The community outreach program by parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church provides meals to Toni’s Kitchen for families in need. (COURTESY MONTCLAIR-AQUILONIA SISTER CITIES)

By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
bartesaghi@montclairlocal.news

Starting this fall, a section of Pine Street will likely be known as Aquilonia Way — in honor of the township’s continuing relationship with its sister city of Aquilonia, Italy.

The Montclair Township Council unanimously approved a first reading of an ordinance that would give the honorary name to a stretch of Pine Street between Claremont Avenue and Grant Street at its July 13 meeting. The measure would become official after a second reading and vote. The council next meets for a conference session Aug. 10.

The area is home to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, which closed its doors in the coronavirus pandemic, though the church’s community and an effort to save the church from permanent closure remain active. Parishioners of the church spearheaded the effort to make Aquilonia the most recent addition to Montclair’s slate of sister cities in 2017. Delegations from Montclair and Aquilonia visited each other’s communities that year




Councilman David Cummings, who represents Montclair’s Fourth Ward, said that since the 1950s and 1960s, African Americans and Italian Americans have lived in the community there together. 

“And there’s a lot of family history there. Mount Carmel is a church that has a tremendous history in the township,” Cummings said during the council meeting. “This is a good way to recognize their heritage and that part of time. So, kudos, and as a Fourth Ward councilor, it is great to be able to be part of this.”

Raffaele Marzullo — co-chair and founder of the Montclair-Aquilonia Sister Cities organization as well as co-chair of a community outreach program made up of parishioners — said the idea to rename part of Pine Street first came up a year ago, in discussion with Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller, Deputy Mayor William Hurlock and the outreach program.

“The history between Montclair and Aquilonia is very deep, rooted in history,” Hurlock said at the meeting. “Montclair has many residents who immigrated from Aquilonia over the years and have been a huge contributing part of the Montclair community and the culture of Montclair.” 

Marzullo said the relationship between Aquilonia and Montclair is better than ever, and that the ordinance is important not only to keep that relationship strong, but to acknowledge the work of the community over the last year.

“It is important because it acknowledges the hard work of a coalition [of] volunteers, municipal workers and all the societies that make up Mount Carmel Church, especially the community outreach program, who during the pandemic continue to deliver to Toni’s Kitchen, the Human Needs Food Pantry of Montclair and the Salvation Army Citadel of Montclair,” Marzullo said. 

This past year, the community outreach program delivered more than 100 Thanksgiving dinners to the Salvation Army for families in need, he said. It also donated more than $1,000 to the Northeast Earth Coalition.

That work included efforts by Marzullo’s sister, Marialena Marzullo, also a co-chair of both the sister cities organization and of the church’s outreach program.

“Marialena … and other parishioners of Mount Carmel started delivering bread to those who found themselves in a time of need. Bread is what sustains us,” Marzullo said. “Before we knew it, it took on a life of its own. Township Council members, employees, police and firefighters volunteered to help.”

Raffaele Marzullo said his sister and other community outreach program members have been delivering food, doughnuts and bread to the First Montclair House (a retirement community for seniors on Walnut Street), to the first responders at Mountainside hospital and to the Montclair police and fire departments because of their tireless work during the pandemic.

“The community outreach program delivered to all the locations every day so they would have food products to take home,” Raffaele Marzullo said.

Marialena Marzullo said the church had always been a second home for her family, and for other immigrants who came to Montclair. And it was a place where a deep sense of community service was ingrained, she said.

“We were so blessed to come to this country,” she said. And because of the church and the community around it, she said, working to help others “is just in the fiber of our being.”

In 2017, the Montclair-Aquilonia Sister Cities organization was founded to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Club Aquilonese San Vito Martire, based at the church, which has welcomed immigrants from Aquilonia to Montclair. Raffaele Marzullo is the society’s president.

The effort was supported by former Mayor Robert Jackson, Hurlock and the entire Township Council as a way to draw attention to concerns that the Archdiocese of Newark wanted to close Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Raffaele Marzullo said.

In 2016, the archdiocese chose to combine Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Mount Carmel into one new parish, St. Teresa of Calcutta, to coincide with her canonization on Sept. 4, 2016. Parishioners had said they feared a closure was in the works for years before the building shut amid the pandemic.

“All of Montclair wanted the church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to be kept open,” Raffaele Marzullo said.

He said the community outreach program has filed an appeal to the Vatican, seeking to prevent the permanent closure of the church, so it can continue to be “the pillar of the community that goes beyond its doors to take care of everyone, regardless of race, color or religious belief.” 

The sister cities organization planned to engage in a student exchange program between Montclair State University and students from Aquilonia just before the pandemic. Hurlock is hopeful the program will resume next year.

“We are looking forward to resurrecting that and also to continue the exchange program with delegations,” he said. “We look forward to continuing the tradition and honoring the culture and history of the Italian community here in Montclair.”

Montclair also has sister city relationships with Graz in Austria, the borough of Barnet in London and Cherepovets in Russia.