Mount Carmel Church
Last night, the startling news appeared for all to learn: Mount Carmel Church, the church I grew up in, was set for demolition. The last Mass was Sunday, May 1, 2016; a last celebration, of sorts, with the last group of eight-year-olds making their First Communions. Someday they would tell their children and grandchildren of this historic day.
They would be the last in a long saga of baptisms, Masses, First Communions, Confirmations, weddings and funerals to be held there. Iīm glad the church was ending on a happy note - a new beginning in the Catholic faith for these children.
But sad, too, I think, for past parishioners, including myself, who went there. I personally grew up in that church and have many fond memories: my First Communion at age eight; my first time at a wedding, of my cousin Louise, at age 10; my second wedding, of my sister Joanne, at age 11; my Confirmation at age 13; and other family weddings, a few funerals and countless Sunday Masses.
This church, through its teachings and catechism, had helped shape me, my perception, and my values as a child and as a young adult.
As a child, I was very much in awe of the church. At that time, in the late 1950s and the early 1960s, church was different. It was a solemn, reverent, quiet and somewhat mystical place. It was always a bit dark, no bright lights. Candles flickered faintly in small red glass cups at the front of the church, to be lit quietly and prayerfully in remembrance of deceased loved ones. The Mass was in Latin. People bought and held their own missals to read and to follow along the Mass. It was a caring, pious, Biblical place.
Women were still obligated to wear hats and were to curtsy or bow to the altar when entering; now still, a practiced custom. But unlike now, people dressed up. There was no casual attire, no jeans or dungarees, as they were called in my day. A kind of respect was shown through oneīs clothing, especially on Easter, with special hats, coats, dresses and usually patent-leather shoes for women; a true Easter Parade in motion, a pageant, of sorts. Men were dressed, too, usually in a sport coat or suit.
At that time, to me, and to countless others, Easter was "It" in the Church. It was the holiday to look forward to and the one most celebrated. I think, more so than Christmas. Maybe it was that it was more evident through oneīs dress. It was more prominent in a way; it was more celebratory.
With time, I believe when the dress code changed in the schools in 1970, so did the church attire and its attitude. People got lazy, relaxed, instead of seeing who could outdo who with their clothes, their hats. Then came the mantilla, a sort of short lace kerchief women wore on their heads, always white, and always just above the shoulders. Later, when one might forget her mantilla, it became quick and acceptable to just bobbypin a tissue to oneīs head. What was happening? Where was the respect? Where was the fashion? What happened to the competition?
It just seemed, in a short time, a matter of a few years, everything changed. No obligation to wear hats, no Latin, no missals, no dressing up and lastly, to my dismay, no beautiful marble altar. The beautiful altar that I had kneeled on for my First Communion and countless communions thereafter, was suddenly gone, exchanged for a sleeker more modern looking up to date church with no altar at all. Really?
After these changes, church was never the same for me. It lost its mystique, its holiness. I missed my old church but became accustomed, with everyone else, to the new. Times were changing and the church was now a sign of the times.
However, Sunday remained a special day for me. It all started at home with the one-mile trek, each way, from my home to church and back. It was sort of an outing. I would walk with my two sisters and it was either catechism classes after Mass or a trip to the penny candy store, on the way home, or to Steveīs Spa for frozen lemonade. Then home for Momīs traditional Italian dinner with the whole family - which grew with time.
Today, a new sign of the times will cause the loss, not only of the altar, but of the whole church, forever. The modern advance of the I-290 highway, over time, has taken our church. The dust, grime and accumulation of powerful debris has blown in its face, permanently disfiguring and now ending its life.
The end of my church. How sad. However, happy times and memories are forever and only a mindset away. I will fondly remember you, Mount Carmel. My childhood days: the anticipation, the solemn times, the happy times, the reverence, the joy, the energy of your existence.
Your karma remains forever in my heart and in the hearts of countless parishioners.