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Tag Archives: St. Luke Church
John F. Suggs is a longtime Westporter, regular “06880” reader and former Jesuit. He is also passionate about keeping Jean Donovan’s memory alive. John writes:
Forty years ago today, 4 U.S. churchwomen were kidnaped, tortured, raped and killed in a remote section of El Salvador. They were targeted for openly living with and caring for the poor in the midst of El Salvador’s bloody civil war.
According to a 1993 United Nations Security Council report, the women were ordered killed by the US-trained and funded Salvadorian military, which covered up their involvement in the murders and obstructed initial investigations.
Three of the churchwomen were Catholic nuns. The fourth — Jean Donovan — was a 27-year-old lay Catholic volunteer who grew up in Westport.
In many ways, Jean was like any other Westport kid. She marched in the annual Memorial Day parade with her Girl Scout toop, made her first communion at Assumption Church and her confirmation at St. Luke.
A member of the Staples High School class of 1971, she played on the basketball and field hockey teams. An accomplished equestrian at Westport’s Fiddle Horse Farm, Jean managed the tack room after school and supervised youngsters assigned to work in the stables.
She was the quintessential Westport girl next door.
Until she wasn’t.
Only 6 years after graduating from Staples, after finishing grad school and starting as an account executive at Arthur Andersen, Jean put her career on hold to pursue something radically different.
She applied for a volunteer position with the Catholic Maryknoll Lay Mission. The program required a 2-year commitment living with and serving an impoverished community in El Salvador.
Accepted into the program, Jean quit her job, to begin training and coursework.
Today it is common for young Westporters to go on service or mission trips. Some expect a transformational experience. Others pad their resumes to help get into competitive colleges.
As parents, we sign permission slips and write checks, knowing that at least the trip gets our kids out of the Westport bubble. We hope their experiences in communities of poverty might have a beneficial impact on them — something lasting, beyond serving as a great subject for a college application essay.
I believe it was here that Jean began to differentiate herself from the quintessential Westport girl next door.
Jean had already been accepted into the right undergrad and graduate schools. She had completed her studies, and landed that important first professional job.
Jean had no need to make this 2-year service commitment to help advance her career. If anything, her decision derailed it — at least with Arthur Andersen.
So why did Jean do what she did?
Though I never had the pleasure of knowing Jean personally, I’ve worked hard over the years to help keep her memory alive in Westport. So I have given this question a lot of thought.
Based on all the information that I’ve gathered, I believe her decisions to not only quit her job and make this commitment, but also to stay in El Salvador as the violence escalated, were the result of her making a spiritual discernment.
This centuries-old decision-making process seeks to assist an individual in determining their best course of action. The person first becomes aware of the interior movements and deepest desires of their heart, then tests and evaluates its validity in alignment with God.
Two weeks before Jean died, she wrote a friend in Connecticut about the final decisions and actions she was about to take, based on what I believe were the results of her spiritual discernment.
The Peace Corps left today and my heart sank low. The danger is extreme, and they were right to leave….
Now I must assess my own position because I am not up for suicide. Several times I have decided to leave El Salvador. I almost could, except for the children, the poor, bruised victims of this insanity. Who would care for them? Whose heart could be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and helplessness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine.
Today let’s remember and honor this once quintessential Westport girl next door, whose discernment and subsequent action culminated in making the ultimate commitment to protect and care for the most vulnerable of all.
(Jean Donovan will be remembered this Sunday [December 6]. during the 11 a.m. mass at Assumption Church. Attendance is limited, due to COVID; click here to reserve a seat. The mass will be livestreamed.
(In progressive Catholic social justice networks, Jean Donovan is considered a saint. A Jean Donovan Summer Fellowship at Santa Clara University — a Jesuit school — supports students interested in social justice, while in Los Angeles the Casa Jean Donovan Community Residence houses members of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.
(Her story was told in “Salvador.” Written by Oliver Stone — who directed it too, as his 1st major film — the character based on her life was played by Cynthia Gibb. Amazingly, she too is a Staples High graduate, exactly 10 years after Jean Donovan.)
A pair of Bedford Middle School 7th graders (and Science Olympiad team members) have taken distance learning to a new level.
Using information from the CDC and WHO, Adi Mittal and Andrew Rebello created a website that helps anyone in the US find the nearest coronavirus hotspot — a place in their state with a noteworthy number of cases.
Hotspotsnearu.com (click here) is insanely easy to use. Just click in your Zip code; you’ll see a map with information on your distance from it. Bookmark it, and check often!
Daniel Sullivan — Westporter Michael and Amy Greenberg’s son-in-law — is a chef. When furloughed on March 13, he was in the process of starting a catering business.
Still, he wanted to help others in need. With an 18-foot open-air BBQ trailer — including a smoker and wood-fired grill — the answer was easy.
