Representatives of several organizations in the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church community have reached out to the archbishop of Newark, pleading their case to schedule more Masses for a congregation that some parishioners argue has long been neglected.

The church reopened its doors in late November, for a Saturday Mass celebrating the first Sunday of Advent, following extensive repairs to its structure and years of activism from parishioners who suspected the Archdiocese of Newark had planned a permanent closure — a concern heightened during the church’s merger with Immaculate Conception Church into the St. Teresa of Calcutta parish 2016.

The church had an on-and-off schedule even prior to the pandemic, parishioners say. Early pandemic restrictions shut down public access to all houses of worship, but OLMC remained closed even after coronavirus restrictions were lifted. 

Even now, according to members of the St. Donato, St. Sebastian and St. Vito Societies — as well as the Community Outreach Program that, while not formally affiliated with the church, is made up of its parishioners — OLMC only has one Mass a week, on Saturdays. They say in a May 15 letter to Cardinal Joseph Tobin it’s the only church out of 216 in the Archdiocese of Newark without a Sunday Mass.

“Many of us individually and together with thall the societies that support this letter felt compelled to make significant donations, which we did, to renovate Our Lady of Mount Carmel,” the societies and outreach program wrote. “These donations were made with the understanding that the church was closed because of repairs and would reopen upon the completion of repairs with the same Mass schedule.”

Out of 10 Masses a week celebrated at the parish, only one is at OLMC, they wrote. The remainder are at Immaculate Conception.

“It's almost like they're throwing crumbs,” Marialena Marzullo, president of the Community Outreach Program and a member of the closely associated Save Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church organization, said. “Not everybody can attend that [Saturday Mass]. We’re working people. If you work on a Saturday, like a lot of parishoners do, you can’t go.”

Maria Margiotta, a spokesperson for the archdiocese, stressed in an email to Montclair Local that all Masses at St. Teresa churches are open to all members of the parish’s community.

“We have heard and recognize the concerns of some parishioners and community members regarding the availability of Mass services,” she wrote. “However, as parishioner attendance remains low at this time, due in part to ongoing COVID-19 concerns, the Mass schedule in multiple buildings for this parish community will remain as is for now.”

She also said operating multiple church buildings requires human and financial resources “that are an ongoing consideration especially given the current challenging environment.”

“The Archdiocese of Newark, the pastor, and the parish staff remain committed to the faithful of this parish community and will inform them of any changes to the schedule,” she wrote.

But the societies and outreach program say the Saturday OLMC Mass has consistently seen attendance of more than 85 parishioners, and believe that’s enough to justify more services.

“When the question was originally put out, [the parish’s pastor’s] llame explanation was that we base it on attendance and how much people put into the basket,” said Raffaele Marzullo, Marialena’s brother, and a fellow member of both the Community Outreach Program and the Save Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church group. “This is a pastor speaking. Apparently there's no spirituality involved. just money and attendance.”

The letter’s writers say the Rev. Amilcar Benito Prado — known to parishioners as “Father Penny” — refuses to meet with them, and questions why he visits churches outside of the St. Teresa Parish to conduct Masses while the community within his home parish is asking for more. Other priests, in turn, sometimes handle the Masses at OLMC, they said.

“Why should we be paying other priests to say Mass when our pastor should be saying Mass at his/our parish?” the letter states. “This practice generates personal funds between the priests, which could be viewed as a matter of greater concern.”

They say Prado should “have the same passion and dedication to Our Lady of Mount Carmel that the parishioners have,” and schedule more activities and fundraisers for OLMC alongside additions to the Mass schedule. 

Margiotta — who said she was speaking for both the archdiocese and Prado — didn’t address the pastor’s commitments outside of St. Teresa, or the perception by the letter’s writers that he wasn’t fully committed to OLMC.

That concern has been raised several times by members of the OLMC congregation, in particular by the Community Outreach Program and the Save Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church organization.

Activism through the Save Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church Facebook page and elsewhere has centered on what group members describe as years-long neglect of the building issues, and on cutbacks to events such as the church’s annual summertime feast. The group’s concerns eventually led it to write a letter last year to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy and its Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, seeking to appeal what members believed was a decision to close OLMC. They ultimately got a letter back saying there had been no formal decree to close the church, and therefore nothing to appeal.

Prado told Montclair Local last year that when he was assigned to the parish in 2017, he found the “condition of many of the parish buildings was reflective of the broken hearts of many of the faithful parishioners.” OLMC, he said, was in “particularly bad shape.” The roof needed repairs and plaster was falling from the ceilings. Water infiltrated the basement through damaged pipes. In 2019, the boiler and then later an HVAC unit died, Prado said. The boiler was replaced in the winter, but the HVAC replacement had to be put off due to cost, he said. 

He described extensive repair work that was needed to get the church reopened. 

“Now that we seem to have repaired the buildings, it's on to God's work of repairing hearts,” Prado said at the time. “I pray that I will have the support and cooperation of all in our community to accomplish the same success.”

In their letter, the societies and outreach program also ask that the parish establish a committee “to plan for the revitalization of OLMC,” including fundraising activities and expanded ministries. They seek an additional full-time priest for the parish, saying visiting priests who help out are appreciated, but “they do not address the everyday needs of the parish.” And they ask for the Community Outreach Program to be “welcomed back and accepted into this parish as a viable organization and a voice at the table” comparable to the societies.

Margiotta didn’t address those aspects of their request in her message to Montclair Local.

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