Fr. Thomas Thorne and Fr. Milan Dimic at the luncheon
On November 5th, St. Emery Church in Fairfield celebrated its 85th anniversary on its patronal feast. Fr. Thomas Thorne, Dean of the newly established Deanery F within the Diocese of Bridgeport, was the main celebrant at the combined English-Hungarian 10 AM Mass.
Recalling the life of St. Imre, Fr. Thorne mentioned that his death on a wild boar hunt is questioned by some historians, who believe that he was really murdered by the still pagan faction. St. Imre (Emery) gave his name to the Americas, since the Italian version of his name is Amerigo, as in Amerigo Vespucci.
Returning to the present, Fr. Thorne mentioned that under the new administrative system, several parishes would be clustered together, but what this entails will become clear only as time goes on.
A delicious lunch followed the Mass in the hall downstairs, starting with stuffed cabbage and continuing with roasted pork loin. Scrumptious desserts closed the dinner “as a matter of course”.
A raffle was held afterwards, with numerous bottles of wine among the prizes.
St. Emery Church, 85 years old
On the occasion of this milestone, it might be appropriate to recall some of the highlights of St. Emery’s history.
In the 1920’s and ‘30’s, Fr. István Csernitzky, Pastor of St. Stephen’s Hungarian church in Bridgeport, found it increasingly difficult to serve the spiritual needs of the growing number of Hungarians scattered throughout Fairfield. Appealing to the bishop of Hartford (the diocese of Bridgeport was founded only in 1953), permission was granted for the erection of the new church of St. Emery (Imre) in Fairfield.
Appointed first Pastor, Franciscan Father Benedek Bíró said the first Mass in a temporary structure on January 1st, 1932, with 547 of the faithful in attendance at two Masses. Church societies mushroomed. By the end of February, plans were completed for the construction of a church, and ground was broken on Easter Sunday. The cornerstone was blessed on July 31st. Meanwhile, the faithful attended Mass at a temporary chapel erected across the street, on Hibiscus Street.
Work proceeded on the church at top speed. By St. Emery’s Day in November, the church and the rectory were complete! They were blessed by the bishop on November 5th. Furnishings were still sparse, but the church was a monument to the work and sacrifice of those 80-100 families who constituted the parishioners and who, in the midst of the Depression, were able to produce the impossible. They were able to burn the 20-year mortgage several years ahead of time, on Labor Day of 1946.
At that time, there were four Sunday Masses, and the great number of children required religious instruction. In 1951, a two-classroom school was built, and Fr. Bíró invited the Daughters of Divine Charity to take over the school. A two-family house was transformed into a convent for them. Debts for those two projects were paid off in two and a half years.
Fr. Bíró died in January of 1952. A statue of St. Francis was set up in front of the church in his memory, and the street next to the church is now named Bíró Street. In 1956, students entered the new, expanded school, and seven years later, the Sisters found a new home in the new convent.
In 1973, St. Emery merged with St. Stephen Church, which was demolished as part of the preparations for the construction of I-95.
The visit of József Cardinal Mindszenty in 1974 was a highlight in the history of St. Emery’s. It is memorialized on a plaque in front of the church and at the street crossing at the end of the block which has been named Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty Square.
During the tenure of Friar Robert Németh, OFM, who was born in Fairfield, six beautiful stained glass windows were acquired from Immaculate Conception Seminary in Troy, NY, depicting various events in the life of St. Francis. Friar Louis Pintye, OFM, who passed away this August, had renovated the church in 2000, for the millennium. And in 2012, St. Emery Church was added to Connecticut’s List of Historic Places.
Having been under Franciscan administration since its inception, St. Emery went over to diocesan administration in 2011. Today, the Pastor is Slovenian-born Fr. Milan Dimic.