As part of the parish’s 175th anniversary celebration, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Astoria, celebrated its regular weekday noon Mass Sept. 15 at the parish’s cemetery on the corner of 21st Street and 26th Avenue.
Celebrated on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, the Mass served the purpose of honoring the souls of the church’s early parishioners who played a role in the parish’s history.
With over 100 people in attendance, Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Chappetto celebrated the Mass with Msgr. Sean Ogle, pastor, as the concelebrant.
To both of their knowledge, a Mass had never been celebrated at the cemetery in the 175-year history of the parish.
“It is a unique thing to do in a unique year,” Msgr. Ogle said. “Thank God for the people both buried here and all the generations that succeeded them that they represent.”
According to Msgr. Ogle, the cemetery was founded in 1841 when the parish was established by Father Michael Curran, who used to come over in a rowboat from St. Paul’s on 99th Street in Manhattan, which at the time was the only parish north of 14th Street.
The first church building resembled a log cabin, and as was typical for rural villages at the time, the parish had a connecting cemetery. The temporary altar for the cemetery Mass was erected in what was thought to be a similar spot as the altar of the original church.
After 30 years, the main church moved to its current location on the corner of Newtown Avenue and Crescent Street. The parish’s cemetery though remained at the original plot of land.
Msgr. Ogle said almost all of the legible tombstones in the cemetery indicate the early parishioners were born in Ireland and immigrated to America to escape the effects of the Irish Potato Famine of the mid-1850s.
The idea for the cemetery Mass originated with Bishop Chappetto, who grew up in Astoria, attended the parochial school, received all his sacraments at the church and celebrated his First Mass at the parish.
“It was a thought from Bishop Chappetto and Msgr. Ogle that we don’t typically have Mass here and the parish was celebrating its 175th anniversary, so it would be a perfect opportunity,” said Stephen Comando, executive director of Catholic Cemeteries.
In his homily, the bishop recalled his early memories of what was once known as “the graveyard” of Our Lady of Mount Carmel church.
“When I was a young boy growing up in Astoria, this cemetery was not well cared for,” he said. “It was overgrown with weeds; it was kind of a scary place. You didn’t even realize it was a cemetery; you thought it was an empty lot or an abandoned place.”
However, the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Catholic Cemeteries Office took over the maintenance of the cemetery in the 1980s and is now responsible for its upkeep.
“Now it’s a wonderful place to visit,” Bishop Chappetto said. “It’s wonderful to come back home to a very historic moment in the life of this parish.”
The Mass continued what has been a year-long celebration of the parish’s 175th anniversary. The festivities began last October when Auxiliary Bishop Paul Sanchez dedicated the renovated church building and continued with a special Mass July 16 on the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
“I’ve been here my whole life; I went to grammar school here,” said Jane Ann McGettrick, a longtime parishioner and trustee of the parish who also serves as a lector, an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and a member of the finance committee. “This is our 175th anniversary. It’s very special…and thought it was a wonderful ceremony to have on an occasion like this.”
The jubilee year continues with a dinner dance Oct. 8 and a pilgrimage to the Vatican and parts of Italy in November. A closing Mass in December officially closes the celebration.