Above: Mount Carmel Church during its 50th anniversary in 1946.
We asked parishioners the question above. Here are some of their responses:
‘Community and friendship’
I started attending Mass at Mount Carmel about 15-plus years ago after becoming engaged and (after) a long absence from attending any church.
As with many Catholics we hear about, I made First Communion as a child, then mostly stopped attending. My parents gave me the choice and there was always something more compelling to do with my time.
It became important to my soon-to-be husband and I to start our marriage journey with faith and so we recommitted ourselves. I chose to be confirmed in this church as a demonstration of that commitment.
What I’ve found here at Mount Carmel that I’ve not found in other churches is the sense of community and friendship. Our family has grown to include two children who have been baptized and received First Communion here.
Over the years we have gotten to know fellow parishioners whose kindness and welcoming spirits help foster a sense of belonging. Many of these people provided a young, tired mom with much-needed encouragement to keep coming back with two small, boisterous kids when frankly it was a lot easier to stay home! And for that, I am always grateful.
I am proud to be a part of a church community that is so giving not only toward each other but the larger community as well. There are many volunteer opportunities and other ways to give back through this church. Through various church experiences such as participating in making SOS lunches or donating food, candy and Christmas presents for various causes, our family has not only developed routines but traditions.
My hope now as a parent is that my children will remember these experiences fondly and connect them to this church to inspire and instill a deep sense of faith to carry them throughout their lives.
— Colleen Bottini
Major events celebrated here
I have been going to St. Mary of Mount Carmel since I was 7 years old, being one of six children in East Utica.
My mother always made sure we all went to church. Coming from a large family, my mother, of Polish descent, made sure we all went to Mass and religion classes. Father Berton and Sister Canessia come to mind while growing up at church.
I received my baptism, First Communion, Confirmation and I married the love of my life, Larry Bova — today it’s been 52 years of blessed love for each other.
While attending church every Sunday, we had two daughters who were baptized and received First Communion. Both daughters were married at Mount Carmel before Blessed Sacrament joined the parish. My youngest daughter’s three children were baptized and had their First Holy Communion here.
The Church Family, the people who we meet, Peter and Karen (Elacqua) and others in the musical family of the church through the years have grown to love and respect one another.
My husband and I taught fourth-grade religion for several years, were Eucharistic ministers, helped with funerals and the famous church festivals.
I remember when Father Joe had the 100th anniversary of the church that we sang for the congregation. This was great.
We like helping out church fundraising by the donation of one or more quilts to be raffled, baking cookies, helping do food drives — I could go on, but this is what it means to me.
— Marie Bova
‘Aroma of the food’
I have many memories, but most of all, getting ready for the bazaar — cutting the peppers, preparing the fried dough and can’t wait to taste it; the aroma of the food was enough to send you flying. The Red Band always there in the good old days and hope they remain.
I enjoy Father Cesta’s humor. It’s a very homey parish and very decorative (not overpowering).
Other memories: holidays in church, Christmas Eve Mass and the beautiful choir.
— Josephine Clerrico
‘Warmth of the parishioners’
On April 2, 1977, my wife and I were married in then, just St. Mary of Mount Carmel Church.
I was a transplant to Utica, having moved here from the Albany suburbs to pursue my carrier in education. I had grown up accompanying my father to church on Sundays. We first attended the Italian parish of St. Rita’s Church in Cohoes, which now no longer exists. When we moved to the suburbs, we attended Mass at a parish that built its church in the ’60s in the ubiquitous A-frame style so prevalent then. Perhaps with that modern architecture, I felt part of my connection to the history of our faith had been cut off.
I was fortunate to be able to study a year abroad in Italy while in college. Entering the ancient and storied temples to Christianity there, I once again felt kinship and a part of the 2,000-year-old faith of my ancestors. I surprised myself, a typical university student, and attended church regularly and absorbed the traditions in which those Masses were said. I also took a history of art class which helped explain to me the iconography and of those beautiful buildings.
Two years after my return from studies and having begun my career, I met my wife and she introduced me to her home parish, Mount Carmel. I at once felt at home there in a basilica-planned temple with arches, apse and even, occasionally, the sound of the Italian language.
After our marriage we moved out of the area and worshiped and raised our daughter in another parish whose building was again built in the ’60s A-frame style. We developed friendships with some of the parishioners, but there was still something missing in the atmosphere.
When our daughter went to college, we felt a loss of connection to our parish and decided to return to St. Mary of Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament Parish. That ephemeral connection to the building and the warmth of the parishioners made us feel in the right place and at home.
