Monday, September 12, 2022

Saving a parish church by designation of Oratory


In rare move, Catholic officials give dying N.J. church new life

Mass was held at 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 for generations at the towering 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 nearby parish in Montclair. As Masses dwindled and the church closed for a time, it appeared Our Lady of Mount Carmel might be permanently shuttered.

But parishioners rallied and fought to save their beloved church. They included siblings Marialena and Raffaele Marzullo, who grew up going to the church and taking part in its community. They appealed directly to the College of Cardinals at the Vatican to keep the church open.

Last month, the church’s supporters scored a major victory when the Archdiocese of Newark unexpectedly announced Our Lady of Mount Carmel will 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 if it is no longer its own parish.

“It’s a miracle, all by itself,” 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, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Newark.

“Small parishes that may be struggling with viability can retain use of the church building through the classification of ‘oratory,’” 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 church buildings,” Margiotta said.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church will be designated as a worship place for daily prayer, the celebration of Mass and sacraments, the diocese said. Masses will be held on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 8:30 a.m.; Saturdays at 4:30 p.m.; and Sundays at 11 a.m.

A special Mass to celebrate the installation of the newly appointed rector, the Rev. 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 created a tight knit community over the years, said Marialena Marzullo. However, the neighborhood of Italian immigrants near the Bay Street train station on the Montclair-Glen Ridge border gradually changed and became more diverse as church attendance dwindled.

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

As for the new designation of an oratory, “that’s absolutely fine,” 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 have their marriages and their children grow up in that church, that’s all that really matters.”

Our Lady of Mount Carmel remains under the Archdiocese of Newark, operating fully and independently, officials said. It 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 Our Lady of Mount Carmel church building, diocese officials said.

An additional $55,000 in grant funding provided by the archdiocese will fund other renewal and furnishing costs. A pastoral council and finance council will oversee the oratory’s administration and work with the new rector and community to “sustain success and viability,” the diocese said.

Attendance, finances and other benchmarks will be “monitored and reviewed within a designated period of time to ensure the endurance and continuation of the oratory’s self-reliance,” according to the diocese.

The Archdiocese of Newark, which is 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.

“This is a joyous occasion,” said Flora, the oratory’s new rector. “We recognize that many parishioners have yearned for the opportunity to come together and celebrate weekday and weekend Masses.”

“The pandemic reminded us of the difficulties of not being able to worship as a community,” he added. “We now depend on the active participation of our faith community to help Our Lady of Mount Carmel Oratory thrive and grow.”

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