church in Bridgeport
, under the authority
of the diocese
. Located at 79 Church Street
(at the vertex
Streets) in Bridgeport
's East Side
The parish was founded in 1907 (the building itself was completed in 1912) to service the numerous Slovak immigrants then living on the East Side and in neighboring Stratford. Financed almost completely by donations, the church complex eventually also included a convent and parochial school. The high vaulted stone church's interior features many paintings copied from the shrine of Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Rome.
The name of the church was, of course, a no brainer. Sts. Cyril and Methodius are known as the Apostles of the Slavs thanks to their 9th-century efforts to convert the Slavs to Christianity. In addition, they are responsible for the first Slavic written language (Old Church Slavonic, first attested to in 863 AD), having developed an alphabet that is the precursor to today's Cyrillic alphabet. It is no surprise that there are dozens of churches around the world that bear the names of these saints.
The church briefly attained national prominence in the 1930s when its pastor, Fr. Stephen Panik, became a vocal advocate of public housing during the Great Depression. He became the first chairman of the newly created Bridgeport Housing Authority in 1936, and in 1939 oversaw the construction of a large public housing project on the East Side, to be called Yellow Mill Village. This 53-acre site was then the largest public housing complex in New England and the sixth-largest in the US. Early residents were predominantly Slavic in ethnicity, and the project soon became known as Father Panik Village. Sadly, as often happens in cases when cities neglect their own public works, the area all too soon became a notorious slum as the buildings fell into disrepair and the residents despaired of improvement. Father Panik Village was razed in 1994 and its residents relocated.
Today, the church's parishioners have scattered, and what remains of the original Slovak community is aging rapidly. The church stands alone, its convent and school deserted, in the middle of the vast plain where Father Panik Village once stood. The current pastor, Monsignor Joseph Pekar, is a rather controversial figure, but on the plus side (in my opinion, anyway) is a defender of the Latin Mass, and the church has received permission from the diocese to say it once a week--this is one of the few places in New England where the Latin Mass is still regularly said. The church's interior was cleaned and renovated in the late 1980s, and it remains a profoundly beautiful, if dying, church.
It will quite likely soon be gone, as perhaps it should be; but something about it, some minor sense of tragedy perhaps, just makes me sad.