St Joseph’s, Danbury, Connecticut, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Joseph’s
Location: Danbury, Connecticut, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 11 July 2021, 9:30am

The building

St Joseph’s is a large Romanesque Revival edifice dating from 1905. It is the work of Dwyer and McMahon Architects, known for their churches, schools and hospitals, primarily in Connecticut. The church is part of a large campus that includes a grammar school, church rectory, parish education center and parish hall. In addition, in the middle to the parking lot in the rear of the church there is a Lourdes shrine. The exterior is commanded by two towers and the interior by a large traditional barrel vault. The tabernacle remains in the center and the pulpit remains as well. A traditional pipe organ sits in the choir loft.

The church

The parish has many ministries well described on their website; these include Knights of Columbus, Boy Scouts, and a youth ministry. There are three masses each Sunday, both in person and live-streamed, including one in Latin using the 1962 Missal. There is one mass each weekday that is also live-streamed, in addition to the Saturday vigil mass.

The neighborhood

Danbury is a city in southwestern Connecticut near the border with New York State. It is thought that the first documented use of the expression ‘separation of church and state’ was by President Thomas Jefferson in a letter written in 1802 to the Baptists of Danbury, who feared persecution by the Congregationalists. For most of the 19th century, Danbury reigned as the hat capital of America, its thirty factories turning out five million hats per year. Factory workers were known to suffer from the ‘Danbury shakes,’ which is the name locals gave to erethismus mercurialis, or Mad Hatter disease, caused by the mercuric nitrate used in hat making. Even to this day, local waterways exhibit high concentrations of mercury pollution. The church is on Main Street, in an older neighborhood close to the medical center. Many shops display signs in Spanish, which speaks of the evolution of the parish from prominently Italian to a multi-ethnic parish.

The cast

The pastor celebrated mass and preached, while a lector gave the readings. In addition, there was an unseen organist who played (quite well) and sang.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Mass for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

How full was the building?

We got there 15 minutes early and it was nearly empty, but mostly full by the time the mass started.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We entered on the side and an usher redirected us toward the rear of the church but did not say anything to us. We were hoping to sit near the front.

Was your pew comfortable?

Actually it was. It must have been renovated at some point to add padding to the pew benches.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Mostly quiet, excepting when an older man cried out with joy as he entered the church. I don't think it was because he was so excited to be at mass, but I could be wrong.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

'In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.'

What books did the congregation use during the service?

There were worship resources (missalettes) in the pews, but that was it. When we left, I noticed in the bulletin references to the St Michael's Hymnal, but they were nowhere to be found during the mass.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ – the organist also sang.

Did anything distract you?

I though the ushers were ‘over-ushering’ – first preventing us from sitting near the front, and then in the way they directed folks during communion. A bit much.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Standard Catholic fare. Quite reverent.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

9 — The pastor spoke well and projected well. I enjoyed the sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon referenced the gospel for the day, which referred to the Apostles being sent out with only what they could carry. The priest referred back to a time in his youth when he packed too many things and nearly missed a connecting train. His message was that we should take only what we need. We don't need so many material things – God will provide.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The liturgy of the eucharist was celebrated with a great deal of reverence. It was most edifying.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

I was quite upset that the hymnals were not in the pews. The organist was quite good and his choice of hymns solid, but I didn't know the words and would have liked to sing along despite my limitations in that regard.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

We didn't hang around, as we were away for the weekend and it was time to head for home. In the parking lot we noticed a father with his little girl stop to reverence the Lourdes shrine. That was very nice.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

N/A. I don't think there was anything on offer, especially post-pandemic.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

9 — I would definitely attend again if in the neighborhood – and I should hope the hymnals would be in the pews!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes. It was quite reverent.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Pretty much everything, but especially the sermon. It was excellent, I found myself talking to my wife about it in the car afterwards and I still remember it.

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