A Brief History of the Diocese of Norwich
Prepared by Father Gregoire J. Fluet, Ph.D
The Diocese of Norwich was established by a decree of His Holiness, Pope Pius XII on August 6, 1953. The split of the old Diocese of Hartford involved several surprises: Hartford, to become an Archdiocese, was to be split in three with Norwich and Bridgeport becoming new Dioceses. The first Bishop chosen for the Diocese of Norwich was a native son of Vermont, Bernard J. Flanagan.
Bishop Flanagan, consecrated a Bishop in Burlington, Vermont, was formally installed in Saint Patrick's Cathedral on December 8, 1953. His ministry was essentially groundbreaking. Under his guidance, the Diocese developed all the necessary offices and services it needed to function and a sense of unity. Secondary schools were established along with parishes, often assisted by funds generated through a program called the Diocesan Development Fund.
In 1959, Bishop Flanagan was transferred to the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts. Pope John XXIII appointed Msgr. Vincent J. Hines of Hartford the second Bishop of Norwich. The consecration took place in Saint Patrick's Cathedral on March 17, 1960, the feast of Saint Patrick. The Bishop participated in, and began the implementation of, the Second Vatican Council. Bishop Hines also navigated the difficult waters of the societal upheaval now known as "the 60s."
Convinced that secondary education was most important, Bishop Hines envisioned a grand plan of Catholic High Schools for the Diocese. Unforeseen expenses, in part caused by dwindling numbers in religious teaching orders, made it necessary to abandon the plan, a painful decision for the Bishop. By 1975, in declining health, Bishop Hines chose to request retirement. Pope Paul VI accepted the Bishop's resignation and praised him for his work. Bishop Hines died in 1990.
The Pope named Msgr. Daniel Patrick Reilly, of Providence, to the See of Norwich. Bishop Reilly was consecrated and ordained on August 6, 1975 and installed as the third Bishop of Norwich. Bishop Reilly sought the involvement of the laity in all facets of the life of the Diocese. He established the Annual Bishop's Appeal that has raised millions of dollars for Diocesan Charitable works. Bishop Reilly also reached out both to Hispanic speaking people in the Diocese and to Haiti.
In his desire to direct the growth of the Diocese, Bishop Reilly convened the First Synod of the Diocese of Norwich in 1990. This event gave goals and directions to the Diocese. Bishop Reilly also took great interest in Catholic schools in the Diocese. While other Dioceses were closing their schools, he actually opened one and saw that others reopened grades.
Bishop Reilly was transferred to the Diocese of Worcester in 1994. Pope John-Paul II appointed Bishop Daniel A. Hart, of Boston, the fourth Bishop of Norwich. Bishop Hart was installed on November 1, 1995. To address specific Diocesan needs, Bishop Hart launched a major capital campaign that raised over 17 million dollars for the Diocese. Bishop Hart encouraged the work of the Diocese both in the Hispanic ministry and in the outreach to Haiti.
Bishop Hart retired in 2003. On March 11, 2003 it was announced that the Pope had named Bishop Michael R. Cote of the Diocese of Portland Maine as Fifth Bishop of Norwich. He was installed May 14, 2003. There is no doubt that the Diocese of Norwich will continue to meet the challenges of the 21st century and accomplish the work of Jesus in Eastern Connecticut.