Prayer garden is dedicated at Our Lady of Fatima in Wilton

WILTON — Five years ago, Rev. Reggie Norman first conceived the idea of creating a place where people could visit and find peace. That idea was realized Saturday, when the Philip Tai-Lauria Memorial/Prayer Garden was dedicated at Our Lady of Fatima Church.

Commenting on the many who helped make the prayer garden a reality, Norman said, “it is always the love of the people that sustains us.”

A small group of those who made donations for memorial plaques on the granite cross that serves as the foundation of the garden listened as Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport presided over the dedication.

“In our troubled times, to have a community that is dedicated to the things that really matter, it is a great gift,” he said.

He thanked those assembled for their support of the garden, which he also referred to as a shrine, “precisely because it is a public act and there are going to be many people driving up and down Danbury Road here who will see it and in very unconscious and perhaps at times even conscious ways have seeds planted in their hearts. Seeds to come to recognize the greater meanings of life which will point them to God.”

The brief but poignant service included songs led by Our Lady of Fatima’s choir director Mary Bozzutti Higgins and prayers. As Norman read the dedications on the plaques, each family stepped forward to receive a white carnation.

The project began as a memorial to the families who lost loved ones on 9/11, Norman said, noting there is a memorial to the Wilton residents lost on that day, but there was nothing to recognize their families or the community.

Last year, upon hearing Reggie’s plans, Elaine Tai-Lauria and Phil Lauria, parishioners of Our Lady of Fatima, said they would like to support the program. Hence, the scope of the garden expanded and it was named for their son Phillip, who died at the age of 31 on May 30, 2018.

“This is a wonderful way for us to celebrate his life in Wilton,” Elaine Tai-Lauria said.

Many of the families whose loved ones are remembered on the plaques are those the Laurias know from Our Lady of Fatima School, which Phillip attended, and the church.

“Their names are united here,” she said.

“Our Lady of Fatima was very important to Phillip,” she said, recalling that he performed in the school plays and in church was an altar server.

“Phillip loved the town and the school,” his father Phil Lauria said. “Our roots are here. He would want to be sharing that. … We are thankful to everyone who helped us raise our son.”

Two close friends of the Laurias who came to the dedication were Barbara and Martin Hirsh, of Brookfield.

“We’re here to honor him,” Barbara Hirsh said of Phillip. “He was near and dear to our hearts. This is a wonderful, contemplative place.”

Frank DeRosa, a long-time Wilton resident, contributed to the garden for a plaque to remember his wife of 57 years, Liliane DeRosa, who died Feb. 14, 2019.

“This is a memorial that will be significant for the entire family forever,” he said. “She was much loved.”

The garden is “a tribute to Father Reggie for making this happen. It is of great benefit to the entire parish,” DeRosa said, adding it was very meaningful for Bishop Caggiano to be there for the ceremony.

The garden, which is open to anyone who wishes to visit, is anchored by a granite cross that is 35 feet by 21 feet and 3 feet high. Norman gave special thanks to Eddie Montoya of JAM Landscaping & Construction LLC, who did the stone work. His company also built the stone wall in front of Our Lady of Fatima and designed the cross to complement it.

“It was a project of love,” Norman said, calling his work “a gift to us as a community.”

A plaque at the end of the cross remembers the parish’s 9/11 victims: Edward Fergus, Peter Fry, John Henwood, John Iskyan, and Edward York. It also says, “For all the family members lost on 9/11/2001 too numerous to list and too precious to be forgotten.”

Beyond the cross is a semi-circular stone wall upon which a statue of Our Lady of Fatima sits, and behind it is a planting of hydrangea bushes. A row of evergreen trees will eventually grow tall and wide enough to conceal the traffic on Danbury Road.

Families may remember the names of loved ones on stone plaques placed on the face of the cross and wall, as well as stone pavers. There are benches on either side of the garden and lighting for those who visit in the evening.

For information, call the church at 203-762-3928.