Our Lady of Mt. Carmel: Rescued and Preserved
When I decided to try (once again) to learn Italian, a major goal of mine was to attend, and understand, Mass in the language of my heritage. I have attended the Italian Mass at St. Lucy’s Church several times over the years. I understand very little of it, however, it reaches me in a special way.
From the beginning of the Great Migration, the Church always played a central role in our assimilation story.
When Italian immigrants first arrived, the Catholic Church in the United States did not now how to approach the ways of the Southern Italian Catholic. With a focus on Mary and Patron Saints, coupled with a lack of language skills, these new immigrants were often relegated to the church basement.
So what did we do? What we have always done. We persevered. We created our own communities, mutual aid societies, and our own parishes. These churches focused on the needs of the Italian immigrant and their families. Churches like St. Lucy’s in Newark. Churches like Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Montclair.
The History of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
The Our Lady of Mount Carmel was established in 1907 to serve the needs of those new Italian immigrants. For generations, the church continued to serve the immigrant community. After changes to immigration laws specifically targeted to curb Italian immigration were implemented in the mid-1920s, the spigot from Italy was turned off and immigration just about came to a halt.
As the immigration numbers dwindled, so did the numbers of Italian parishes. St. Philip Neri and St. Rocco Catholic Churches in Newark were both closed. And up until recently, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church was on the chopping block.
In 2016, the Archdiocese of Newark ordered Our Lady of Mount Carmel to close. It was merged with Immaculate Conception Church, forming the joint St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish, however, the total number of masses actually held at Our Lady of Mount Carmel dwindled to one per week.
Simply put, Our Lady of Mount Carmel needed a miracle.
The Miracle in Montclair
Parish families refused to see their church reach the same end as St. Philip Neri’s and St. Rocco’s. They continued to appeal to keep the church open. They organized. They used social media to bring attention to their concerns. They created an online community to organize. They protested at the Newark Archdiocese. They even appealed directly to the College of Cardinals and wrote letters to Pope Francis. With faith, they fought back. They even threatened a lawsuit.
Well, prayers have been answered and the miracle was received.
In June of 2021, parishioners received a letter from the Vatican stating that there was nothing to appeal, as there had been no formal decree to close the church. Much needed repairs were completed and the church was painted.
In August of 2022, the Archdiocese announced Our Lady of Mount Carmel would continue as an oratory and would serve the community with a newly appointed rector, Father Giandomenico M. Flora, and a full schedule of weekday and weekend Mass celebrations.
Father Flora was born in Naples, Italy, and grew up in Praia a Mare in the province of Cosenza.
He began his studies as a seminarian at the Mother of the Redeemer Seminary in Newark and was ordained in May 2006. His first assignment as a priest was as the parochial vicar of St. John the Evangelist in Bergenfield. He was then assigned as rector of St. Raphael Parish-St. Margaret Shrine in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
In the summer of 2022, Father Flora received word that he was called back to where his studies began – the Archdiocese of Newark – as the new rector of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Oratory.
This weekend, Our Lady of Mount Carmel will receive one final miracle. It is being added to the Register of Historic Places. This is an amazing blessing! Not just for the church, but for the parishioners who fought so hard to save her. It is also a testament to the generations of Italian immigrants that prayed and sought refuge there when they first came ashore and settled in their new homeland.
On Sunday, December 3rd, a dedication ceremony will take place after the 11:00am mass. All are invited to attend and take part in this special moment in the history of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Later the same day, a celebration of Italian music from the D’Italia Dance Academy is taking place.
Congratulations to the faithful of Mount Carmel. They took a page from our ancestors and persevered. Brava!