St. Teresa of Avila Renovations

St. Teresa’s parishioners, indeed the whole town of Woodbury, liked Father Barrett and many were very upset when he was transferred in 1959.  The new pastor, the Reverend Michael J. Sullivan, was more reserved, but respected for his piety.  He walked through town every day visiting the sick along the way, parishioner or not.  He was concerned with the poor, and quietly aided many people.  He found various opportunities in the town and in Waterbury for his parishioners to do volunteer work, including working at the preschool in Berkeley Heights in Waterbury.

The new English liturgy was introduced in 1964.  St. Teresa's, now 60 years old, needed some refurbishing.  To obtain the money required for renovations, Father Sullivan brought in professional fund raisers.  This was a shock to the parishioners, who had always raised money themselves by organizing special events. The $75,000 required was a large sum and was solicited as a three-year pledge.  Pledges were a foreign concept to most parishioners and many were never completely paid. 

During the renovation, Sunday School was moved to Mitchell School on Monday afternoons, under the direction of the nuns from St. Rose's Church in Newtown.  Father Sullivan was not in good health, and for a time he had an assistant, Father John Casey.  When the church services were moved to Seidel Hall for more than a year, Father Casey built the small altar that was used in the basement.  During his time as pastor, Father Sullivan celebrated the 25th anniversary of his priesthood.  The parish gave him a party and a new car.  Under the direction of Alfred Reinhardt, architect, and Lukman Contractors, the renovation of the church was completed.  New stained-glass windows were installed, except for the small leaded glass panes in the church entry and choir loft.  Gail E. Paulson designed the windows under the direction of Father Sullivan, who left a detailed description of his vision for them.  The windows depict events in the life of Jesus following the sequence of the Gospel of St. John. They are as follows:

  1. The marriage feast in Cana
  2. Jesus and the Samaritan woman
  3. Discourse in Capharnaum on bread of life
  4. Cure of the man born blind
  5. The resurrection of Lazarus
  6. Washing of the feet in Cenacle on Holy Thursday
  7. Calvary
  8. The Church


A plastered wall with a large cross and recessed lights replaced the stained-glass window on the west wall.  Against that wall was a flat altar at the top of wide shallow steps.  The statues, as well as the Stations of the Cross, were carved in Italy.  The interior of the church was painted a raspberry pink.  Large black and white tiles were laid in the aisles, and the small oriental rug in front of the altar was purchased and put in place.

Fr. Sullivan died August 17, 1964.  He asked that no eulogy be given at his funeral, instead, the following was printed in the church bulletin:

"It was Father Sullivan's request that no eulogy be preached at his funeral.  Eulogy means 'to speak well of someone'.  But a eulogy was preached on the day of his funeral - not by a preacher, but by the people of his parish, St. Teresa's. By their actions, by their desire to serve, the parishioners of St. Teresa's "Spoke Well" of their departed pastor.  Their actions were an eloquent testimonial of the place Fr. Sullivan held in their hearts.  Truly this was the finest eulogy of all."

In September of that year, Father John J. Griffin was appointed pastor.  As a PhD, Father Griffin brought to St. Teresa's an interest in learning at all levels.  He originated an adult philosophy class which was enthusiastically received.  This was his first parish and he found the adjustment difficult after teaching.  He was, however, a congenial man who made many friends in the community, particularly George Cushman, a local physician. By this time the church school had laity for teachers under the direction of Phyllis Lombard.  The first ecumenical service held in St. Teresa was in 1966.  The church had male commentators and the first church council held its election in 1967.  During this time, the altar was moved to the center of the sanctuary with a new platform and carpeting.  The Hirsch Bros. did the work between one Sunday and the next for $400. 

During the three years Father Griffin was in Woodbury, he celebrated his 25th year of priesthood.  Mr. & Mrs. Gilbert Boutin gave an oil painting to the church and the parishioners gave him a car.  In 1967, Father Griffin asked to be transferred.  He left the ministry shortly after, was laicized, married and died in 1970.

Father Anthony John Sima, who arrived in 1967, had a very different personality.  A shy, frugal man, he did not spend money on unnecessary things.  He never activated the parish council, the C.Y.O., Holy Name Society, Ladies Guild or choir after his arrival.  Kathleen Cosgriff, a parishioner, became responsible for the church religious school, as well as many of the other parish functions. 

Father Sima was an avid outdoorsman, nature lover and antique collector. He was known for his affection for children and animals, especially his black Labrador "Charney", who was a gift from the parish in recognition of Father Sima's 25th anniversary of priesthood, and became his constant companion.  Father Sima began the custom of giving candy to the parish children at Christmas, Halloween and Easter.  Large chain saw carvings of Mickey Mouse or Santa were displayed outside the church depending on the season.  Charney would lead the procession down the aisle before Mass, accepting dog treats from parishioners as he went.  One usher remembers dog biscuits as well as money in the collection basket.  For a very short period, the children were encouraged to bring their pets to church with them.  Father Sima always ended the Mass with his signature phrase "Make someone happy today."

Between 1968 and 1971, Mitchell School used Seidel Hall for the public kindergarten.  State mandate required a kindergarten within the year and there was no room in the grammar school.  Seidel Hall was the only available area with proper exits, a kitchen, and a space to play outdoors.  This meant, however, that there was no place for church social activities.

Father Sima carefully invested the church money and spent little on refurbishing either the Rectory or the Church.  Over the years, the roof developed leaks, the walls cracked and the furnace reared.  The parishioners grew concerned, and pushed for repairs and renovations.  By 1986, Father Sima decided $500,000 was enough money to activate a renovation committee.  Robert Keating drew up plans for refurbishing the interior of the church and roofing.  Included in the design was a replacement of the large stained-glass window in the west wall.  Using parishioners’ wedding pictures as a guide, the new window was adapted from the original removed in the earlier renovations under Father Sullivan.  A little dog was included at the foot of the cross at Fr. Sima's insistence.  Patrick Baker and Sons of Southington were responsible for overseeing renovations.  Columns, walls and ceiling were repaired and repainted.  New carpeting was laid and the original pews were cushioned and the kneelers padded.  An electronic carillon was installed in the belfry. 

Father Sima retired in 1992 after 25 years at St. Teresa’s, and died shortly thereafter.  Father George LaLiberte succeeded him, and became the fifth pastor of St. Teresa’s.  The Rectory had to be completely renovated before he could move in.  The interior was gutted and the first floor was redesigned to include a room for the church secretary and Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (C.C.D.) director.  Two separate bedroom/office suites occupy the second floor.  Insulation was blown into the walls, and new heating/air-conditioning was installed.  Most of the rectory is in the historical district, which limited the refurbishing of the exterior to fresh paint.  Father George was allowed a new door into the kitchen because that part of the house was outside the Woodbury Historical Society's authority. While the renovations were taking place, the parish office was moved to Seidel Hall, and Father LaLiberte slept at the Rectory in Bethlehem.  The church was insulated, and new heat/air conditioning replaced the old boiler.  The radiators were replaced with vents, providing space for larger side aisles.

The church societies began to flourish again.  The Ladies' Guild assisted the community by focusing on a spiritual "Call to Action", with food and blood drives and visits to the elderly in nursing homes.  St. Teresa’s Men's Club held two major fund raisers yearly for scholarships to youth of the parish, a golf tournament in July, and a Super Bowl Party in January.  A C.C.D. director was hired to supervise the church religion instruction held at Mitchell school and the Confirmation Classes in Seidel Hall.  Twice monthly, during the 10:30 AM Mass, religion classes were conducted in Seidel Hall for kindergarten and first grade children of the parish.  A new choir director was hired, and in 1996, a children’s choir was formed.  The resurgence of ministries reflected a parish eager to follow Father George's favorite exhortation to "live your Mass."

The old organ with 2 1/2 ranks of pipes, which had come used 25 years earlier from a restaurant, was not suitable for the needs of the new choir and organist.  A parish pledge drive initiated in 1995 raised the $75,000 required to finance the 1996 installation of a powerful 16-rank organ, suited to the needs of an active and growing liturgical music program, in the choir loft.  The new organ included a few wooden pipes from the original organ.  During the installation, the choir loft was renovated, and the balcony railing was raised to a safe height.

In the spring of 1997, Archbishop Cronin assigned Ralph Rescildo to St. Teresa's as its first deacon.  As deacon, he is authorized to preach at the Masses and to baptize, perform weddings, visit the sick, prepare couples for marriage and give graveside blessings.

In 1997, nearly 95 years after the church was built, the 1996 statistical report for the parish listed 1046 registered families, with 598 children under 18.  51 baptisms, 21 marriages, and 24 funerals were conducted.