By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
bartesaghi@montclairlocal.news

Since Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s doors reopened on Nov. 27 after being closed for two years, parishioners have seen their church come to life again. 

The church had been shut down since the summer of 2019 due to air conditioning issues and other much-needed repairs.

It reopened during Advent last year after repairs were made to the  roof, the plaster ceilings and damaged pipes. The boiler was replaced in the winter, but the HVAC replacement had to be put off due to cost, the Rev. Amilcar Benito Prado said. 

Parishioners advocated for the church after the Archdiocese of Newark ordered Mount Carmel to shut in 2016; it was saved by a merger with Immaculate Conception Church into the joint St. Teresa of Calcutta parish.

Since November, parishioners have been welcomed to 4:30 p.m. Mass on Saturdays only. The church also offered ashes on Ash Wednesday and will be holding Stations of the Cross in March and April. 

The reopening of the church happened in part thanks to the work of a group of longtime parishioners called the Save Our Lady of Mount Carmel group. But parishioners want Sunday Masses restored as well. 

Raffaele Marzullo, a member of the executive board of the parish’s community outreach program and a member of the Save Our Lady of Mount Carmel group, sent multiple letters to the archdiocese, and later to the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy and its Supreme Tribunal of Apostolic Signature, seeking to reopen the church and restore its Mass schedule.

“Our main question is why was our Mass schedule, most importantly Sunday Mass, not being restored at Mount Carmel?” Marzullo said. 

Maria Margiotta, director of communications and public relations for the Archdiocese of Newark, sent a statement in response to a request for comment from Montclair Local:

“The churches of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Immaculate Conception in Montclair merged in 2016 to form the parish of St. Teresa of Calcutta, which, together, serve the Catholic community of Montclair and surrounding neighborhoods. Currently, Masses are celebrated in both churches – on Saturday afternoons in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and on Sundays at Immaculate Conception, and the parish community is welcome to all services. 

“We have heard and recognize the concerns of some parishioners and community members regarding the availability of Mass services. However, as parishioner attendance remains low at this time, due in part to the ongoing pandemic, the Mass schedule in multiple buildings for this parish community will remain as is for now. 

“It is important to recognize that operating multiple church buildings requires human and financial resources that are an ongoing consideration especially given the current challenging environment. The Archdiocese of Newark and our parish, pastor and staff remain committed to the faithful of this parish community and will inform them of any changes to the schedule.” 

Montclair Local also sought comment from Prado, pastor of St. Teresa of Calcutta parish, but did not receive a reply. 

Marzullo said the parishioners are requesting reinstatement of Sunday Mass at Mount Carmel or an announcement to the parish of a specific date when that will take place by the first Sunday in Lent, March 6. 

They are also asking that a committee be formed to plan the revitalization of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and to create a timetable for the return of fundraising activities and ministries. He said both churches should be given administrative and spiritual attention. 

“In order to serve the parishioners of St. Teresa of Calcutta and the community nearby with the best opportunity to sustain and move forward the archdiocese and the pastor must collaborate on this critical issue of assigning an additional full-time priest on staff. Those just dropping in to help say Masses are appreciated; however, they do not address the real needs of the parish,” Marzullo said.​​

Parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel want the church to reimplement weekly Sunday Mass. From left, Maryanne Proto, Tom Russo, Steve Ruccio, Dan Arminio, Ennio Mongioj, Raffaelle Marzullo, Anthony Scarano, Russ Gill, Gery Lomaestro Gil and Angela Gallo. (COURTESY GINA STAMBOLIAN)
Parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel want the church to reimplement weekly Sunday Mass. From left, Maryanne Proto, Tom Russo, Steve Ruccio, Dan Arminio, Ennio Mongioj, Raffaelle Marzullo, Anthony Scarano, Russ Gill, Gery Lomaestro Gil and Angela Gallo. (COURTESY GINA STAMBOLIAN)
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Parishioner Gina M. Stambolian said when the church reopened at the end of November without the Sunday Mass schedule, it was shocking and upsetting to her. 

“Since Mount Carmel is part of a combined parish with Immaculate Conception, the two churches should rightfully share a Mass schedule. There should be equality and fairness, and the Masses should be shared equally between the two parishes,” she said.

When Stambolian’s maternal great-grandparents, Louis and Anna Luibil, emigrated from Cerami, a community in Sicily, in the early 1900s they settled on Sherman Street in Montclair. And like many Italian immigrants who came to Montclair during that time they attended Our Lady of Mount Carmel, located at 94 Pine St., and found a community away from home. 

Stambolian said five generations of her family have attended the church. Her great-grandfather was one of the founders of the St. Sebastian Society, named after the patron saint of Cerami. And her grandmother, Jennie Luibil Lannone, belonged to the church’s Rosary Society and was very active with the church throughout the years. 

“My mother sang in the choir from a young age and, as an adult, she was also a soloist in the choir,” Stambolian said. “Through the generations, Mount Carmel has been a mainstay in our lives, a place where we have practiced our faith, and a place where we feel is home.”

She remembers growing up on Sherman Street and looking toward the church and always thinking it was the crown on top of the street. 

“The church bells were always heard, and the beauty of it remains in my memory to this day,” she said. 

For Maryanne Proto, Our Lady of Mount Carmel is more than a church. Her connection to the church goes back four generations. Her grandfather, Gaetano Proto, was also born in Cerami, and her grandfather and grandmother were married in the original wooden church here. Her father, Anthony Proto, a parishioner for all of his 85 years, was baptized in the wooden church in 1932.

Maryanne Proto remembers attending, as a child, the Feast of St. Sebastian, an annual celebration in August. She said the celebration felt like Christmas in August. 

“My house was bustling with family, friends, festivities and excitement. Many of my most cherished memories throughout my lifetime are centered around the St. Sebastian events and his feast,” she said. 

Elsa Napolitano also said that Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church represents her family history. She said her family had baptisms, communions, confirmations and weddings at the church.

“Our Lady of Mount Carmel is home, our home. Her doors were shut on us for money, even though our church was solvent,” Napolitano said. “Our doors should be open for everyone to experience the love we all felt when walking in the door of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.”