. In addition to being a Judge on the diocesan Tribunal, Fr. Quinlan has served in several parishes throughout the diocese. In July of 2014, he was named pastor of St. Gabriel Parish in Stamford.
In 2014, Rev. Peter Cipriani became the new pastor of Assumption. He grew up in Suffern NY with two older brothers in a Catholic household. He attended Fordham University and later Clemson University for his graduate degree. Upon graduation, he taught high school for several years. After several years teaching at Notre Dame High School in Fairfield, he entered St. John Fisher Seminary. He attended major seminary at the North American Pontifical College in Rome. Fr. Cipriani was ordained by Bishop William Lori in 2004. After being ordained served as chaplain to Notre Dame High School until July of 2014 when he was named Pastor of Assumption Parish.