After nearly half a century of Masses and 16 years leading the historic Catholic Church in Ridgefield center, Monsignor Laurence Bronkiewicz has announced his retirement as pastor of St. Mary Parish.
He’ll hand over the keys to the church to a new pastor — as yet unnamed — on July 31.
But he’ll continue his work
“I’ll be retiring as a pastor, but I’m not retiring as a priest,” he said. “I’ll remain active here in the Diocese of Bridgeport.
“I’m a priest forever. I’ll work as long as I’m physically able,” Msgr. Bronkiewicz said. “That’s the life of every priest —we’re ordained for life.”
Any plans for retirement after 46 years of preaching?
“I don’t have, I guess, specific plans,” he said. “I’ve been here for 16 years. I came in 2003, in February — I started in the dead of winter,” Msgr. Bronkiewicz said.
He’ll take on “whatever the bishop would like me to do,” he said.
He’s not sure, but expects a new pastor for St. Mary in Ridgefield will be announced by Bishop of Bridgeport Frank Caggiano before or shortly after he retires as pastor.
“I presume the bishop will announce it in June, maybe late June,” he said. “... Late June or early July, that’s my guess.”
“It’ll be somebody already in the diocese,” Msgr. Bronkiewicz added. “That’s a process the bishop will take charge of.”
St. Mary Parish has three priests — in addition to Msgr. Bronkiewicz, parishioners are served by Father Sean Kulacz, and Father Lourduraj Pitchai. They lead at least 18 masses a week — two every weekday, and eight over the weekend.
The parish has one deacon, Bob Salvestrini, and a lay staff that includes a secretary, a receptionist, a coordinator of communication, a director of planning and operations, a director of religious education who has two assistants, a director of music and a director of music for the parish hall.
What is the retiring pastor’s view of state of the Roman Catholic Church?
“I’m rather optimistic about the state of the church. I think the church is doing pretty well, as far as I can tell,” Msgr. Bronkiewicz said.
There are, of course, problems, but the church is dealing with them.
“The abuse crisis,” he said. “...is of concern to all of us within the church and outside the church as well.
“I guess I’m an optimist by nature. I think we’re moving forward and trying to address the issues as they surface.”
Msgr. Bronkiewicz was asked about his time before coming to St. Mary in Ridgefield as the Diocese of Bridgeport’s vicar of the religious — essentially, director of personnel — some of it during years when priests accused of serious misconduct were transferred between parishes.
“I don’t have any thoughts to share at this point,” Msgr. Bronkiewicz said. “My years spent in that work are now two or three decades in the past. I don’t think I want to comment on that period. A lot of it is a matter of record, a lot of it available through publicly available documents.
“The Diocese has already issued one report … and is now preparing a second report that will appear in late June or July.
“The only thing I can say is we did our best at the time,” Msgr. Bronkiewicz said, “and that I think the Diocese is continuing to do it best to address any allegations that surface, and to reach out to victims.”
Msgr. Bronkiewicz is leaving St. .Mary Parish as it is a few years into a building project that will rejuvenate and expand its historic church building on Catoonah Street. It’ll take a little longer than originally envisioned, but he’s optimistic about the plan.
The three stages are “renovation of the interior,” construction of a “meeting and greeting space,” and “probably a couple of years later, expansion of the church,” he said.
“I feel confident that it will go forward. However, we will not be able to begin the interior renovation until January of 2020. It took longer to get the approvals than we anticipated...
“We needed the interior of the church to do weddings. It runs into wedding season. The church is the only place we’ll do the weddings.”
Does the pastor have a parting thoughts for his parish of 16 years?
“I’m just very grateful for the experience of having been the pastor here,” Msgr. Bronkiewicz said. “I’ve certainly enjoyed my time in Ridgefield.
“I came here under rather challenging circumstances. Despite the circumstances that greeted me when I arrived, the parish has moved forward and is a very vibrant and wonderful community of people — men, women and children — and I’ve certainly enjoyed being their leader, their pastor, for the last 16 years,” Msgr. Bronkiewicz said.
“And I certainly wish my successor the very best, as the Diocese prepares to appoint someone to succeed me.”