Category Archives: religion

Remembering Carol Mata

Longtime Westporter Carol Mata died last week, at 73.

She was an entrepreneur, starting a doll-making business in Peru, and an Ecuadorean handcraft store in Westport called El Rondador. Carol also managed many rental properties. 

She was a host mother to many foreign exchange students throughout the years, and an adopted mother and grandmother by countless people around the world. 

She was an accomplished entertainer, party organizer and self-taught chef. She welcomed hundreds of people into her home with warmth, elegance and epicurean treats. 

Carol was also deeply involved in Westport activities. Her daughter — Staples High School art teacher Angela Simpson — sends along this remembrance:

Last week, Westport and the greater community lost a humble and generous servant. Carol Mata, a resident of Westport for approximately 50 of her 73 years, passed away peacefully but unexpectedly in her sleep.

Carol Mata

Carol’s generosity extended beyond her kindness to her family. She dedicated her time and talents to the Westport Woman’s Club (in particular the Yankee Doodle Fair), ran Fairfield Prep annual auctions, fundraised for Staples marching band uniforms, and always opened her pocketbook to support charities, especially Al’s Angels and Caroline House.

She was a fixture at St. Matthew’s Church in Norwalk, where she served as a eucharistic minister, delivered home-cooked meals to those in need, and assisted with accounting and event planning.

She also served for years as a CCD instructor at Assumption Church in Westport. She took her lesson planning very seriously, and was delighted to have one of her own grandchildren in her class.

Carol’s philanthropy extended outside Fairfield County, and even outside the country, but her greatest gift was her genuine care for all people. She did so much for so many, and never expected recognition.

Carol was a breast cancer survivor, and understood the importance of cherishing family and friends. From Carol you could count on original, personalized Christmas cards, along with her signature “Christmas Coffee Can Cake,” heartfelt and handwritten thank-you notes, and multi-course gourmet meals served from chafing dishes, always accompanied by beautiful floral arrangement.

Carol will be missed by many. But the many organizations and individuals that she touched are the better for her efforts.

Rev. Heather Sinclair Takes The Methodist Church Pulpit

She’s been the United Methodist Church pastor for a bit over a month. But Rev. Heather Sinclair has already participated in one of Westport’s special religious observances.

In late July, she led the ecumenical Sunday morning service at Compo Beach.

The weather was perfect. Over 100 people came.

Meanwhile, just around the jetty, the Westport Weston Family Y held its 40th annual Point to Point Swim.

At the end of the service, when Sinclair asked everyone to form a circle and sing the closing benediction, she noticed a few newcomers. Point to Point swimmers — in bathing suits and towels — had joined the group.

It was a quintessential Westport moment. And — no offense to Sinclair’s previous postings — it wasn’t anything she’d seen in Greenwich, Shelton or Trumbull.

Rev. Heather Sinclair is still settling in to her new office.

Though her pastoral career has been spent in Fairfield County, Sinclair is a Massachusetts native (Westford). She entered Colgate University planning to study medicine.

But a series of events — she took religion classes, got involved in campus church groups, and “did not do well in biology and chemistry” — culminated in her chaplain mentor encouraging her to look at the ministry.

She chose Yale Divinity School because of its diverse student population.

“I wanted to go somewhere not specifically Methodist,” Sinclair notes. She appreciates Yale’s “deep academic study as a springboard for pastoral ministry.”

She loved working in Trumbull, Shelton and — for the past 5 years — the First United Methodist Church in Greenwich. But when Rev. Ed Horne announced his retirement after 16 years in Westport, she relished the opportunity to move.

From her work in Fairfield County, Sinclair knew the church here was “open and welcoming for families, kids and people of all ages. The congregation is vital, strong and active.”

She also knew that — like all churches — it’s involved in an ongoing search to “figure out its place in the community, and the world.”

She had long admired Horne’s “voice for justice, and his pastoral manner.” It fit well with her own calling.

The United Methodist Church on Weston Road.

Now that Sinclair is here, she has found United Methodist to be indeed a welcoming place.

“They’ve embraced my family,” she says — her husband, an attorney in Fairfield who she met at Colgate, and their 10- and 8-year-old girls.

