Services held for Notre Dame High School’s ‘Father Bill’ Sangiovanni
Hundreds of students, alumni, faculty members, community leaders and residents turned out Friday, Feb. 8, at a wake in the schhol gym for Rev. William Sangiovanni, president emeritus of the school, a long-time teacher, principal and mentor to thousands of students over several decades.
Following the wake, a vigil Mass was held, prior to funeral services Saturday, Feb. 9, at St. Thomas Church in Fairfield.
Sangiovanni — known as “Father Bill” to generations of Notre Dame students, — died Monday morning after being in declining health for several years. He was 77.
Bridgeport Diocese Bishop Frank J. Caggiano said, “the overwhelming sense of loss that many are feeling upon his death is a tribute to his vitality and vision, and the gift of his friendship experienced by so many people in our diocese and beyond.
“Father Bill knew how to create community and how to use his considerable political and social gifts to inspire charitable service and bring out the best in others. As a priest, educator and natural leader, he had an impact on the lives of generations of young people and their families.”
Born in Brooklyn, Sangiovanni came to the Bridgeport diocese when he enrolled at Fairfield University, where he graduated in 1962 with a degree in history. He earned a master's from Fairfield University in education and arts. He went on to teach at Fairfield’s Assumption School. Then, from there, he went to Our Lady of Angels Seminary at Niagara University in New York.
After four years or religious training, in 1969, he decided to leave.
Instead, Sangiovanni served as special assistant to the Minority Leader of the Connecticut General Assembly, and as assistant to U.S. Congressman Steward McKinney from 1969 to 1975.
Sangiovanni went to Hartford as a research assistant to Stewart McKinney in 1969. At the time, McKinney was the Minority Leader of the Connecticut House of Representatives. The following year, McKinney was elected to Congress and Sangiovanni became the district representative, running the Bridgeport and Fairfield offices.
Sangiovanni continued to support McKinney through a difficult re-election in 1974. But shortly after, he left McKinney’s staff.
People in Fairfield started to call for Sangiovanni to run as a bipartisan candidate for the town’s position of First Selectman, but he turned them down.
In the spring of 1975, he became a deacon and left Fairfield for Kentucky. He soon became a full-time teacher and assistant chaplain in the Frenchburg State Prison. When he came back to Connecticut, he requested an assignment counseling prisoners at the Bridgeport Correctional Center.
Beginning in 1980, Sangiovanni was a faculty member, chaplain, department chair, assistant principal, principal and president of the Fairfield school on Jefferson street.
“It is with heavy hearts that we make this post. The Notre Dame community is mourning the loss of Rev. William ‘Father Bill' Sangiovanni, who passed away this morning,” Notre Dame principal Christopher Cipriano announced Monday on the school’s Facebook page.
“Father Bill’s passing is a tremendous loss to all of us who knew him so well,” Cipriano said.
“Please try to keep happy memories of Father Bill at the front of your mind,” Cipriano said. “Whether they include cheering on a team from the sidelines, passionately teaching his AP Government class, shaking hands and greeting everyone by name at Open House since he seemingly knew everyone, wearing his GarlicFest hat so proudly or celebrating Mass with a tremendous homily for the ND community, he certainly left us with many, many fond memories.”
For several years during his time as school principal in the mid-90s, Sangiovanni coordinated a GarlicFest under a big tent adjacent to the school. A major fundraiser for the school, the event attracted thousands of garlic lovers and vendors from throughout the area.
On the occasion of Notre Dame’s 60th anniversary Gala celebration in March 2017, the Diocese of Bridgeport mentioned Sangiovanni’s then 37 years with Notre Dame and his massive impact on the school.
Sangiovanni was ordained in St. Patrick Church in Bridgeport on March 19, 1977. After serving first as parochial vicar at St. Patrick's, he was named to the faculty of Notre Dame in 1980 and became the school's spiritual director the following year.
In 1991, he was appointed to the State of Connecticut's Ethics Commission, and later became vice chair. Father Sangiovanni also served as a part-time chaplain at the Bridgeport Correctional Center for 11 years.
Father Sangiovanni was named president of Notre Dame in 2010.