Catholic diocese removes priest as pastor of Shelton church
A Shelton priest has been relieved of his duties at St. Margaret Mary Church in Shelton.
Diocese of Bridgeport Bishop Frank J. Caggiano made the announcement that the Rev. John J. Stronkowski submitted his resignation after being asked to do so by the bishop.
“I do this in light of serious difficulties that have come to my attention recently regarding Father Stronkowski’s tenure as administrator, including his persistent absenteeism from both the rectory and the parish and its ministries, his growing difficulties with both the staff and lay leaders of the parish, and other personal and administrative shortcomings,” Caggiano wrote in a letter distributed to parishioners during this past weekend.
Been at parish since 2012
Stronkowski has been serving as the parish pastor since January, and previously was appointed as its administrator in September 2012.
He has been a priest in the Diocese of Bridgeport since 1985.
St. Margaret Mary Roman Catholic Church is on Donovan Lane, off Long Hill Avenue near the Shelton Board of Education central office, and primarily serves people in Shelton’s Long Hill neighborhood and southern parts of the city.
The parish celebrated its 50th anniversary last fall.
Diocese offers ‘transparency’
The bishop’s letter and a diocese-written press release explaining the situation have been posted on the Diocese of Bridgeport website at bridgeportdiocese.com.
“We’re trying to move into a new era in terms of transparency,” explained diocese spokesman Brian D. Wallace, describing the bishop’s letter on the matter as being “very blunt.”
Wallace said the action taken against Stronkowski was “quite unusual,” saying it is reflective of the new, more open approach being pursued by Bishop Caggiano.
The diocese-written release makes references to a possible affair with an adult involving Stronkowski, although the priest denied the allegations.
“A number of parish leaders came forward recently to express their concern about his frequent absenteeism and leadership problems, and allegations that he engaged in an affair with a woman from the area,” the release stated.
After that meeting with parishioners, Caggiano met with Stronkowski on May 2 and asked for his resignation.
“Father Stronkowski denied involvement in an affair but agreed to take a leave of absence effective immediately, to seek professional help, spend time in prayer and to reflect upon his future in the ministry,” stated the diocese release.
Wallace said Stronkowski “had really lost the confidence of the people there.”
Because of “Father Stronkowski’s absenteeism on a consistent basis and poor relations with staff, the bishop had to act,” Wallace said.
Additional action possible
Additional action may be taken against Stronkowski, which could include removing his ability to be a priest.
"Further, I have referred this issue to the Ministerial Misconduct Advisory Board for review and recommendation,” Caggiano wrote in his letter.
“The board assists me in reviewing cases of clerical misconduct, either involving adults or that occurs in the exercise of his ministry, and where I must consider action regarding that cleric's assignment, including temporary or permanent removal or suspension,” the bishop wrote.
The diocese may request Stronkowski to participate in individual counseling, an outpatient program or a clinical program. That decision will be made in conjunction with the Ministerial Misconduct Board, the diocese said.
Future of the parish
Diocesan officials met with St. Margaret Mary Church parish lay leaders and staff on May 5 to plan for the church’s future. During the meeting, parish staff reiterated the same concerns expressed by the volunteer lay leaders, according to the diocese release.
The Rev. Frederick Saviano, the Bridgeport Diocese's 72-year-old director for the propagation of the faith, has been appointed to serve as St. Margaret Mary's temporary administrator. The bishop said he expects to appoint a new pastor in mid to late June.
Saviano is known to many parishioners at the Shelton church because he has filled in at Mass through the years, and he celebrated the First Communion Masses for the parish on the weekend of May 3-4.
John J. Stronkowski, who grew up in Connecticut, was ordained in 1985 by then-Diocese of Bridgeport Bishop Walter W. Curtis.
He served at St. Patrick Parish in Bridgeport, St. Gregory the Great Parish in Danbury and Our Lady of Assumption Parish in Fairfield before being named pastor of St. Ambrose Parish in Bridgeport in 2003.
Stronkowski entered the priesthood at a late age. He put himself through college working construction jobs, and has maintained licenses as an electrician, plumber, and heating and air conditioning specialist, according to the diocese release. He also is a licensed health care administrator with a degree from the University of Connecticut.
His considerable construction background led to his service on the board of the Building and Sacred Arts Commission of the Diocese of Bridgeport, stated the diocese release.