On Facebook, Daniel hoped to raise $600. That would cover a great meal, for 200 hospital staff.
He blasted through that goal. Friends came through with $2,700.
Soon he’ll cook meals for Stamford Hospital and Orange Regional Medical Center, in his Middletown, New York home town. He hopes to do the same for Norwalk Hospital, and Westport’s police, fire and EMT workers.
“I want to keep folks fed as long as I can,” Daniel says. To help him do that, click here.
Westport River Gallery — the great spot on the corner of Post Road West and Riverside Avenue featuring American, European and Asian fine art — is closed.
But owner Ken Warren — who works inside, cleaning and hanging — put this sign outside:
A steady stream of people stop, pick up a piece of two, knock on the window and give a thumb’s-up. One man left a $20 bill.
“Free candy helps people smiling during an unsmiling time,” Ken says. Candy on indeed!
Julia Marino — Westport’s Olympic snowboarding star — made a PSA for the US nation team’s “Goggles for Docs” initiative. The project collects ski and snowboard goggles, which offer great protection for healthcare professionals as they work with COVID-19 patients.
Julia’s mother Elaine — a noted local volunteer — loved the idea. Her home is now a local collection point.
Anyone with new or used goggles (adult or children’s size) can sanitize them with wipes or spray, place them in a sealed plastic ban, then leave them in a bin on the front steps at 129 Sturges Highway (near Cross Highway). The sealed part is important: The top of the bin stays open, so no one touches it. Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yesterday, Virginia Jaffe and her Greens Farms Elementary School sewing moms donated 135 washable, re-usable masks to Norwalk Transit’s bus drivers. Next up: 100+ to Homes with Hope.
Westporter Kanika Taylor works with homeless and recovering addicts in Bridgeport, through CCAR. She says that while Sacred Heart University has generously opened its dorms to people in shelters who have the virus but don’t require hospitalization, sheets, blankets, paper plates and microwaveable dishes are desperately needed. Donations can be dropped off at 387 Clinton Avenue, Bridgeport.
In addition, financial donations can be made to a restaurant that provides 2 fresh meals to Bridgeporters; the cost is $10 for food and supplies. Send checks to Carmen Colon, c/o Alpha Community Services YMCA, 387 Clinton Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06605.
And finally, the youth group of St. Luke Church created this video. It’s their Easter gift to Westport:
Last week, Easter and Passover coincided. Across the globe, Christians and Jews celebrated important holidays at the same time.
Tomorrow (Sunday, April 28), 2 religions converge again. This time the setting is local. At 6:30 p.m., teenagers from Assumption Church, St. Luke, Temple Israel and the Conservative Synagogue meet on the Westport YMCA basketball court.
They’ll compete in the 4th annual Full Court for Kindness tournament. The round robin event is for bragging rights in the Staples High School cafeteria and on social media, sure.
But it’s also a fundraiser. Proceeds from the player and spectator entry fee of $5 (or more!) go to the Make-a-Wish Foundation (in honor of Christopher Lanni, a St. Luke parishioner who died while at Staples) and the Catch a Lift Fund, which provides physical and mental recovery therapy to wounded veterans.
Last year’s event drew a packed house. Staples Orphenian Brody Braunstein sang the national anthem. A priest and rabbi delivered blessings. A moment of silence followed, in memory of Christopher.
Then the 4 teams took the court. They battled hard. This was not Sunday school.
Still, there were tons of smiles. Everyone understood the tournament values: friendship, kindness and tolerance.
Temple Israel won last year’s tournament. Another highlight was St. Luke’s come-from-behind victory over rival Assumption.
Who will win tomorrow?
God only knows.
(Hat tip: Michele Harding)
A couple of years ago, a big snowstorm closed local roads.
Concerned that Samer “Sam” Hiba — owner of the Mobil Self-Serve next to Barnes & Noble — might not make it home to Trumbull, a nearby customer called and invited him to sleep at her house.
Not many gas station owners develop those kinds of bonds with their customers.
As of Thursday, there will be one less in Westport.
Tomorrow (Tuesday, September 18) is the last day for Sam’s station.
The gas company informed me that they decided to withdraw from this location only after carefully analyzing the numbers and determining that, unfortunately, the station’s projected long term revenues are not sufficient to justify investing the additional resources necessary to do the mandatory upgrade to the tanks, along with the corresponding improvements to the canopy, pumps and store.
Sam will shut off the pumps at 10 p.m., then spend Wednesday and Thursday cleaning out the station he loves.
He is devastated. So are his many customers — many of whom prefer the word “friend.”
From the day Sam bought the business 5 years ago, his life has been intertwined with the men and women who come in for gas, coffee, snacks and conversation.
