Father Joseph Prince to retire from the pulpit at St. Elizabeth’s in Ridgefield

RIDGEFIELD — After 25 years as pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton and 50 years in the priesthood, Father Joseph Prince is hanging up his robe.

The parish will hold a celebration on Oct. 24 to commemorate Prince’s dual anniversaries and acknowledge his lifelong service to the church.

Prince’s decision to join the priesthood was inspired by having a number of uncles and cousins who were also priests. After losing his father at the age of 10, Prince was encouraged by his maternal grandfather to follow in his relatives’ footsteps.

He was ordained in Coimbatore, India in 1971 at the age of 27. After a few years as an associate he planned to travel to Manila to earn a degree in mass media communications.

“Unfortunately at the time there were a lot of problems in the Philippines, so I couldn’t get a visa,” Prince recalled. Two weeks later, he was accepted to study abroad in America. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Prince went to Fairfield University in September 1975 with $100 in his pocket but no place to work or stay. At the time, the dean of the school, Father Thomas Burke, arranged for Prince to live with a group of Jesuits until he found permanent housing.

“They never charged me a penny,” Prince said.

Prince was eventually accepted into St. Andrew’s Church in Bridgeport and served there for three months while attending school full time. He was then transferred to St. Mary Parish in Ridgefield, and regards the four years he spent there as “the most happy time.”

“They had five priests in the rectory and all of us were really good friends — it was a nice home for the priests,” Prince recalled. “The people were extremely kind to me, and some of them are now here in my parish” at St. Elizabeth Seton.

Prince served in many of Fairfield County’s Catholic churches, preaching from the pulpits of St. Peter’s in Danbury, St. Rosa Lima in Newtown and St. Leo’s and St. Gabriel’s in Stamford. In 1996 his focus returned to Ridgefield after he learned Father Francis Medynski was retiring.

Medynski founded St. Elizabeth’s in 1976 after parishioners from St. Mary’s showed interest in establishing another parish in the Ridgebury district. He also interviewed Prince before he transferred to St. Mary’s, as fate would have it.

Of the 13 priests who applied to succeed Medynski, Prince was chosen to lead the parish. “I was thrilled,” he said. “It was just incredible joy for me to come back to Ridgefield.”

Over the next 25 years Prince channeled the spirit of St. Elizabeth’s to inspire good inside and outside the parish. Neither would’ve been accomplished without the support of the congregation, he said.

In 2006 St. Elizabeth’s completed a $3.5 million renovation of its church building and added an addition for office space and classrooms. In 2015 it received donations from a widowed parishioner, which were used to install stained-glass windows. The project cost almost $250,000, Prince said.

Moreover, Prince’s tenure enabled him to officiate multiple sacraments for dozens of parishioners who grew up in St. Elizabeth’s. Just last week he blessed the marriage of two young parishioners; he had previously completed three sacraments with the bride.

“I baptized her, gave her First Communion and confirmed her,” he said. “It’s a family affair ... (and) I am profoundly grateful, honored and humbled by the love and affirmation of my ministry and priesthood in this parish.”

Prince prays this generosity will continue in support of St. Elizabeth’s new pastor, who will take over the pulpit after Dec. 31.

“I’m going to miss being with my people and celebrating the sacraments,” he said. “I want to ask them to pray for me so I can continue (serving them) in one way or another, wherever I am going to be.”

Prince’s anniversary celebration begins with a mass at 11:30 a.m. followed by a reception in McKeon Hall from 1 to 4 p.m. To make a reservation, call 203-730-6660.