Families straggled into Our Lady of Mount Carmel for their annual Christmas Eve Mass for the first time since its conversion to an oratory in September. An oratory is designated as a worship place for daily prayer and the celebration of Mass and sacraments. Not only was this the first Christmas service under a new title but it’s also the first Christmas service for the new rector, Father Giandomenico M. Flora. 

“God has given us the right to celebrate another Christmas,” Flora said to the congregation. He gave a message that centered on themes of forgiveness and obedience and connected it to his start with the church. He recalled when Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, the Newark archbishop, called him over the summer asking him to be the new rector of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. 

“I am ready to go,” Flora remembers saying.  

Now that Flora is the assigned rector of the oratory, he is encouraging congregants to tell the community that the church is reopened. 

At the Christmas Eve Mass, about 75 people sat in the pews of the holiday decorated church. Though the church wasn’t packed, it was hard to tell when the congregants sang such hymns as “Joy to the World,” led by Josie Mescallado. 

Mescallado stood at the side of the gold and marble altar that was surrounded by more than a dozen poinsettias and two full Christmas trees.

Poinsettias and Christmas trees surround the altar at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. (TALIA ADDERLEY/STAFF)
Poinsettias and Christmas trees surround the altar at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. (TALIA ADDERLEY/STAFF)
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“It's an honor to be a part of this,” Mescallado said. “It's a beautiful space to sing in and the acoustics are wonderful. And the people are so warm and loving.”

The Mass allowed some families to reunite after living apart for a year. Mary LaMagna sat in a pew with her children, who live in New York and Texas throughout the year. 

“What it's about for me is to have my family around and to celebrate the importance of Christmas,” she said. 

Her daughter, Kathleen LaMagna, was joyful that she was able to spend another year celebrating this family tradition. “It's nice to be together and attending Mass is a big part of our family life, too,” LaMagna said. 

Our Lady of Mount Carmel was established in 1907 to serve the religious needs of the Italians that were immigrating to Montclair. Throughout the years it has gone through changes, including its near closure in 2016 that forced it to merge with Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church as the St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish. 

For participants like Kimberly Alfano and her mother, Carol Theobald, have roots dating to the beginning of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Their family has worshiped at the church for more than 100 years and their ancestors played instrumental roles in building the church. Now, Alfano is grateful that the Archdiocese of Newark was able to find a solution to save the church. 

“It's just so beautiful to come back because the church was closed for such a long time,” Alfano said. 

Both Alfano and Theobald had their wedding ceremonies in the church and Alfano enjoys sharing the space with the next generation.

“It's just special to be able to bring my children here,” Alfano said. “I was married here. All of our family was married here and we all live so far away. So it's just always so special to come back for Christmas.” 

Our Lady of Mount Carmel is having services every day except Tuesdays and this holiday season will have Mass services dedicated to the Nativity scene. Services for this week are as follows: 

  • Sunday, Dec. 25, 11:00 a.m.
  • Monday, Dec. 26, 8:30 a.m.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 28, 8:30 a.m.
  • Thursday, Dec. 29, 8:30 a.m.
  • Friday, Dec. 30, 8:30 a.m.
  • Saturday, Dec. 31, 4:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, Jan. 1, 11:00 a.m.