How an Italian boy from Brooklyn became bishop of Bridgeport

Photo: Gregory Shemitz

A great profile of a great priest, from Greenwich Time: 

For a man just appointed by Pope Francis to be bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, which covers all of Fairfield County, [Bishop Frank] Caggiano has rather humble roots. He was born on Easter Sunday 1959, into an Italian family so new to the U.S. that his parents couldn’t even name him after his grandfather, Francesco, as they wished. When a hospital nurse wrote down “Frank” on birth forms by mistake, parents Gennarina and Arnaldo couldn’t call up the English words to protest.

Growing up in south Brooklyn, not far from Coney Island, Caggiano would walk one block with his parents and older sister Antonia every Sunday to 10 a.m. Mass at the Church of Saints Simon and Jude. Coming home, he could smell the tomato sauces cooking in the kitchens of their immigrant neighborhood — and could tell which part of Italy each family was from by the scent of the ingredients.

His mother attended church every day and looked after their two-story house. His father, whose formal education in Italy stopped at third grade, spent his days as a longshoreman, a labor-intensive job on the docks that gave him “arms like Arnold Schwarzenegger,” Caggiano says. His father prized respect for yourself and for others and having the courage to talk to people straight. He’d tell the family at the dinner table that they could work out all their differences here, but as soon as they left the house they should be an indivisible unit.

That is, except for one thing: In the mid-1960s, when Arnaldo had a falling-out with their church’s pastor, he stopped going to church.

Caggiano was a bright kid who did “exceptionally well throughout school,” his sister said. He was accepted to Regis, a prestigious Catholic high school in Manhattan, and he made his father especially proud when he got accepted to Yale University. “My father felt he was brilliant,” Antonia said.

But even at Yale, Frank was mulling whether he felt a calling to the priesthood. He disappointed his dad in his first semester when he took a leave of absence from Yale and enrolled instead at the Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception in Queens…

…He got a job selling textbooks for McGraw-Hill, which provided him with an expense account, a car and visions of financial success. But a year into it, he found himself yearning for something more. “I had everything I wanted,” he said, “but then realized that what I wanted wasn’t what I need.”

He would join the priesthood, after all. On a spring day in 1987, he was ordained in the chapel of the Immaculate Conception Center in Queens…

He recalls his father standing up front, back in church after a hiatus of some 20 years, his face welling with tears.

“I don’t think he’d even cried after his parents had passed,” Caggiano said. “I said to my mom, `Is he really that upset with me?’ ” No, she told him. He’s really that happy.

“By the end of his life, believe it or not, he would go to Mass and pray the Rosary almost every day,” Caggiano said. “It was an amazing transformation.”

 Read it all. 


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