In Rare Move, Catholic Officials Breathe New Life into Dying NJ Church

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Mass was held at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Montclair last weekend. The priest offered Communion and the congregation recited the Lord’s Prayer, as they have done for generations in the imposing brick church.

But a regular Mass was not always guaranteed at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Six years ago, the Archdiocese of Newark combined the historic church with a neighboring parish in Montclair. As masses dwindled and the church closed for a while, it looked like Our Lady of Mount Carmel might be closed for good.

But parishioners came together and fought to save their beloved church. They included siblings Marialena and Raffaele Marzullo, who grew up attending church and participating in its community. They appealed directly to the Vatican College of Cardinals to keep the church open.

Last month church supporters scored a major victory when the Archdiocese of Newark unexpectedly announced that Our Lady of Mount Carmel would continue to serve the community as an “oratory”. The rare classification means the church can continue to hold masses and remain a place of worship even though it is no longer its own parish.

“It’s a miracle, all on its own,” Raffaele Marzullo said of the surprise announcement.

An oratory is still a church — it just doesn’t have the organizational structure that goes along with being a parish, said Maria Margiotta, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Newark.

“Small parishes that may struggle with viability may retain use of the church building through the ‘oratory’ classification,” she said.

The word oratory comes from the Latin verb for “to pray”.

The designation respects “the strong bonds people develop with their faith communities and churches,” Margiotta said.

The Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel will be designated as a place of worship for daily prayer, the celebration of Mass and the sacraments, the diocese said. Masses will take place on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 8:30 a.m.; Saturdays at 4.30 p.m.; and Sunday at 11 a.m.

A special mass to celebrate the installation of the new rector, the Reverend Giandomenico Flora, will be held in the fall, the diocese said.

The church, built in 1937, has always welcomed new people, especially immigrant families from Italy who have created a tight-knit community over the years, Marialena Marzullo said. However, the Italian immigrant neighborhood near the Bay Street station on the Montclair-Glen Ridge border gradually changed and diversified as church attendance dwindled.

“Although our doors were closed, we never left the building,” Marialena Marzullo said of the time the church remained closed.

As for the new designation of an oratory, “it’s very good”, she added.

“As long as people can continue to (worship and feel a sense of community),” she said, “people can continue to receive their sacraments, and grow their marriages and their children in this church, c is all that really matters.”

Our Lady of Mount Carmel remains under the Archdiocese of Newark, functioning fully and independently, officials said. He will remain in the parish community of St. Teresa of Calcutta in Montclair, which also includes the larger Immaculate Conception Church in downtown Montclair.

More than $300,000 in repairs have been made to the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel building, diocesan officials said.

An additional grant of $55,000 provided by the Archdiocese will fund further renovation and furnishing costs. A pastoral council and a finance council will oversee the administration of the oratory and work with the new rector and the community to “support success and sustainability,” the diocese said.

Attendance, finances and other benchmarks will be “monitored and reviewed within a specified timeframe to ensure the sustainability and continued autonomy of the oratory,” according to the diocese.

The Archdiocese of Newark, led by Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, serves 1.3 million Catholics in 212 parishes and more than 70 schools in Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Union counties.

“It is a joyful occasion,” said Flora, the oratory’s new rector. “We recognize that many parishioners have longed for the opportunity to come together and celebrate Masses on weekdays and weekends.”

“The pandemic has reminded us of the difficulties of not being able to worship in community,” he added. “We now depend on the active participation of our faith community to help Oratoire Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel prosper and grow.

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Brianna Kudisch can be contacted at [email protected].


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