We were invited to join ministries: my wife as a Eucharistic Minister and I as a lector (something that had never happened in our previous parish). We volunteered at the summer festival and I was later asked to write a column for “More Good News.” Most recently, I had the privilege of producing a video series on the history of our parish for its 125th anniversary and have begun to cantor as part of the music ministry.
Often one will hear uninformed individuals say something to the effect that the church is run by a clique. I disagree! Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament is run and sustained by people who unselfishly give their time to sustain and carry forward our parish. I personally know of no instance when a person said, “I’d like to help out” and was turned away.
We encourage all to partake in our mission, “All are welcome,” and not only become part of our parish’s activities but be a part of 2,000 years of history.
— Fred Valentini
‘Second home that I call family’
The parish is not only just a church to me but also a second home.
I’ve been to this parish since I was 8 years old and I’m 25. So, it’s been such a long time that I’ve been a parishioner at this parish. I’ve continued coming to this parish ever since and I’ve grown in it and through it.
This parish means a lot to me. I enjoy being at church as it feels peaceful, calm and much love when people are around. Just by being there, I can feel the presence of the Lord, especially when receiving the Eucharist. If I were to be accidentally locked in the church, I wouldn’t mind staying there at all. I’d enjoy it.
What would I do is if I was locked in? I’d turn on the mics, sing hymns, practice my Bible reading skills, go to the room with the statues of the saints to pray to them, walking around the church praying, and clean up anything that needs to be cleaned, too.
No matter where I go, where I move to, I’ll always come back to visit my second home and the many people at the second home that I call family. I love you all.
— Jennifer Tran
‘Easy transition’ from elsewhere
I became a member of St. Mary of Mount Carmel when my parish closed. My parish was Blessed Sacrament.
It was an easy transition for me. In fact, I was on the parish council and just continued with Mount Carmel and their members. Very nice!
What makes St. Mary of Mount Carmel so special to me is that my parents were married here. As a young girl that was one of our favorite churches to visit on Holy Thursday.
When my first parent passed away, my parents would have been married 70 years within a few months.
Celebrating our 125th year — we are so fortunate!
— Connie Watkins
Parish inspires her to serve
Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament means a great deal to me.
I was baptized on May 10, 1964, at the 8 a.m. Mass offered by the Rev. Joseph Berton. My parents, Nicholas and Dolores (Dardano) Martellotto, instilled the Catholic Church values in me.
I have been called to be a nurse, like my mother and godmother, Emily Dardano Leavitt, and serve God’s people. The scripture that keeps me in health care since 1970 is Colossians 3:23-24: “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ.”
With recent health changes, my faith has sustained me and brought me closer to our heavenly Father.
— Susan Januszewski
‘I got the music in me’
Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament Parish is a place where everyone knows your name — like in “Cheers.”
The music ministry, of which I am a member, means a great deal to me. Our music is both uplifting and prayerful.
I lived in the Syracuse area for almost 17 years and never found a parish whose music was comparable to ours. I enjoy singing in the choir and being a cantor. I’ve sung at weddings for several years and like being a part of a couple’s special day.
As a singer in the funeral ministry, I hope to bring comfort to grieving families.
Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament means home to me. It has a warm and friendly atmosphere where “all are welcome.”
— Regina George
Best days are ahead
St. Mary of Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament is a parish that welcomes all. It is a true reflection of the love of Christ and has touched so many. Its liturgies and music and events always reflect this deep hospitality and care for those who seek a spiritual home.
The memories I cherish are those events that reflect the great diversity of gifts and people in our parish community. The liturgies of Holy Week celebrated over many years are memories I most cherish. The unity liturgies of Mount Carmel and Blessed Sacrament were especially touching.
When the parish began 125 years ago — the Italian immigrants who founded the community with the Scalabrini fathers — who among them could have guessed what the community would look like in 2021?
So much has changed, even in the church and its liturgy and its theology. They all knew they had a limited time on Earth. They all gave of themselves to this community, knowing that the time, treasure and spiritual commitment they gave to the church was like giving to Christ a few small loaves and fish.
Look at how many baskets of God’s abundance have fed us all those years from humble beginnings; 125 years from now will be the year 2146. By then we, too, will all be with God, but if we maintain the same spirit as our parish founders, the little bit we all give today will become God’s abundance for generations to come.
We must remember that our best days as a parish are ahead of us. Good and wonderful history is behind us and is cherished. But that history also pushes us forward. Christ reminds us that it is from the future that God calls to us and toward which he draws us.
— Marc DelMonico