He has brightened their days. They’ve supported his major community work: caring for Syrian refugees.
Sam left his native country 25 years ago. He’s now a proud American citizen — as are his 5 children, all of whom were born here. But he’s never forgotten that war-torn nation.
His long list of friends include Westport residents, local businesses, even St. Luke Church. Sister Maureen and the entire staff has been particularly strong supporters of Sam’s Syrian relief efforts.
“From the first day, I loved my customers,” Sam says. “They are part of my family now. They know about my life, and I know about theirs. We chat all the time. I will miss them, big time.”
As customers hear that Sam’s Mobil Self-Serve is closing, they’re shattered. Today and tomorrow they’ll fill his small but well-stocked mini-mart, and say thanks.
“I see their tears and concern for me,” Sam says. “That’s very special.”
He promises to keep in touch with his customers — er, friends. He knows they’ll do the same.
Yet life on that stretch of the Post Road will never be quite the same.
Last month, scores of admirers from 2 churches joined to honor 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.
The suicide of a local student a few years ago was tragic.
But out of that darkness came some wonderful light.
The young man’s friends decided that a great way to honor his memory was with a round-robin basketball tournament.
Like any tournament, every player wants to win. But the organizers also promote the values of kindness, tolerance and fellowship.
“Full Court Kindness” an inter-faith event. Teams come from 4 Westport houses of worship: Church of the Assumption, Temple Israel, St. Luke and the Conservative Synagogue.
All proceeds go to 3 charities, chosen by the teen captains:
- Make A Wish Foundation, in honor of Christopher Lanni
- CT Against Gun Violence
- The Weiss Family Scholarship Fund, set up in honor of a family well-known at Temple Israel. All were killed on New Year’s Eve, in a Costa Rican plane crash.
The tournament is set for this Sunday (6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Westport Weston Family YMCA).
There’s a $5 admission fee (though of course you can give more). Full Court gear will be on sale.
I’m not sure which team will score the most points. But I know who will win.
(For more information, or to contribute, contact Michele Harding, Assumption Church youth minister, email@example.com, 203-222-8486.)
Three years ago, Sharon Carpenter read Father James Martin’s “Jesus: A Pilgrimage.” The longtime Westporter was challenged and inspired by the Jesuit priest’s lighthearted yet loving exploration of ancient Galilee and Judea, and his exploration of how Jesus speaks to believers today.
When Sharon’s husband Sam decided to treat her to a 30th wedding anniversary trip to the Holy Land, he figured a Father Martin-led trip was just the ticket.
Sam — who is not Catholic — did not realize Father Martin is a Big Name in Catholic commentary. A Wharton Business School graduate who entered seminary in 1988 after 6 years with GE Capital, he’s written extensively — and been interviewed by everyone from Bill O’Reilly to Stephen Colbert and Terry Gross.
Father Martin’s tour had been sold out for a year. The wait list held 400 names.
But Sam said if anyone dropped out at the last minute, they’d be ready to go.
Miraculously, there was a cancellation. Sam and Sharon got the call.
The trip was all she’d dreamed of. Father Martin was a warm, wonderful — and brilliant — guide.
Though Sam was the only non-Catholic in the group of 40, Father Martin asked him to read the Beatitudes at the Mount. “He’s that kind of guy,” she says admiringly.
After the trip, the Carpenters remained friends with Father Martin.
As the publication date neared for his new book, he asked Sharon to help with the launch.
Building a Bridge — appropriately published on Tuesday, during this month when the LGBT community celebrates Pride — is a passionate plea for Catholic leaders to relate to their LGBT flock with compassion and openness.
The book was a response, in part, to last year’s Orlando massacre at the Pulse club. Father Martin felt that Catholic church leaders had not spoken strongly enough about the LGBT aspect.
His voice is important: Earlier this year, Pope Francis appointed him a consultor for the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication.
Still, she wondered about the reaction if she tried to arrange a launch party here.
She needn’t have worried.
Father Andy Varga of St. Luke — the parish where Sharon has been active for 25 years — offered the church for an event. Father Tom Thorne of Assumption wanted it at his church too.
St. Luke was chosen to host the Thursday, June 29 (7:30 p.m.) talk, Q-and-A and book signing by Father Martin.
But there’s more. Father Varga put out the word to Westport’s interfaith clergy group. Father Thorne has publicized it in parishes around Fairfield County.
Other groups are also promoting it. The Triangle Community Center — Fairfield County’s LGBT organization — is all in. So are the Westport Library, Barnes & Noble, and the (Jesuit) Fairfield University bookstore.
Sharon’s book club and prayer group are also excited to hear Father Martin.
As Pride Month winds down, Sharon Carpenter could not be more proud.
(Click here for more information on Father Martin’s St. Luke talk.)