Recent History at Church of the Nativity
In Bethlehem, following the retirement of Father Shellman, Father Joseph E. Looney became Nativity parish's fifth pastor in 2007, the year he celebrated his 40th anniversary as a priest. Immediately after taking the reins, Father Joe completed a parish census and worked with officials from the Archdiocese of Hartford to reorganize parish finances. The Archdiocese wanted all parishes to use the same computerized accounting and reporting practices, so Father Joe made compliance one of his first goals. The year 2007 ended with Archbishop Henry Mansell coming to the Church of the Nativity to broadcast a live Sunday Mass on WTXX Channel 20 on December 23rd.
Among his early achievements, Father Joe also instituted regular Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction on Friday mornings, and contracted for the tinting of the skylight window above the church's altar and the repaving of the church driveway and parking lot. The Parish website was created in 2008 by parishioners Mark Massicotte and Molly Hill, and the Parish Council was re-established with regular meetings.
During his tenure as pastor, Father Joe infused life and spirit into the parish's social life. A Knights of Columbus (K of C) chapter was organized and chartered, and began hosting dances, Mother's Day breakfasts, and sponsoring an annual Wine & Food Pairing Dinner each December to fund the Father Richard Shellman Scholarship Fund.
The Good Shepherds began hosting an annual St. Patrick's Day breakfast, and joined with the K of C to sponsor an annual parish picnic. They also raised significant amounts of money for church projects through their annual Christmas Bazaar. Father Joe hosted several parish talent shows, even participating with his piano playing, singing, and dancing. Under Father Joe's leadership, the Church of the Nativity became a greater participant in Bethlehem community life by hosting Girl Scout dances, and by joining in ecumenical prayer services, clothing exchanges, the Christmastown Festival, and the National Day of Prayer.
In 2010, the old church was sold and the income put toward making the parish financially stable. A parishioner who was an Eagle Scout candidate built a prayer garden on the side lawn. Also in 2010, the Parish Center was renamed "The Father Richard Shellman Hall" to honor the former pastor. The year ended with the large evergreen tree near East Street being lit for the first time ever for the Christmas season.
Through 2011 and 2012, Father Joe led the Knights in fundraising for and construction of a large creche on the church's side lawn. Archbishop Henry Mansell returned to the Church of the Nativity for a Mass and blessing service for the creche on December 8, 2012. In 2013, the Church of the Nativity was designated as an evacuation center to be used in case of an emergency at Bethlehem Elementary School.
During the second half of his pastorate, health problems began to take a toll on Father Joe. He retired for health reasons on July 1, 2016, after serving for nine years as pastor. In addition to his many accomplishments, Father Joe is also remembered for his passion for Stewardship. He helped the members of our parish community to realize that stewardship is a way of life - that it involves recognizing the presence of God in our lives and living our lives with a spirituality of stewardship, conscious of how we use our time, talent, and treasure in serving God.
Unable to find a replacement pastor for Father Joe Looney, the Archdiocese of Hartford appointed Father Anthony Smith, the pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Watertown, to be Administrator of the Church of the Nativity beginning July 1, 2016.