She is still exploring exactly how she’ll build on Horne’s foundation. “We’ll see what God has in store for us,” she says.

Sinclair says her passion is “connecting the church and community. Finding ways to work together — no matter what our religious backgrounds — is important. We’ll always be looking at how to bring hope and healing to the community.”

Sinclair knows that Westport has a strong interfaith clergy council. “I’m excited to explore it all,” she says. “We’re at a pivotal time, a key point for religious communities to speak out about justice and hope, and be a force for change in the world.”

Her style is “collaborative and relaxed. I believe in a cooperative ministry, one that celebrates a diversity of gifts.”

The church she now leads has a long history in Westport. But its current building on Weston Road is young enough so that some congregants were here when the cornerstone was laid in 1967. And new members join all the time.

Sinclair is still getting acclimated to Westport. She’s been to the Hall Family concert at the Levitt Pavilion — they’re congregants — and has hung out at Starbucks.

She “tags along” as her husband and daughters sail. (He’s got a 40-foot racing sloop.) In her free time Sinclair enjoys cooking, yoga, and finding fun things to do with her girls.

But, she notes, “I’m still unpacking boxes!”

With a few pauses, of course, to do things like lead a Sunday morning beach service for everyone who shows up.

Even those in bathing suits and towels.

Unsung Hero #60

Andrew Colabella is a big fan of Lizzy Feeley.

No — make that a HUGE fan.

He writes:

Lizzy demonstrates the qualities of a true leader, and an ability to make others smile while positively affecting their lives.

She started her tireless efforts on holidays and weekends with St. Luke’s Youth Group and Grace Community Church in 8th grade.

She volunteered to clean up the yard of a family who recently lost their father. She felt fulfilled, and vowed to continue.

When Lizzy entered Staples she spent weekends, holidays and nights through St. Luke’s and Grace Community Church working on many different projects.

Lizzy Feeley

But Lizzy wanted to do more — to break the bubble, go beyond Westport into the  real world and help those not as fortunate. She lights up those in a dark and low place, stuck and in need of help.

Lizzy started at the Bridgeport Rescue Mission, serving hot meals to the homeless and helping put together a plan to serve people in its rehabilitation program. She also volunteered with “Kid Power,” tutoring 1st graders.

Lizzy has made a strong impact on over 100 youths and adults — those in need of help, who felt lonely and not special. Lizzy paid it forward, and then some.

Lizzy also joined the Tim Tebow Foundation, focused mostly on people with special needs. For the past 2 years Lizzy volunteered at the “Night To Shine” prom, doing teenagers’ hair and makeup, allowing them to enjoy a special event.

Lizzy graduated early, to get a head start on her degree in comprehensive special education at Norwalk Community College. She is ahead of schedule to enter the University of Connecticut, where she will earn her bachelors degree before turning 21.

As an RTM member, I had the pleasure of meeting Lizzy at a Board of Education meeting on a cold Monday night. She had midterms the the next day, but spoke on behalf of 5 girls. She was protecting the vulnerable, and advocating for those who could not defend themselves after being ostracized by peers.

I have never met a young teenager like Lizzy, who turned into a young adult with such dedication, perseverance, passion, creativity and integrity,

Lizzy has given back since 8th grade. Now let’s give her the push to do more — and give recognition of her many hundred hours of community service to her town and the entire county.

Done! Congratulations, Lizzy Feeley — you’re this week’s Unsung Hero!

Damn! I’m Sure I Put That Time Capsule Somewhere Around Here …

Those pesky time capsules.

We keep burying them. And keep forgetting where they are.

It happened a few years ago with Greens Farms Elementary School.

Now it’s Saugatuck Congregational Church’s turn.

In 1866 a time capsule was buried under the cornerstone of their then-new Sunday school building. The church was located across the Post Road, and up the hill from where it is now — approximately where the gas station and adjacent bank are, near South Compo Road.

Saugatuck Congregational Church, at its original site.

In 1950 the church was moved — v-e-r-y slowly — across the street, to its current location by Myrtle Avenue. At the same time the school building was relocated to Imperial Avenue, where it created what is now Bedford Hall at the Westport Woman’s Club.

