Knights transform an old rectory to welcome Carmelite nuns to their Connecticut diocese
By Fred Afflerbach
A vacant house is a sad site: shuttered windows, locked doors. No one coming and going, no one laughing — and no one praying. The rectory at St. Emery Parish in Fairfield, Connecticut, became such a place after St. Emery merged with nearby Holy Family Parish in 2019. The pastor of St. Emery was reassigned and the rectory was closed.
But not for long.
In 2022, Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport invited a pair of Carmelite nuns from Texas to take up residence at the St. Emery rectory and transform it into a monastery. But the 90-year-old, three-story brick building was sorely in need of a transformation. That’s when Knights from four local councils rolled up their sleeves to complete a renovation worthy of a Home and Garden TV show.
More than two dozen Knights and other volunteers spent several weeks this past spring prying up ratty carpet from the rectory’s floors, replacing its water-damaged ceiling tiles and repainting 17 rooms. By the time they were done, they had filled two-and-a-half 20-yard dumpsters with debris. Knights later installed ceiling lights and fire alarms and contributed funds to pay for professional landscapers to remove trees and install a privacy fence.
John H. Stapleton Council 2287 in New Canaan led the project, with hands-on help and financial contributions from Father Coleman Council 2616 and St. Pius X Council 16347 in Fairfield, as well as St. Matthew Council 14360 in Norwalk. Altogether, the Knights saved the diocese between $12,000 and $17,000.
Andy Mank, deputy grand knight of Council 2287, said the project was much more than cleaning up an old house. “We’re supporting a faith-based community and enabling them to carry on their mission of prayer, which impacts the entire diocese,” he explained. “That’s what it’s all about.”
The two nuns — Sister Maria of Divine Mercy and Sister Mary Ruth of the Eucharist — moved into the monastery in April.
“It’s been so encouraging and heartwarming,” Sister Maria said. “Coming in when you didn’t know anyone in the diocese, it’s such a feeling of security to have the Knights’ help. It’s like having big brothers there for us, and we can turn to them as our needs come up. They transformed this place and made it so beautiful.”
With ample room to expand, the nuns hope to attract new vocations to their cloistered community, the Carmelites of Mary Ever Virgin.
Although the nuns have settled into their orderly routine of prayer and liturgy, there is still work to be done. Mike LaMagna, grand knight of Council 2287, says the Knights are in it for the long haul.
“We’re not done. Our goal is to be there for them. If they have things that need to be done around the area, shopping, upkeep, whatever they need, they know they can call on us,” LaMagna said. “It wasn’t a ‘one and done.’ Our goal is to be connected.”
FRED AFFLERBACH is a freelance journalist and a member of St. Margaret Mary Council 7600 in Cedar Park, Texas.