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Integrating two distinctly different congregations—different ethnically, generationally, culturally—isn’t easy, and it wasn’t in the case of Sacred Heart-Sagrado Corazón. There were doubts and fears on both sides of the aisle, and the combined parish struggled.
Evelyn Conard, 86, was born in Waterbury, baptized at Sacred Heart, and educated at the grammar school and high school on church grounds. “To tell you the God’s honest truth, I wasn’t too happy about their coming in, the Puerto Ricans, I really wasn’t,” she says. “I don’t know why, I’m not prejudiced, but I just felt that we were going to be losing our church. There were a lot more Puerto Ricans than there were the original people. I just thought they’d take over the place.”
For their part, the immigrant parishioners wondered how they would be received in a church that had been overwhelmingly white for so long. “It was hard,” recalled musician Lino Colón, a lifelong member of St. Cecilia’s. “It was like moving into a new neighborhood—you didn’t know if you were intruding.”
Moreover, little was done to meld the two communities. Although Gray was bilingual, masses were said either in En- glish or in Spanish, not both. It seemed to some Sacred Heart parishioners that he clearly favored his Latino flock.
“He loved the Spanish—I think he gave more attention to them than to the English,” Correto Sr. says. “He was more affectionate with them. At the end of the Spanish mass, he’d come down the aisle smiling.”
Very gradually, though, the two congregations began to come together. The unlikely ambassadors of unity were the Latino children who attended CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) classes in the nearby school building on Sunday mornings before quietly filing into the church for 10:30 mass. Many of them spoke only English. Old-time Sacred Heart members were surprised to find them not just well-behaved but friendly and open, as were their parents.
“I found them to be lovely, lovely people,” admits Evelyn Conard. “They’re warm, they’re friendly—every time they greet you, they give you a hug. I wasn’t prepared to like them but I just couldn’t help it.”
Meanwhile, if language remained a barrier to some adults, music transcended it. Lino Colón and Catherine Langellotti, the cantor at the original Sacred Heart, merged the two church choirs and created a new one that sang both Spanish and English hymns. Upbeat Latin rhythms infused the standard English hymns with vibrancy and life.