In the 1950s, Life Magazine ran photos of Bedford Hall being moved from the Post Road to Imperial Avenue.

The cornerstone was not unearthed during the move. No one seems to know what happened to it.

Now — 68 years later — the Westport Historical Society is on the case.

If you have any idea of the whereabouts of the Saugatuck Church cornerstone — or hey, any other in town — email info@westporthistory.org.

And for God’s sake, the next time you bury a time capsule, leave detailed instructions!

Historical Society Shines A Light On Westport’s Troubled Past

Iron shackles. Burned timbers. “Negro child.”

They’re not the usual things you see at the Westport Historical Society.

But this is not the usual WHS exhibit.

Slave shackles, on exhibit at the Westport Historical Society.

“Remembered: The History of African Americans in Westport” opened in May. It’s one of the most creative and compelling shows ever mounted at Wheeler House. (Which, the exhibit notes, sits across Avery Place from a building that may have been built by slaves.)

It’s also one of the most important.

I attended the opening reception. It was packed. I talked with people who recalled some of the important events, like Martin Luther King’s visit to Temple Israel, and the fight over bringing Bridgeport students to Westport through Project Concern.

But it was too crowded to really see the artifacts and photos, or read the texts.

So the other day I returned. The Sheffer Gallery was quiet. I had time to study the exhibit.

And to think.

I learned a lot. I’m a Westport native and lifelong New Englander. But I never knew, for example, that slavery was not fully abolished in Connecticut until 1848. (The decades-long process spared white farmers the loss of free labor while they were still alive.)

Some of Westport’s biggest names — Coley, Nash, Jesup — were slave-owners. The property deeds — as in, these human beings were their property — are right there, for all to see.

A 1780 payment voucher for a black patriot soldier who bought his freedom, and immediately enlisted.

We see too a recreated hearth, from a Clapboard Hill home. It’s cramped and dark — and it’s where a young slave girl might have slept.

The reconstruction of sleeping quarters in a crawl space, from a Clapboard Hill Road home.

I did not know that black Westporters fought for the Union in the  Civil War. Nor did I know that an unknown number of slaves are buried in unmarked graves in Greens Farms Church’s lower cemetery.

I did know — on some level — that African Americans have a long history here. But I had not thought about what it meant for them to work on our docks, in our homes, or at our farms.

Black Westporters were domestics, chauffeurs and seamstresses. But they were also, the exhibit notes, teachers, artists, physicians, activists and freedom fighters.

The exhibit includes a 1920s painting by J. Clinton Shepherd, “The Waffle Shoppe.” It may well be based on an actual restaurant on Main Street.

In the 1920s and ’30s, the Great Migration drew millions of African Americans north. Westport — offering work on farms and estates — was one destination. Black families lived on the Post Road, Bay Street — and 22 1/2 Main Street.

I have known for years that that address — set back in an alley that later became Bobby Q’s restaurant — was the site of a boardinghouse, where dozens of African Americans lived.

I knew that in 1950, it burned to the ground. Arson was suspected.

Photos and text about 22 1/2 Main Street.

But until the WHS exhibit, I did not know that a few months earlier, black Westporters had asked to be considered for spots at Hales Court, where low-cost homes were soon to be built. The Westport Housing Authority grudgingly agreed — but only after veterans, and others “with more pressing needs,” were accommodated.

Was that a cause for the fire? The exhibit strongly suggests so.

(Nearly 70 years later, construction at the old Bobby Q’s has revealed charred timbers — vivid testimony of that long-ago tragedy. It’s worth a look.)

I have long been fascinated by this photo, of one African American standing apart from everyone else in the Shercrow School photo. The WHS exhibit gives her a name — Anna Simms — and notes that she may have been a student or teacher.

The exhibit pays homage to African Americans like Drs. Albert and Jean Beasley, beloved pediatricians; Martin and Judy Hamer, and Leroy and Venora Ellis, longtime civic volunteers, and educator Cliff Barton.

It also cites the contributions of white Westporters like Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein (arrested with Dr. King in St. Augustine, Florida); Board of Education chair Joan Schine, who fought for Project Concern, and artists Tracy Sugarman and Roe Halper, staunch supporters of the civil rights movement.

