After an extended period of uncertainty for Roman Catholics who worship at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Montclair, the Archdiocese of Newark announced Saturday, Aug. 27, that the Mass schedule will be expanded significantly and a rector will be installed this fall to oversee the running of the church.

“Our Lady of Mount Carmel is being designated as an oratory that will continue to serve the faith community,” the archdiocese said in a news release. The announcement came as the church was celebrating the St. Sebastian Society’s annual feast and carnival.

An oratory is a church or physical place for Catholic worship that is not an established parish, according to canon law.

In 2016, the archdiocese ordered Our Lady of Mount Carmel to close, but it was saved by a merger with Immaculate Conception Church, forming the joint St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish. Since the merger, Immaculate Conception has maintained a full schedule of Masses, but Mount Carmel’s services have dwindled to one a week, on Saturday afternoons, drawing complaints from people who worship there.

Beginning Labor Day weekend, Masses will be celebrated at Our Lady of Mount Carmel on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 8:30 a.m.; Saturdays at 4:30 p.m., and Sundays at 11 a.m., the archdiocese said.

“Our Lady of Mount Carmel Oratory remains a church under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Newark, operating fully and independently, yet within the parish community of St. Teresa of Calcutta,” the archdiocese said.

St. Teresa of Calcutta parishioners attend Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Oratory. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
St. Teresa of Calcutta parishioners attend Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Oratory. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)

The newly appointed rector, the Rev. Giandomenico Flora, will be installed in a special Mass in the fall.

The Rev. A. Benny Prado, pastor of the St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish, introduced Flora to about 65 worshipers at the end of the 4:30 p.m. Mass on Saturday. The news was greeted with robust applause. 

Prado, who has been overseeing both Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Immaculate Conception, was interrupted several times as he read a statement from the Rev. John J. Chadwick, vicar general of the archdiocese, about the changes for Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

"We know that many parishioners have been yearning to come together for weekday and weekend Masses as well as to have a designated celebrant to call their own," Chadwick's statement said. 

"Now, it is imperative that we have the active participation and robust support from the community to ensure that the oratory will thrive and grow."

The announcement got an equally enthusiastic response on Sunday, Aug. 28, at the special Mass to mark the St. Sebastian Feast. 

The Rev. A. Benny Prado, left, pastor of the St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish, and the Rev. Giandomenico Flora celebrate Mass. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
The Rev. A. Benny Prado, left, pastor of the St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish, and the Rev. Giandomenico Flora celebrate Mass. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)

At both Masses, Flora told the congregation a little bit about himself. Born in Naples, Italy, he studied at the Redemptoris Mater seminary in Newark. After he was ordained a priest in 2006, he served for three years as the parochial vicar of St. John the Evangelist in Bergenfield. 

He then moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he was rector of St. Raphael Parish-St. Margaret Shrine. In December 2015, he became the spiritual director of the new Redemptoris Mater Diocesan Missionary Seminary of Bridgeport in Stamford, Connecticut. This summer Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin called him back to Newark for the rector position.

"It's a joyful commission because it's a new beginning," Flora said to applause from the congregation.

Angela Ficarra Socio of South Brunswick, who said she has worshiped at Our Lady of Mount Carmel for her entire life, was delighted with the announcement on Saturday. "Personally, I'm very excited," said Ficarra Socio, who grew up in Glen Ridge.

Her daughter, Gabriella Socio, a student at Montclair State, said, "It's great news."

Ficarra Socio added, "This holds a good place in my heart."

On Sunday, 88-year-old Angelo Festa, who has attended Our Lady of Mount Carmel for his entire life, said he was happy to hear about the new way forward for the church as an oratory.

“This is just a blessing,” said Festa, who was baptized in the church, made his first Communion and was confirmed and married there. “We’ve been fighting this for six years.”

He said that some worshipers shied away from Our Lady of Mount Carmel over the last six years because of the uncertainty.

“With the help of God, we should get back on our feet again,” Festa said.

The archdiocese said that more than $300,000 in repairs had been made to the church building and that it would provide an additional $55,000 to pay for renewal and startup costs and for furnishings and equipment.

A pastoral council and finance council will “help oversee the oratory’s administration and vitality,” the archdiocese said.

The councils will work with the rector and the congregation to meet benchmarks the archdiocese has established for the oratory.

“For any oratory or parish to maintain its operations, there must be active participation from the faith community, including robust Mass attendance, community engagement and volunteers, and collection of tithes and offerings that sustain the viability of church operations,” the archdiocese said.

The benchmarks will be monitored “to ensure the endurance and continuation of the oratory’s self-reliance,” the archdiocese said.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel closed in summer 2019 because of problems with the building, including a leaky roof, damage to the plaster ceiling and pipes, and heating and air-conditioning troubles. The closure extended to November 2021, when it reopened with a 4:30 p.m. Mass on Saturdays only.

Members of the congregation were vocal in advocating for the church, sending letters and petitions to Tobin; organizing a group called Save Our Church – Our Lady of Mount Carmel; holding a demonstration in Newark, and writing letters to Pope Francis in the Vatican.