In the late 19th century, Italian immigrants in Utica longed for their own church. Brick by brick, they toiled to erect their dream. On Dec. 20, 1896, they celebrated the first Mass
in Santa Maria di Monte Carmela in the basement of the unfinished church.
Now, 125 years later, generations have called this place home. We asked parishioners to share their memories of our vibrant parish and their hopes for the future
as we enter our next chapter.
Memories are everlasting; tomorrow begins today
By JOHN M. REALE JR.
I have many great memories of our parish, especially having gone to the parish school as well — from those school days, to the many festivals and liturgies, working pizza fritta since I was 16, being in the choir and just being part of a great and loving parish family. All of those have contributed greatly to my development as a Catholic Christian.
Our parish means a lot to me. It’s a place I call home and can definitely feel the sense of the sacred. It’s a sacred place of fond memories of important moments in our family from celebrating new life through baptism, first Eucharist and weddings, to bidding farewell to loved ones who returned to God’s holy dwelling place.
I have learned a lot over the years from many different generations at our parish but most especially my grandparents’ generation and how Mount Carmel parish was the center of their lives and that Our Lady of Mount Carmel was always there to guide them through any challenging times. The parish is certainly a source of my internal strength to get through those difficult moments as well as sharing in my many blessings.
I have a great admiration toward our ancestors who built our parish to what it is today. It takes a lot to keep anything strong for 125 years, but here we are with our Blessed Lady to guide us along the way. I think if we continue to be Christ centered and God continues to bless us with great spiritual leadership, we should be around as a parish family, no matter how that may look, for quite a while.
Our church building is beautiful and well known in the area, but what I think sets us apart is our parish family. Just as a house is a structure but a home is made by the people who reside in the house, I feel the same with our parish. It’s great to have such a beautiful edifice to our Lord through the guidance of His Blessed Mother, but it’s the people who make up the parish family that will continue to sustain us.
For us as a parish to continue for another 125 years I think we need to continue to be open to other cultures. We have embraced the Burmese and Vietnamese communities, which is great, but how can we further that what more can we do to reach out to them and other migrants.
Our parish was founded by Italian migrants, and Bishop Scalabrini who blessed our cornerstone made serving the migrants and refugees the mission of his order. I treasure our Italian heritage and traditions, but we need to include other ethnicities to bring us into the future. We should also further develop our outreach to the local community. I know we already do many different things, but how else can we expand upon that and especially help those parishioners who may be in need?
Lastly, we need to better evangelize to our youth. As most parishes, we see fewer and fewer of our youth. We certainly cannot sustain ourselves as a parish if we have fewer young families participating.
My advice to those who will be the lifeblood of the parish in the future is to embrace your parish family and make practicing your faith a priority. Parish life can be very life giving and most importantly our beautiful Catholic faith.
Let our Lady of Mount Carmel continue to guide you and watch over you to bring the mission of our parish into the future.
Parish the ‘center of life’ for the Zarelli family
By ANNETTE PARSONS
Mount Carmel Church has had a profound effect on the Zarelli family for three generations.
Though I’m not sure how my grandparents Vittorio and Lucia Zarelli came to be parishioners at Mount Carmel Church after arriving from Italy, I do know that my grandfather died when my dad, Guy Zarelli, was 9 years old.
My grandmother could neither read nor write, and times were hard, so she was forced to resort to welfare to feed her six children. Dad attended Mount Carmel School, which, thankfully, was tuition free at the time. My grandmother tried to reciprocate by sewing altar linens and surplices for the altar servers.
Dad, who didn’t speak English until he entered school, was a good student with a lively personality who always seemed to be in trouble with the nuns. Dad’s mother, Lucia, died when he was in his early teens, leaving him in the care of an older sister. Fortunately, the pastor, Father Pizzoglio, stepped in, and for many years served as a parental figure and a mentor to my dad. Dad and my mother always credited that relationship with setting the trajectory of my dad’s life.
St. Mary of Mount Carmel Church continued to be the center of life for my dad as he grew into adulthood. He and my mother, Francesca, would often reminisce about the fun they had in the early days of their relationship, singing in the choir, acting in the Drama Club, or performing in the yearly Minstrel Shows.
With Father Pizzoglio’s (and mom’s) encouragement, Dad eventually went to college with the idea that through education he could help other students in challenging situations reach for a better life, as Father Pizzoglio’s had done for him. Dad was a teacher and a principal for many years, and the testimony of so many of his former students attests that his dream of making a difference by helping others came true.
Years later, I, too, attended Mount Carmel School, and sat in the same classrooms where Dad had begun his education. I went into the family business of education, eventually overseeing Catholic schools and Christian Formation for the Diocese of Richmond, Va., and serving as the K-12 education consulter to U.S. bishops for the USCCB. The same call to service that the priests and sisters of Mount Carmel inspired in my dad was infused into my little graduating class of 1967. The names of my classmates: Perritano, Bono, Siniscarco, LaNeve, DeSarro, Elacqua, Luvera and the service they continue to provide this parish is a testament to what we learned here.
Twenty-five years ago, during the 100th anniversary, Dad was still alive and we toured the school together sharing our memories. A few years ago, the class of 1967 had a 50th reunion. It was wonderful to see how many of our classmates have retained close friendships throughout the years.
My mother, Francesca, died two years ago, at 94, and this church was the center of her life until her last days. So many blessings!
On behalf of three generations of Zarellis, I celebrate St. Mary of Mount Carmel Church with a grateful heart.
‘It smells like home; it feels like home’
By AMY PERRITANO EDDY
When the call was made for memories of Mount Carmel, I knew I had to contribute. Like many, I can speak of sacraments, the school, the annual feast, holidays and other such commonalities.
