St Joseph’s (St Damien of Molokai Parish), Windsor, Connecticut, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Joseph’s (St Damien of Molokai Parish)
Location: Windsor, Connecticut, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 September 2019, 9:30am

The building

St Joseph’s Church, one of two church buildings comprising St Damien of Molokai Parish, was built in 1892. It has a traditional Gothic design with a red brick exterior. The interior is smaller but quite nicely appointed. Older stained glass windows, which I presume date from the construction, line both sides. One particularly striking feature is a mural of Christ on the cross over the still intact main altar. What is striking are the skull and crossbones that lie near the foot of the cross, which I presume are meant to symbolize Christ's triumph over death. There is a very nice sounding organ in the organ loft.

The church

The Parish of St Damien of Molokai was created in 2017 by merging St Gabriel’s, near downtown Windsor, with St Joseph’s, which is located in the Poquonock section. Mass is still celebrated in both buildings. The parish ministries include Helping Hands, in which members use their talents of knitting, crocheting and sewing; Prayer Shawl, a ministry to the sick, bereaved and elderly; Rosary Makers, who distribute hand-made Rosaries to people who have never owned one; and Social Action, caring for the needs of others. They also sponsor faith formation and catechism classes, Bible study, and adult and youth choir. A special feature of their website is the Prayer Wall, where visitors to the website may post prayer requests that are prayed for by other visitors as well as at mass. There is a Saturday vigil mass at each of the two churches comprising the parish, and two Sunday masses at St Gabriel’s and one at St Joseph’s.

The neighborhood

The town of Windsor has a population of a little under 30,000 and lies on the northern border of the city of Hartford. It appears to be a one-time farming community that has developed into a bedroom community of Hartford. However, during our stay we saw a large number of businesses, including one very large nationally known retirement planning business that has set up shop in Windsor.

The cast

The pastor of the parish celebrated mass and was accompanied by a lector, altar boy, and three extraordinary ministers. In addition there was an unseen cantor in the choir loft and an organist.

What was the name of the service?

Mass for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.

How full was the building?

The church, which is somewhat small (perhaps seating for 500 if it were packed), was about 80 per cent full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A nice man in a suit who appeared to have some sort of a name tag greeted us and handed us a bulletin on the way in. I recall thinking, ‘Shouldn't he give these out on the way out so we pay attention?’

Was your pew comfortable?

Very much so. The pews were padded, as were the kneelers. Given that the building dates from 1892, it must have seen a fairly recent renovation.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was relatively quiet, excepting one fussy baby, which didn't bother me.

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?

A hymnal from Oregon Catholic Press.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, a very nice sounding one, which I commented about to Mrs Devote.

Did anything distract you?

Yes. Prior to the start of the liturgy, they did that hokey thing that seems to be common in Connecticut: ‘Stand to greet those around you.’ It’s not my thing.

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

Formal. The hymns were solid, using 'Holy, Holy, Holy' for the processional (I had not heard that sung in ages), 'Christ Be Our Light' for the offertory, and 'America' for the recessional ... they did cut two of the three in half, though.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

7 minutes.

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

8 — The pastor’s projection was quite good and he had a nice solid tone to his voice.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

How we should seek humility. Humility is often linked with weakness, but true humility is strength.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

A kind of interesting moment during the consecration. Not sure why, but somehow the lighting in the church led the paten being used by the priest to reflect a golden aura on his face. Now, given that we crazy Catholics believe that the priest is in persona Christi, it was quite edifying from a theological perspective.

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

During the distribution of communion, the priest stood up front with one of the extraordinary ministers, and the other extraordinary ministers stood in the back, which is where Mrs Devote and I were sitting. Since we prefer to receive in the ordinary manner, we were kind of tripping over people as we headed up front to the priest (who, as a matter of fact, seemed to have the shortest line).

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

There didn’t seem to be anything going on, so we headed off to breakfast at a highly rated local place.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Not applicable.

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

8 — I give it a solid 8, with the qualifier being that I would need to live in the area (we were here this weekend for a quick getaway). I liked the fact that the priest was quite orthodox. I had been very worried about attending a liturgy in the Hartford Archdiocese due to past experiences, but was pleasantly surprised that I could recognize an actual Catholic mass.

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


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

A toss up, either the golden aura or the fact that ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ was sung – tough call.

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