With the future of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in his hands, Cardinal Joseph Tobin this week said he plans to visit Montclair to hear the concerns of parishioners fighting to keep their house of worship open.

The new archbishop of the Archdiocese of Newark, however, came far short of saying he will stop the church on Pine Street from being shuttered, nor did he specify exactly when he would come to the township.

“I will get to Montclair eventually, not to save your church — unless, unless this is an instrument for the Church’s mission today,” Tobin said. “I’m aware of some of the issues in Montclair. That’s why I’ll come and listen.”

Tobin made his remarks in response to a plea from Mount Carmel parishioner Elsa Napolitano during what he described as a “town hall” meeting at the gym at Good Shepherd Academy in Nutley. Tobin spent more than an hour taking questions from the audience after he celebrated Mass on Tuesday, May 16, to a packed Holy Family Church, which is adjacent to the school.

“Please come, visit, speak to us. … We will do anything to save our church,” Napolitano told the cardinal. “I would really like you to give us an opportunity to tell what we can do.”

Roughly 30 members of Mount Carmel came to the service and meeting, which were conducted for the North Essex deanery. That group of parishes includes four in Montclair, including St. Teresa of Calcutta, which was created last year through the merger of Mount Carmel and the Church of the Immaculate Conception on North Fullerton Avenue.

Elsa Napolitano, a parishioner of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, asked Cardinal Joseph Tobin to come to Montclair to talk to church members. LINDA MOSS/STAFF
Elsa Napolitano, a parishioner of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, asked Cardinal Joseph Tobin to come to Montclair to talk to church members. LINDA MOSS/STAFF

The archdiocese, under then-Archbishop John Myers, a year ago in May announced the merger. Mount Carmel’s parishioners feared their church would be shuttered, and mounted an effort to rescue it. The archdiocese has said that there were not any plans at this juncture to close Mount Carmel or sell its site, pointing out that Masses were still being offered on Pine Street.

In a recent letter to parishioners Frank Cardell, chairman of the Save Our Lady of Mount Carmel Committee, said that he and committee member Raffaele Marzullo went to Newark on Monday, May 8, to talk to two members of the archdiocese’s New Energy Committee. Cardell and his wife, Penny, as well as Marzullo’s sister, Marialena Marzullo, were among those who attended the Mass and the town hall in Nutley.

On Tuesday night, Cardell said that some parishioners who wanted to schedule memorial Masses at Mount Carmel were being told by St. Teresa parish that the Pine Street church “will be open until August.”

At the Newark meeting, Cardell and Raffaele Marzullo told the Rev. Timothy Graff and Rev. Joseph D’Amico of the Archdiocese’s New Energy Committee that Mount Carmel’s Community Outreach Program serves minorities and refugees in the Fourth Ward, and “that we should permanently remain open to serve the demographical changes that have occurred in the past 10 years, in a radius of less than three blocks, of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in the Fourth Ward,” Cardell said in his letter.

“We have an advantage of being in the heart of the Fourth Ward, where Immaculate Conception clearly does not.”

Cardell and Marzullo also told the archdiocesan representatives that they can revive Mount Carmel by directly managing its finances and bringing in new parishioners by holding Spanish-language Masses. Graff and D’Amico will report back to Tobin “and he will decide our fate,” Cardell wrote in his letter.

In a brief interview after the town hall, when asked about Montclair, Tobin reiterated his earlier remarks, saying, “I’ll get there eventually, without a doubt. And I want to listen to the people who love Our Lady of Mount Carmel and see what they have to say because it’s part of my job.”

Pope Francis brought Tobin in as Myers’ replacement in January, and the plight of refugees and immigrants is among his priorities.

As part of his new assignment, Tobin is visiting groups of parishes, called deaneries, throughout the archdiocese. He received applause and a standing ovation at the end of his Nutley town hall.

The New Energies Parish Initiative was launched by Myers “to address the reality of changing populations of Catholics in some areas, aging facilities requiring capital improvements, and the limited financial resources available to the Archdiocese,” according to the Catholic Advocate, the monthly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Newark.