by Marie Elena Giossi
Last Saturday, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and Msgr. Sean Ogle openly confessed the sin of pride – pride in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, the mother church of Queens, as the Astoria parish marked its 170th anniversary and patronal feast day.
“I am very proud of this parish. I know the effort you put into staying together,” the bishop announced to a multilingual, multiethnic congregation who filled the church to capacity for the 5 p.m. anniversary Mass on July 16.
Bishop DiMarzio was the main celebrant of the Mass. Special concelebrants included Msgr. Ogle; parochial vicars, Father Joseph Pham and Father Peter Nguyen; pastors emeriti, Fathers Ed Brady and Frank Lynch; former pastor, Msgr. Paul Sanchez, episcopal vicar, Queens; former parochial vicar, Father Josephjude Gannon, now-pastor of St. Gerard Majella, Hollis; Father Ray Roden, in residence; Father Peter Nwadimkpa, summer assistant; Father Michael Kerrigan, whose mother resides in the parish; and Msgr. Jim Hunt, a native of the parish.
Deacon Jaime Varela, the bishop’s assistant; and parish Deacon Manuel Barahona, assisted on the altar.
Representing the Sisters of St. Joseph, Brentwood, who ran the parish school for 114 years, was Sister Barbara Buckbee C.S.J., the parish’s Catholic School promoter.
A Knights of Columbus color corps led the entrance procession followed by Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre and parish trustees, Jane Ann McGettrick and Marilyn Gazzara, and about 20 parish groups and ministries carrying elaborate banners, which were displayed in the parish center at a dessert reception following the liturgy.
Existed Before the Diocese
“Today we celebrate the 170th anniversary of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parish. It is truly remarkable this parish existed before the diocese itself existed,” the bishop said in his opening remarks.
In the mid-1830s, nearly two decades before the Brooklyn Diocese was established, Irish-born Father Michael Curran, who would become the first pastor, wanted to open a Catholic church to serve Irish immigrants moving to northwestern Queens. On two plots of land at 21st St. and 26th Ave., donated by John Shea, a teacher, a wooden church was built in 1841 to serve 118 people, including 16 non-Catholics.
Within 30 years, the faithful outgrew their humble church and began fundraising for the present building, on the corner of Newtown Ave. and Crescent St. The cornerstone was laid Sept. 9, 1871, and the church was dedicated Aug. 7, 1873. It was enlarged and embellished with a limestone facade, deeper sanctuary and stained-glass windows in 1915.
A school and convent, church basement, rectory and parish center, called the Institute, were added in the 1880s and ’90s.
With 300 children and six Josephite Sisters from Brentwood, the parish school opened at Astoria Blvd. and Crescent St. on Sept. 14, 1891. A new school adjacent to the rectory was erected in 1954.
Massgoer Mary Horan Doran recalled attending seventh and eighth grade in the parish school, where she dutifully studied the old Baltimore Catechism. “I learned my faith there. I love Mt. Carmel and I owe Mt. Carmel my catechism,” she said.
Although the school closed in 2005, youth continue to be catechized through the religious education program, which enrolls over 350 students.
In 1965, as the parish joyfully marked its 125th anniversary, changes were on the horizon. The late ’60s and ’70s brought the addition of Saturday and Sunday evening Masses and the celebration of Masses in the Czech and Slovak and Spanish languages to accommodate new residents. To serve the population, Masses were celebrated in the upper and lower churches and in a rented movie theatre on Broadway.
In the 1980s, the parish began offering more comprehensive religious education and pastoral care programs; expanded lay ministries; added Folk and Italian Masses; and provided space to job training and social service programs, including Flowers with Care and Catholic Charities.
Through the years, as more Catholics settled in the area, at least 10 parishes were carved out of Mt. Carmel’s territory.
St. Margaret Mary Church, Long Island City, was created in 1961 at Ninth St. and 27th Ave., five blocks from Mt. Carmel. In 2006, as part of the diocesan reconfiguration plan, St. Margaret Mary was reintegrated into Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, which is now one parish with two active worship sites.
Eleven Masses, Five Languages, Two Sites
“We have 11 Masses every weekend (nine at Mt. Carmel and two at St. Margaret Mary) and that includes five languages” — English, Spanish, Czech-Slovak, Italian and Vietnamese, said Msgr. Ogle. He noted that 1,800 people attend Mass on the average weekend.
“We have diversity in languages and cultures, but also in age groups,” said the monsignor, who was appointed pastor in 2008.
He praised the “large and devoted” Hispanic and Filippino populations, whose mature members add vitality to the parish’s Diamond Carmel Senior group and whose younger members stay active through service with the Jornada movement, and social activities.
He admires the piety of the Italian, Vietnamese and Czech-Slovak communities. He also values the long-established parishioners and the young American professionals, newcomers to the trendy area, whom he calls “a wonderful addition.”
What impresses Msgr. Ogle most about his parish family is their “extreme generosity with their talents. These are service-oriented people,” as is evident from the strong base of lay volunteers who organized the procession and reception and also participated in the Mass.
“There is a lot going on and the people are encouraging,” Msgr. Ogle said. “It’s a great place to be.”
That has been particularly true during this anniversary year, when the focus has been “to reflect and celebrate and challenge the people to the New Evangelization,” Msgr. Ogle said.
Parish Renewal Plan
Parish renewal has been a major effort with the appointment of a new pastoral council, the creation of a three-year pastoral plan, and significant repair work underway on the exterior of seven parish buildings.
The Filippino community initiated weekly line dancing nights to draw parishioners and visitors, and a lecture series offered insights into parish history and art, upcoming changes to the liturgy and spirituality.
Future goals include boosting Mass attendance, involving more parishioners, having greater integration and interface among parish groups, and increasing youth and young adult participation.
“Diversity is truly our strength,” shared Neida Martinez, new parish council member and parishioner for nearly 30 years. “Msgr. Ogle has done a great job of getting a lot of parishioners involved. I hope we can help people feel fellowship in our faith. I want us to continue to progress and be unified.”
“This parish has had a long and glorious history under the patronage of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel,” the bishop acknowledged.
“Keep up the good work,” he said, and encouraged the parish to continue to “flourish and grow.”