So, what could I contribute that would be more unique to me?
St. Mary of Mount Carmel has meant three things to me — family, home and inspiration.
My earliest memories are of being a child coming to Mass with my parents, but mostly my dad. As a very young child, able to read quite well, I would follow along in the missalette rather than just listen. Homilies could not keep my attention so easily, and often I would ask my dad, “What time is it?” to which he would semi-patiently reply, “Five minutes from the last time you asked me.” Reading along served to keep me focused, as my mind tends to wander even now.
As a child and art enthusiast, my mind and my eyes would wander to the paintings on the ceiling. They always captivated and fascinated me as I took in every detail. Because of where we sat, the two paintings I observed the most were the one above the altar and the middle one above the main aisle depicting the Assumption of Mary.
The latter work was the one that captured my imagination the most. I loved her beautiful face and how her hair splayed out over her shoulders. I also admired the angels gathered all around her and the different colors of all of the figures’ clothing. I’m sure that these works of art helped to inspire my own desire to draw from a young age.
My more vivid memories are of attending Saturday vigil with my Gram (whom you all know as Vicki Perritano), Aunt Eliz (her sister / my godmother) and Uncle Gil (Eliz’s husband). I remember every now and then getting a shiny quarter from Gram, Aunt Eliz and/or a random old lady to go light a candle or two. I loved to take those quarters and watch the candles light up like magic! I’d inevitably say a prayer for my grandfather in Heaven and go sit back down.
Paintings were not the only type of artistry that I found inspiring. The music of Mount Carmel was just as significant to me. I would sing and follow along in the choir book. I would always wonder who the voice of the beautiful angel was upstairs (some years later discovering it was none other than Regina George), imagining that I would go up there myself one day and learn all the songs that weren’t in the book.
When I was 16, I joined the choir. At long last, I could meet the owners of all the beautiful voices, especially Peter and the Elacqua family. Many of the choir members were on the “Confirmation Team,” and I began to consider the choir a second family. I remember my first time singing with them during Saturday Mass, and when I went to shake someone’s hand for the Sign of Peace, I was told, “We HUG up here!” I felt so welcome and so much like I belonged.
Of course, time changes things in many ways. Uncle Gil, and then Aunt Eliz years later, found their way to Heaven. I stopped singing in the choir after I had my son. I’ve attended other churches from time to time for various reasons. But whenever I step back into Mount Carmel, it is home. It smells like home. It feels like home. There is a warm invisible presence that just embraces you as you walk through the door.
Perhaps it is the Spirit of God, or perhaps it is the spirits of so many others’ memories, of others who came before us, or of those who are yet to be to carry on the traditions, or even make new ones, for future generations.
More parishioners share their thoughts
Years a parishioner: 78
Memories: A memory I have of the parish is when I was 7 years old and took my First Holy Communion. I was able to join the Angel Society. It was a group that would meet once a month for Sunday Mass. We would sit in the first row and receive communion together. I would look forward to that Sunday. Mount Carmel means a lot to me. I took all my sacraments there and was married there. Our children went to Mount Carmel School and took their sacraments there also and were married there.
Memories: Bazaar, church decorations, get-togethers, Christmas Eve Mass.
What this parish means to you: Beautiful and decorative, homey and friendly.
The future: Keep it going. Don’t stop what you are doing. Inside of church is beautiful and the grounds well maintained.
Jack and Devina Giambrone
Years as parishioners: 65
Memories: The best thing was the St. Rosalia Feast carrying the (statue) and stopping at porches with bed spreads hanging over the rail, people saying a prayer and lots of stands selling food and things.
Years a parishioner: 66
Memories: As a young schoolboy, the yearly musicals the school participated in. And going downstairs of the church to see movies and plays.
What this parish means to you: Simply. “Family.”
The future: Use of more technology and getting our young adults and parents more involved. They are our future.
Advice: Treat our parish as an extension of you own family.
William M. Thibault
Years a parishioner: 42
Parish involvement: Parish trustee, five years; president of the Parish Council, five years; member of the Parish Council, eight years; usher, 12 years; past president of the Holy Name Society (1990s); volunteer at the parish festival, 40 years.
Memories: Many people volunteering to create one larger Catholic family socializing with large events such as the Italian Festival.
What this parish means to you: A great way of retaining past traditions in our Sunday Masses.
The future: Instill in our younger parishioners that the family traditions of going to Mass should be a priority.
Advice: Please step up and volunteer in the various duties that surround our Masses. Become a lector, eucharistic minister, usher, choir member, etc.
Years a parishioner: 10
Memories: I love our novena each year for Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It is very special. Our church is decorated so special for Easter and Christmas. Simply beautiful! My parish is part of my life — a very important part. The parishioners are another very important part of our church. The meaning of working together, and most of all praying together.
The future: I believe our parish should continue as it always has. We need our novena to always continue, our annual festival and functions to bring our people and others together. I would like to see more prayer groups and more gatherings as the current COVID situation ends.
Memories: My family has been part of this parish for 100 years. All four of my grandparents were married and buried there, as well as both of my parents, as well as many aunts and uncles and cousins and some of my siblings. I am the eighth of 10 children. Me and my oldest brother, John Zumpano Jr., currently run and operate Avico Distributing and Broad Street Cash and Carry. I’ve have been active in the church for the 25 years, especially helping out with the annual Italian Festival every July. We have always supplied the church with all their food and paper goods over the years. I currently go to the 4:30 Mass every Saturday with my sister and 84-year-old father, John Zumpano Sr.
Main photo above: The renovated interior of the church in 1946 for the 50th anniversary.