BRIDGEPORT—The dedication of the new Thomas Merton Family Center in Bridgeport was an occasion to celebrate Catholic social service, charitable giving, and the power of partnering with other health and social service providers to serve the most vulnerable in the Greater Bridgeport area.

More than 150 volunteers, staff and donors were joined by area leaders today for the ribbon cutting ceremony at the fully renovated, 13,000 square foot facility at 1406 State in Bridgeport. One highlights of the ceremony was the dedication of the center’s new dining facility in honor of Fr. Charles Allen, S.J., retired Fairfield University administrator and teacher.

Staff and volunteers at the new site will officially begin serving meals to the working poor, hungry, and homeless next Wednesday, but the center will also make room for a wide variety of support services including healthcare, job counseling, and immigration service.

Renovation of the two-story building is largely complete but for finishing touches and includes the new a dining hall, state-of-the art commercial kitchen, food pantry, healthcare rooms, a conference room, showers and offices.

The move to the new location represents an historic moment for Merton Center, which was founded in 1974 by the Diocese of Bridgeport. After operating from two previous downtown locations, it has been serving the poor since 1989, at 43 Madison Avenue in Bridgeport.

“What a moment of grace and blessing for all of us. Thanks be to the Lord for, has allowed us to come to this milestone in the life of the Thomas Merton Family Center. Thank you for being here and for supporting this miracle in the very heart of the city of Bridgeport,” said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano in his introductory remarks.

“We gather today, both as the diocese and as Catholic Charities for this exciting expansion of the Thomas Merton Family Center. For almost 50 years, the center has existed to serve the most vulnerable residents of this great city of Bridgeport. Their mission rests on the belief that every human being has dignity and respect, and everyone who comes to this place is coming into his or her home, where they will be respected and served and loved as the children of God and moving towards the self-sufficiency that we all want for each of our brothers and sisters,” said the bishop.

Catholic Charities Executive Director Mike Donoghue introduced the many community partners who will share space in the Thomas Merton Family Center in order to create to a “one stop” visit for a variety of human services including nutrition and health care, within an environment of caring and respect. He also thanked the many volunteers and donors who have made the move possible.

“I’d really like to thank you for two things; you trusted us to make this project happen, and you supported it with your hard-earned money. Thank you for choosing the Thomas Merton Family Center and for caring about the people in the world that most people don’t want to see or pay any attention to– the homeless, the mentally ill, the working poor. You cared, and it’s going make a big difference on their lives.”

Donoghue also had words of praise and gratitude for Merton Center director Bill Colson, who always puts the guests first by making the Merton Center “a safe, loving and hope-filled place” for its guests.

He said that when Merton Center surveyed guests to learn more about what they need in addition to nutrition, they cited healthcare, housing, immigration assistance, and job training.

He said that by partnering with other agencies in the city like Southwest Community Health Center, Housatonic Community College, Career Resources, and Catholic Charities behavioral health programs, Merton Center can now deliver a wide range of services.

Donoghue also announced that plans are underway to convert the Merton Center site on Madison Avenue, the former St .Joseph German Church, to become 50 units of housing in partnership with Connecticut Housing Partners. The Greater Bridgeport Transit Department has also agreed to provide transportation for Hollow residents to the new facility on State Street.

Connecticut State Representative Steve Stastrom recalled working as a Merton Center volunteer when he was a sophomore at Fairfield University, and he praised the Church’s role in the community.

“We, under-appreciate the role that the Catholic Church plays in really being a pillar of the nonprofit community here in the city of Bridgeport and throughout Fairfield County. You know, we too often devalue the role that our faith institutions play.”

“What I feel here is dignity,” said State Senator Marilyn Moore to staff and volunteers, “I feel that you put your heart and soul into this and that is what it takes when you talking about building community and taking care of people.”

Fr. Alex Moronta, Pastor of the nearby St. Peter Parish and newly named chaplain of Merton Center, told the gathering that he worked in South America as a missionary for 30 years and worked in Harlem with the Sisters of Mother Teresa. “She saw the face of Jesus in every person she met. She said that love begins in the. Home, and Merton Center is a home.”

Sister Kathleen Deignan, CND, one of the original founders of Merton Center, told the gathering that Merton House grew out of the campus ministry of Sacred Heart University and the leadership of the late Fr. John Giuliani who was inspired by Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement. His vision was also instrumental in the founding Good Shepherd Houses in Norwalk, New Covenant House in Stamford, and Dorothy Day House in Danbury.

The ribbon cutting ceremony concluded with the dedication of the center’s new dining facility in honor of Fr. Charles Allen, S.J., retired Fairfield University administrator and teacher, who was present for the event and received warm applause from the gathering.

The bishop said that Fr. Allen’s advocacy for Merton Center as a master of ceremonies for many of its fund raisers over the years helped to keep the doors open and to inspire giving.

“Father Allen understands deeply with a true ear of heart. And to walk with them in compassion and love. Whoever that person may be, most, especially those who are the working poor and the homeless and those who are hungry I am delighted to be able to say that we are going to honor your legacy and your passion by dedicating the largest room of this center to you.”

Merton Center currently services 400 meals every day for breakfast and lunch. It also has a shower program for guests, a mail program to provide an address for the homeless, a food pantry that serves 425 families each month, and case management services. For information on the Merton Center capital campaign, visit:

Article originally published on the Diocese of Bridgeport: