By GWEN OREL
People came from South Brunswick, Newark, Clifton, Bloomfield, and of course, Montclair. About 100 people walked with the saint of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on procession through streets of Montclair on Sunday, July 22, despite sprinkles of rain.
After the procession, many stayed on to ride the Ferris wheel, drink beer in the beer garden, buy Italian pastries and listen to music.
When the heavens opened and the rain lashed down in sheets and the instruments on the outdoor stage were quickly covered, and vendors on Pine Street laughed that it was a flood, people chose to wait it out.
This summer’s feast and carnival of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the first outdoor festival held at the church at 94 Pine St. since 2015. In 2016 and 2017, there was a procession, but no rides or vendors selling airbrushed tattoos and gyros.
In May 2016, the archdiocese of Newark announced its intention to merge the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel with the Church of the Immaculate Conception (OLMC), making a new parish called St. Teresa of Calcutta. OLMC began an active “save our church” Facebook page, — facebook.com/SaveOurChurchOLMC.
The new pastor for Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Rev. Amicar Benito Prado, known as Father Benny, helped keep momentum going. “Seeing the community come together in our faith, it is beautiful,” Prado said, of the four-day-long event.
The church dedicated the feast to its former pastor, Monsignor Emmanuel M. Capozzelli.
On Sunday, before the statue of the saint was brought out, a brass band played “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Then it played the Italian national anthem. During the march, the band played opera arias and Italian songs. People waved, and came to pin a dollar on the saint for a blessing. Many people took pictures and video.
Coucilman Bob Russo had a dollar to pin before the procession began. It was from his 99-year-old mother, he said.
Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville said that on the procession, she remembers “the days when the African American and Italian population were not welcome in the township, this area, and areas in the south end, were it for us.” Baskerville has been coming to the feast for 15 years.
As she and Russo walked along the procession, they pointed out aspects of Montclair history: there the neighborhood was interrupted by the New York connect train tracks. Over there, there used to be an ACME.
Volunteers for the feast spanned the generations.
Alissa Brown, 18, just graduated from Montclair High School, and volunteered as a barker at the carnival. “I come every year,” Brown said. The carnival is “back better than ever. I get to meet so many different people. I just had someone come play games from Russia. It brings the town together.”
Marianne Pignatello, 80, of Bloomfield, has been going to the church for more than 35 years. “I would do anything for our church. We want our church to stay open. We love our church.” She’s very excited to have the carnival back. “We prayed, we cried.” And everything came into place, she said.
For many people, the Feast is a reunion. Joe D’Alessandro, of Clifton, grew up in Montclair. “Being Italian, it’s part of the Italian heritage,” he said. “Even if you don’t see people [you grew up with] that often, the diehards are always there, so you’ll see them at least twice a year. We’ll see them in five weeks for the Feast of Saint Sebastian.”
D’Alessandro did not know he would see Montclair resident LuAnn DiPrenda, who grew up with him, at the feast. But it was a good bet.
“Your mother was my mom’s maid of honor,” DiPrenda said. She had been to the feast the day before for the music, returned Sunday for the procession, and then stayed.
Rafaelle Marzullo, co-chair of the feast, with Frank Cardell and the church’s Community Outreach program, said the return of the carnival is a “rebirth. Our Lady of Mount Carmel is
open, and helping the community through our community outreach program.” During the feast, people can “feel the faith that we feel.” Marzullo came to Montclair in 1966 from Italy, and has been here ever since.
“When you march in a parade, everybody comes together,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what faith you are, what color, we come together as one. Whether you’re the mayor, the garbage collector, we come together as one, marching through the streets of Montclair, showing unity.”