2016 Christian Stewardship Award Recipient

Each year ICSC recognizes individuals or organizations for their unique and extraordinary witness to Christian stewardship as a way of life by honoring them with the Christian Stewardship Award.

The 2016 Christian Stewardship Award is presented to:

Monsignor Matthew Bernelli
Pastor Emeritus, St. Mary Catholic Church
Bridgeport, Connecticut

For over a decade Monsignor Matthew Bernelli has shared his vision of stewardship with the ICSC family, contributing his wisdom and experience to the Spanish-language track at ICSC conferences. He is Pastor Emeritus of St. Mary Catholic Church in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he was pastor for 36 years.

Monsignor Bernelli was born at the foot of the Alps in the Piedmont Region of Italy, in 1938. He felt the call to be a priest at an early age. He was only eight years old when he entered religious formation with the Somascan Fathers, founded by St.Gerome Emiliani (1537) which had, as its primary ministry, caring for orphans and homeless boys.  At age 20, still a seminarian, Bernelli was sent to Mexico with three priests to open the first overseas seminary where he taught for two years.  Back to Italy, he completed his theological studies, earning a licentiate in theology at St.Anselm University in Rome. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1964.

The first ten years of his priesthood were spent in Latin America taking care of orphans. He spent four years in Guatemala, one year in El Salvador, three years in Mexico and two years in Panama where he established, with another priest, a Boys Town ministry which continues to grow and thrive.

Father Bernelli came to the United States in 1974 and began serving in the Diocese of Bridgeport. In 1979 he was incardinated into the diocese. In 1980 he was appointed pastor of St. Mary Parish in Bridgeport, Connecticut; a parish on the verge of collapse. The buildings, including the church and the rectory, were beyond repair, the coffers empty, the neighborhood cited by the New York Times as one of the 10 worst ghettos in America.

Searching for a way to keep the parish open and to lift the spirits of its parishioners, Father Bernelli discovered stewardship and began attending ICSC conferences. With a commitment to implement stewardship at St. Mary’s, Father Bernelli and the parishioners took an impoverished parish and transformed it into a vibrant, lively faith community which serves as an inspiration to others.

Preserving the original stone, mosaics and stain glass windows, fruits of the labors of prior generations, Father Bernelli led the effort to tear down the old buildings and replace them with new ones. The parish incorporated the old into the new, and created a place of worship that reflected the spirit of the Latino community. The parish and surrounding neighborhood enjoy a new energy and renewed vitality.

Monsignor Bernelli and the family of faith at St. Mary’s give witness to the transforming power of stewardship.


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