Assumption Church to Celebrate Father Gene Gianelli
Father Gene Gianelli of Our Lady of the Assumption Church retired recently. The parish will celebrate his 26 years of service during which time it doubled its membership. (Photo courtesy of Montse Lopez Vila)
Father Gene Gianelli, long-time priest and pastor at Our Lady of the Assumption Church, recently was named a Monsignor, a papal honor, at the time of his retirement earlier this year. He retired after shepherding the local parish for more than a quarter century.
A special celebration is planned at the church for Sunday, March 17, with a Mass at 11:30 a.m., followed by a reception. Archbishop Leonard Blair will officiate and bestow the papal honors for Father Gene’s many years of service to the church and the local community. His title will be that of Monsignor going forward. The celebration also marks his 75th birthday.
“Father Gene has been one of the finest pastors I have known over the years,” said Rev. Boyd Johnson, retired pastor at the United Church of Christ who remembers fondly their years serving the community side-by-side, together with Rick Eisenberg at Congregation B’nai Jacob. “He epitomizes what you want to see in a priest or rabbi.”
“I love how welcoming Father has been,” said Margaret Hamilton, a parish member for the past 18 years, who now serves as coordinator of religious education classes. “He met everybody where they were. There was no judgment.”
Having struggled with a variety of health issues over the past months, Father Gene is now in residence at Coachman Square at Woodbridge, at least temporarily, to gain strength. “His health is coming back, he has gained a few pounds,” announced Montse Lopez-Vila, a personal friend. She and her family visit Father Gene almost every day.
Up until his health problems slowed him down, Father was always very active, she said. “He was bringing people together.” Even when his health faltered, he never missed a beat, attending meetings and staying involved, she said.
Under the leadership of Father Gene, the parish engaged in a myriad of social as well as spiritual activities, such as family picnics and retreats. The parish has grown from some 600 members back in the 1990s to 1,400 today. Masses are read every day of the week except Thursdays. The church services primarily Roman catholic families from Woodbridge and Bethany.
The music program also has grown under the leadership of Dr. Keith Smolinski. The adult choir now has 46 voices; the children have their own choir. Some 450 children are enrolled in the religious education program.
“The spirit of young people permeates the parish,” Father Gene said in a conversation with the Woodbridge Town News in the library at Coachman Square. He is particularly pleased with the work of the Social Action Committee, which according to its website, “serves the needs of individuals and families within our Parish and surrounding community.” Last year the parish collected 460 coats to support the Knights of Columbus’ Coats for Kids program. The members of the parish show genuine concern for society, he said. “They really live the message of the gospels.”
His influence reached beyond the Church compound on Center Road. Together with the Rev. Johnson and Rabbi Eisenberg they started the Woodbridge Interfaith Thanksgiving service, which brings the community at-large together for a communal Thanksgiving service once every year. It has since been extended to include Trinity Church and the Church of Latter Day Saints. On a rotating schedule the service is being held in any one of the local houses of worship, with a combined choir singing.
Father Gene grew up in the Momauguin section of East Haven. Before serving in Woodbridge he was pastor in Wallingford and prior to that served as private secretary to the late Archbishop Whealon for ten years. But it is really parochial service that has been his passion, he said. “I am the luckiest person in the world, parish work is very fulfilling.”
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent