Church History

Our Lady Of The Assumption Parish has a rich and interesting history, filled with love
and pride, but also fraught with struggles leading up to the building of two churches.
The Assumption parish had its beginning years ago as a mission chapel At the turn of
the twentieth century, the rich flatlands of Woodbridge closest to New Haven attracted
a large number of Italian American farmers, stonemasons and laborers who built many
of the reservoirs in the Woodbridge and Bethany areas. At the beginning of the 20th
century, they would commute to New Haven to attend mass at the Italian parishes of
St. Aedan, St. Anthony, St. Michael, and St. Ann in Hamden. Before the mother
church was built, there was a Rosary Society that met at the local Woodbridge Warner

School on Lucy Street, which is now housing for the elderly. They continued to wor-
ship in the area churches until eventually, out of love of God, and the love of Mary,

and their faith, these families desired a church of their own, not to make history but to
reach heaven.
In 1924, the work got underway for the new church on 1700 Litchfield Turnpike with
land donated from the Perrotti family. In 1940, Father Raymond O’Callaghan, the
pastor of St. Ann’s Church in Hamden, became the manager of the mission church.
While the men worked on the building, the women of St Ann’s Rosary Society
worked hard to purchase and pay for the new altar, the candelabra, and the statue of St
Ann. Only a basement chapel at first, it was a modest structure, shingle-sided with a
tar paper roof, seating 200 parishioners. The unfinished Church hall was at ground

level. Though it was humble, it was a church of much pride and love. In the begin-
ning, the church couldn’t seem to climb out of the basement or out of debt. Fr. O’Cal-
laghan would scrub the floors of the church on his knees, along with the women of the

parish. He frequently fasted for a full day when he repaired the statue of Our Lady of
the Assumption. He said that it was his act of added devotion to Mary. In 1952, the
$19,000.00 debt was paid off, the church was rededicated, and the upper level was
finally put to use as the church proper. The structure was completely reroofed and
refurbished, and a modest campagna or belfry was added to the front facade. The

church hall was moved downstairs to the basement, and the church proper was redeco-
rated in blue and gold, with funneled oaken woodwork. Despite its small scale, it be-
came an impressive house of worship.

After Fr. O’Callaghan’s death in 1956, Rev. John J. Horgan was appointed pastor and
served in that capacity for 29 years until 1985. As time went on, both Woodbridge

and Bethany saw a rapid growth in population, and every Sunday brought more evi-
dence of steady attendance in the parish. Sunday masses increased from 3 to 5 to ac-
commodate the new parishioners. Not only was there a lack of space for church busi-
ness, but religious education classes were being held at the Warner School, town hall,

and even the First Church of Christ in Woodbridge. A quiet search began for a new
and appropriate church site. The long quest was ended in July of 1958 when Mrs.

David F. Fitzgerald offered to gift a 21-acre plot on 81 Center Road for $1 as a memo-
rial to her husband, the former mayor of New Haven, as a new church site. A new

milestone of the Catholic church was reached.
In June of 1960, the town of Bethany was transferred to the parish of the Assumption

which increased the number of parishioner families from 500 to 1,000. Shortly there-
after, a church building fund was established, and a successful campaign for family

pledges was launched.

The new Church on Center Road, designed by Pollack & Sullivan, was built and

dedicated December 23, 1962 by Fr. Horgan with Bishop Henry J. O’Brien presid-
ing. The stained-glass windows were the design of Jean Jacques Duval, a noted

artist, and feature the many apparitions of the Blessed Mother. Attached was a

religious education facility with eight classrooms. The weekly sense of inadequa-
cy that surrounded the youth instruction programs made it essential to not only

build a house of worship to handle perhaps 700, but also a facility to handle the
same number of children in religion classes. Archbishop O’Brien approved the
regular attendance of Dominican priests from Providence College to help out.
Upon the death of Fr. Horgan in 1985, the team ministry of Fr. Edward J. Jaksina
and Fr. Philip A. Sheriden succeeded Fr. Horgan. The parish stretched from New
Haven past Beacon Falls toward Waterbury and increased in parishioners.
In 1992, Fr. Gene Gianelli was appointed pastor of Our Lady of Assumption

Church and served for 27 years until his death in 2020. He reported that the fami-
lies had tripled to 1,461.

In 1995, Antinozzi Associates was commissioned to update the church interior.
The open concept with curtain opening to the church hall was modified to a solid
wall behind the altar with a circular valance of wood framing the crucifix. The
sawtooth design of the ceiling enhanced by the skylight was carried out in marble
for the altar and podium and in the relief under the wood valance. The altar rail
was removed with the exception of a small section near the baptistry. The marble
steps lead up to the altar in a harmonizing accent color. A remodeling of the
church separated the church proper from the church hall with classrooms for the
youth of the parish, a kitchen for parish gatherings, and a large community hall for
many parish events. After 9/11, a crucifix was fashioned from the twisted steel of
the World Trade Center and hangs on the north wall of the church hall.
Sr. Dorellen was appointed principal of the religious education classes and offered
a two-week vacation Bible school during the summer, a fun filled experiential
faith learning. The Church continues its faith formation with the appointment of a
Director for grades 1-6, a Director for grades 7-8, a Director of Confirmation, and
a Director of Adult and Family Formation. The summer Bible camp continues
At the present time, the mission (mother) church serves the congregation with

daily masses four days a week. The mission church recalls celebrations of wed-
dings and baptisms of many of the older parishioners and holds a wealth of histor-
ic memories.

The new church demonstrates the physical growth of its congregation and is a sign
of the spiritual vigor of the present and the past. The newer church is handicapped
accessible and able to handle the larger number of parishioners. Both churches
were built with the love of God, and the love of Mary, and continue to serve over
1200 families.


Pastors of Our Lady of Assumption