BY A.J. VALENTINI
Throughout its history, St. Mary of Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament has enjoyed the activism of a dynamic congregation.
Though a bit reduced in size and contributing members today, we recall with affection the many societies of the past and a few that are active to the present.
One hundred and nineteen years ago, the parish was established in broad terms to support the influx of Italian immigrants. Though Italy is regarded by the world as a single political state, 155 years ago it was a collection of diverse peoples and cultures who shared a common language. Because of its rugged terrain, influences of outside political domination and social structure, even neighboring villages could have linguistic peculiarities and customs that differed from each other.
In Italian this phenomenon is referred to as “campanelismo,” the condition of being connected to a small area within the sound of the bells of the local church. This sense of parochialism that the Italians brought with them to Utica gave rise to several societies within the parish dedicated to the preservation of the memories of the beloved hometowns and regions left behind.
Among these societies were: The Castagnese Society, Società Nicastrese, Società Calabria, Scandalese Society and Santa Rosalia Society. These groups helped bring together the new immigrants in their bouts of nostalgia for their small corners of their homeland, especially on the occasions of the feasts of their local saints when they would use our church to celebrate commemorative Masses.
As the parish grew and established its presence as a concrete anchor to the community, other organizations evolved to bring the diverse population together to support a single entity, St. Mary of Mount Carmel Church, its mission and service to its people. Among those organizations were: the Mount Carmel Society, St. Ann Society, Legion of Mary, Children of Mary, Holy Name Society, Knights of St. Charles, Busy Bodies, Sick and Shut-ins, Nocturnal Adoration Society, Morning Glories and Ushers’ Club.
• The Mount Carmel Society is one of the groups that exists to this day (more than 100 years). It brings together its members for common worship, devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, support of church activities and providing workers. It has raised funds through dances and other activities for the parish’s projects. One visible project is the outdoor shrine on the east side of the church. Out of this society come many of the people who have taken on the parish missions once handled by the multiple priests and nuns who once served the parish.
• The St. Anne Society dedicates itself to the mother of the Blessed Virgin. It goes back to the 1960s. President Rosemarie Chiffy says they are active in outreach programs to the community. One such project supports the efforts of the Utica Rescue Mission.
• The Legion of Mary arose during World War II, performing pastoral work for the parish. Marge Hanrahan remembers The Legion was composed of young women from age 18 to their 20s who devoted themselves to the Blessed Mother.
• The Children of Mary, composed of adults, and the Junior Children of Mary, made up of teens, showed their devotion to the Holy Mother through good works and prayer.
• The Holy Name Society was an organization of the men of the parish. They had monthly meetings attending an 8 a.m. Sunday Mass and had yearly communion dinners. They helped out during the church feasts, raised funds, helped in church maintenance projects and attended yearly weekend retreats in Syracuse. A Junior Holy Name Society composed of boys and young men supported the activities of their elders, and attended 9 a.m. Mass.
• The Knights of St. Charles were impressive in their feather crested hats and capes as they created an honor guard of sorts during church processions and functions. Generally, they also were members of the Mount Carmel Society.
• Busy Bodies was a group that was born in the 1960s to raise funds for the church.
• In the 1990s, the ministry for the Sick and Shut-ins kept tabs on the disabled of the parish. They provided company, meals and communion to those unable to attend regular services. The same work is carried on today by members of other existing societies in the church.
• The Morning Glories was a group of women who attended daily morning Mass together. After Mass they would go to breakfast together.
• The Ushers’ Club was composed of those men who aided parishioners during Mass and collected money and envelopes before communion. Rosemarie Chiffy recalls that it was a proud group of men who wore tuxedos at Christmas and Easter Masses.
Over the years some of the organizations disappeared from the parish landscape. Some of their activities have been assumed into other organizations.
In any case, those contributions, past and present, have helped to create the legacy and future of St. Mary of Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament Parish.