There is no full-time priest at St. Peter’s Church on Main Street in Hartford and its parishioners are angry. More than 150 of them picketed outside the church Sunday to show their displeasure with the decision to remove Father Michael Galasso from his post at St. Peter’s, a position the beloved pastor had held for almost thirty years.
Organized by the Latino Committee and Friends of St. Peter’s, the event featured a startling mix of spiritual supplication and streetwise protest: yellow ribbons, rosary beads and picket signs were distributed to those who attended; prayers, songs and chants rang out from the crowd, frequently all at the same time. The congregants are upset that the longtime priest was taken from them on December 7th by a decision of the Hartford Catholic Archdiocese. The protest organizers say they feel “marginalized” by church authorities since the decision to replace Fr. Galasso took place without notice to or input from the parish community, resulting in widespread confusion and the disruption of church activities.
Many of those who attend St. Peter’s are also fearful that the recent administrative actions may mean the closing or sale of the church and its nearby school building, which is used for a variety of functions. Already, arrangements for special masses or sacramental ceremonies are being handled by Sacred Heart Church on Winthrop Street.
The church’s community leaders have requested help from Bishop Peter Rosazza, who until his promotion in 1978, was co-pastor at Sacred Heart. Rosazza now serves as Episcopal Vicar for the Spanish-speaking Catholics in the Archdiocese of Hartford.
“Father Mike” Galasso first made his mark on Hartford’s people when he served the Charter Oak Terrace community from St. John the Evangelist Church on Newfield Avenue. “He didn’t stay in the church, he was always walking the streets of the project, working with the people,” recalls Carmen Matos, the president of St. Peter’s Latino Committee and a protest organizer. “We have a strong parish here, there is no reason for all these changes,” she continues. “The church is not a business, it’s a community and the community is being hurt.”
In fact, while St. Peter’s is the poorest parish in the state, Father Galasso is credited with building its membership up to 6,000 families. Much of the parish is now Puerto Rican, with a substantial mix of Colombian, Peruvian and Mexican members as well. St. Peter’s also retains its Irish American presence (the church was founded in 1859 for the growing Irish population of Hartford, and the current building was completed in 1868). Many suburban Irish Catholics still have close ties to the church: a fundraiser for St. Peter’s last November at the Irish American Home in Glastonbury raised over $15,000. St. Peter’s was the only area church in 1981 that allowed masses to be held for the northern Irish hunger strikers who died in British custody during “the Troubles.”
The massive church building across from South Green has required constant upkeep, and Fr. Galasso has proven to be the consummate fundraiser. His efforts have garnered a $1.3 million endowment according to parish leaders, which is now apparently under the control of the Archdiocese. The fund’s fate and more importantly the future of St. Peter’s Church community brought the diverse crowd together in common cause. “This is America right here,” commented one protester, as the crowd chanted “¿Qué queremos? ¡Justicia!”
For more information about the organizing efforts, contact Carmen Matos at 860-841-0133 or Dan Nolan at 860-559-8450.