Roe Halper presents woodcuts to Coretta Scott King. The civil rights leader’s wife autographed this photo. The artwork was displayed in the Kings’ Atlanta home for many years.

But ultimately, “Remembered” remembers the largely forgotten men, women and children who helped shape and grow our town. Some came freely. Others did not. All were, in some way, Westporters.

In the foyer outside the exhibit, a stark wall serves as a final reminder of the African Americans who lived quietly here, long ago.

It lists the 241 slaves, and 19 free blacks, found in the Green’s Farms Congregational Church record books between 1742 and 1822. Most were listed only by first names: Fortune. Quash. Samson.

Some had no names at all. They are called only “Negro Child,” or “Negro Infant.”

The wall does not carry the names of all the white people listed in the church books during those 80 years. Many are well known to us, centuries later.

And most of them, the exhibit notes, owned the men, women and children who are now honored on that wall.

(For more information on “Remembered: The History of African Americans in Westport,” click here. The Westport Historical Society, at 25 Avery Place, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for students and seniors. Members and children 10 and under are free.)

(WHS is also memorializing the names of over 200 Westport slaves, through bricks in the brickwalk. The $20 cost covers the brick and installation. To order, click here.)

In 1964, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King spoke at the 5th anniversary of the dedication of Temple Israel. He autographed this program.

Pic Of The Day #446

Christ and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church cemetery, Kings Highway North (Photo/Peter Tulupman)

Pic Of The Day #434

Greens Farms Congregational Church steeple (Drone photo/Jack Feuer)

Unsung Hero #51

Last month, scores of admirers from 2 churches joined to honor Sister Maureen Fleming.

Sister Maureen Fleming

The occasion was 60 years of religious service. And what service the energetic 79-year-old nun has provided!

First at Assumption, then at St. Luke, Sister Maureen has run many ministries, and all of the funerals.

Her official title is coordinator of pastoral outreach. But she does much, much more.

Nanette Buziak toasted her by saying:

Thank you for enriching our lives in so many ways. You are a good friend and confidante to us all, as we face various points along our spiritual journeys.

From hosting Seder dinners before first communion, to running our Harvest Fair and annual raffle; from leading Mosaics and New Horizons, as well as our parish outreach ministry, you truly live your faith. You exemplify 60 years of religious life better than anyone we know.

She is an advocate for women’s and children’s rights, education and the fight against poverty. As an NGO registered with the United Nations she participates in lectures and conferences dealing with  women’s and children’s justice issues, especially human trafficking.

From 1995 to 2005 Sister Maureen was director of Caroline House, the literacy center for immigrant women in Bridgeport that was started by her order.

Two years ago, Fairfield University honored Sister Maureen with an honorary doctorate.

Oh, yeah: She met Pope Francis in Washington, DC. She knows all the good people.

And now Westport knows all about this week’s Unsung Hero.

Pics Of The Day #400

Talented Bridgeport artist Cleiton Ventura painted this mural, at Long Lots Elementary School. He worked on it with assistance from 5th graders.

He also painted this, at the newly opened Chabad of Westport — the former Three Bears restaurant.

The ABCs of “06880”

Last summer, Shelly Welfeld’s mother passed away.

She sought solace in morning prayers at Beit Chaverim synagogue. Then she’d walk down the Post Road, along Riverside Avenue and downtown.

Along the way, Shelly noticed various objects that looked like letters. She took photos — and soon had enough to complete the alphabet.

Out of Shelly’s mourning came a creative and gorgeous collage:

(Photo collage by Shelly Welfeld)

It’s so beautiful, I asked Shelly to share it here.

And so much fun, we came up with a great contest idea.

“06880” readers: Identify the locations for all 26 “letters.” The first correct answer wins a $50 gift certificate, generously donated by The ‘Port restaurant. (HINT: One of the images above comes from the National Hall building.)

Email your entries to dwoog@optonline.net. Deadline is noon on Wednesday, May 23. If no one gets all 26, the person with the most correct answers wins. The decision of the judges (Shelly and I) is final.

Get to work, “06880” readers. The answers are right there, under — and above — your noses.