Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church reopened for its first Mass Nov. 27 since before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. (DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA)

By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
bartesaghi@montclairlocal.news

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church has reopened its doors — celebrating a milestone some congregants feared would never come.

Families, neighbors and old friends reunited at the newly renovated building for a Saturday, Nov. 27 Mass — celebrating the first Sunday of Advent, which was to take place the next day.

“While we have been ministering to all, even during the COVID lockdown, I am especially happy, excited and filled with hope as we reopen OLMC Church, a part of St. Teresa of Calcutta parish,” the Rev. Amilcar Benito Prado told Montclair Local in an email last week. “It has been a long journey, but with the faithfulness of our Lord, the assistance of the Archdiocese, and the support of parishioners, we have completed the repairs that were needed.” 

The reopening follows extensive repairs to the church’s structure, as well as years of activism from parishioners who suspected the Archdiocese of Newark had planned a permanent closure, heightened during the church’s merger with Immaculate Conception Church in 2016.

The activism centered around the Save Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church organization, which is closely connected to a community outreach program made up of parishioners. It continued as members complained on the group’s Facebook page and elsewhere about what they saw as years-long neglect of the building issues, and of cutbacks to events such as the church’s annual summertime feast.

Prado had told Montclair Local 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. 

All churches shut down in early 2020 during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Others returned as restrictions loosened. Until this weekend, OLMC never did.

In the time since, Prado has said, there has been work on the roof, to damaged snow pipes, to drain pipes and the interior. The ceiling of the church has been repaired and painted.

And while he and members of the Save Our Lady group haven’t always seen eye to eye about whether OLMC was treated as a priority, both celebrated the reopening.

“We are more than excited that the church is finally open,” Raffaele Marzullo, a member of the executive board of the community outreach program and member of Save Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, said. “We will continue working with the parish and the Archdiocese to keep Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church open.”

Dave Cardone, a parishioner who donated to the church’s repair and who had his baptism in the church, said the reopening was long overdue.

“Hopefully it remains open, you know? The older generation is dying off and it is up to us, the new generation to continue the legacy,” Cardone said. 

Joanna Theobald, another parishioner, supported the reopening as well. 

“I was married in that church. I was baptized there. The church was built by my grandmother. I feel my heart is here,” Theobald said. “I think it will remain open because people would not let that happen. This is our home.” 

Prado began the service thanking everyone for coming to celebrate the reopening, and welcomed Bishop Elias R. Lorenzo who conducted the liturgy. 

“We gather today to celebrate and begin a new chapter in the life of this parish,” Lorenzo said. “And to celebrate the new year of liturgy. This is the season of hope, season of joy and season of life.” 

At the end of the service, Lorenzo told the parishioners that “the church will remain open if the church stays full,” and advised them to continue coming. 

“One thing is to help renovate the church and another one is to be a member of the worshipping community,” Lorenzo said. “To maintain this community, please come back again and again and again.” 

Prado also thanked parishioners for the support the church has received for these past several years, and for help accomplishing the repairs. 

“We can work together so we can secure the future of our parish,” Prado said. “The church and the world are different places in 2021. With that in mind, the founders of OLMC may have led today’s charge of responding to the signs of these times with the words ‘andiamo avanti’ — we go forward together.” 

Prado said Masses will continue on the weekends at both Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and Immaculate Conception Church. Several services are already scheduled, such as for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12. 

More information on schedules is at montclaircatholics.org.

 

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