By LINDA MOSS
With the blessing of, and a donation from, the head of its new parish, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church plans to resurrect its summertime feast.
At a Sunday meeting at the Pine Street house of worship, its leaders sought support for plans to launch or restart a host of fundraising efforts, including the July feast, to ensure that the church remains open.
The Rev. Amilcar Benito Prado — administrator of Mount Carmel’s newly formed parish, St. Teresa of Calcutta — said he would donate $200 out of his own pocket as seed money to help resurrect the festival.
At the meeting, which more than 100 people attended, Prado also agreed that money raised by Mount Carmel — from the festival at the very least — will be earmarked only for its use. But the Pine Street church’s members later said that they wanted clarification on that promise.
Roman Catholic Mount Carmel church last held its feast in 2015. The two years since, the church has had only a procession, not an elaborate days-long event with amusement rides, a 50/50 raffle, a street fair, games, music and food trucks, taking place from late afternoon until night in its parking lot.
Mount Carmel called the meeting, held at its downstairs hall, to jump-start efforts to keep the church financially solvent following its September 2016 merger with the Church of the Immaculate Conception on North Fullerton Avenue.
The merged churches formed a new parish, St. Teresa of Calcutta, which July 1 last year was put under the management of Prado. The merger was an acrimonious marriage, because Mount Carmel worshipers feared their church would be shuttered. Now, more than a year later, some Mount Carmel members still fear the church will be closed and that it is being treated like a poor stepchild — not getting roof repairs done, experiencing problems with heating and not having its own business administrator.
“It seems to me that Immaculate Conception has been receiving all the perks and Our Lady of Mount Carmel has been treated as second-class Catholics,” said former Montclair Police Chief Thomas Russo, a church member.
Mount Carmel needs to generate $80,000 in annual revenue to survive and that is the objective, said church leader Frank Cardell, who is also the church’s unpaid financial adviser.
To raise money he and Raffaele Marzullo, another church leader, said that 50-50 raffles, Tricky Tray events and perhaps even bingo need to be reinstated at the church. Mount Carmel is also looking to start classes to teach Spanish-speaking residents to speak English, in turn hoping that they start attending Mass at the church.
“We need to go beyond Sunday … We need to all come together,” Marzullo said.
Dan Arminio, who is president of both the St. Sebastian feast and Mount Carmel’s St. Donato Society, told the meeting that it will take a lot of work to start up the July festival again, requiring people to pitch in on countless subcommittees and to acquire the necessary licenses.
“That’s [the feast] a big thing to do … I’m going to donate $200 out of my pocket in order to start the fundraising,” Prado said.
Prado, known as Father Benny, fielded some tough questions from members of Mount Carmel during the hour-long meeting. In particular, some people wanted to know if the money that the church raises, from events like the festival, will go to Mount Carmel or the entire St. Teresa parish, including Immaculate Conception.
Initially, Marzullo, Cardell and Prado said it would go to the parish, but that careful financial records would be kept on how much Mount Carmel was contributing.
“It goes to the parish, but we stay open,” Marzullo said. “That’s the key.”
There is only one bank account for the parish now, not one for each of its churches, according to Prado. But Mount Carmel member Elsa Napolitano told Prado that he needed to meet suspicious members of the church halfway on the fundraising.
“You have to play ball with us, too,” she said.
At that point, the priest said that funds from Mount Carmel’s feast can be restricted “specifically for this building.”
Said Prado, “We can do that … Yes, if we get the money from the feast we can just use it specifically for the capital improvements … buildings, improvements.”
Napolitano at one point went up to the front of the room and said, “Father has just made a commitment to us. He made a commitment that he said that the monies that we raise for Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 100 percent of it, will go to Our Lady of Mount Carmel.”
Prado said that he is addressing Mount Carmel’s needs, is trying to keep both if St. Teresa’s churches open and is working to bring the Spanish-speaking community to Mount Carmel.
Mount Carmel isn’t the only Catholic church facing financial difficulties and smaller attendance, Prado told the group. In a recent trip to Spain he said he had to pay to visit two churches. He added that the Diocese of Pittsburgh will be closing almost 80 of its roughly 170 parishes.
“The problem is universal, it’s not us,” Prado said. “That our situation. That’s our challenge … I don’t work wonders here. I don’t make magic. I came here July 1 and I inherited what I have.”
At the meeting Loretta Volpe, who is on the parish council, came up to the front of the hall and announced that she would be writing a check for $150 for Mount Carmel to help kick off the fundraising.
Cardell became emotional at one point at the meeting, and choked up.
“We’re doing it for the church, that’s all,” he said.
Marzullo also made an emotional vow, saying that the only way Mount Carmel would ever be shut is “over my dead body.”
The Archdiocese of Newark’s new head, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, will decide Mount Carmel’s fate this year, according to Prado.
“In May, June he will make the call,” Prado said.
He suggested that Mount Carmel extend an invitation to the cardinal to July’s feast.
“I can assure you I’ve been working very hard since the day I arrived here to keep both places going,” Prado said.