Ushers take on new role, responsibilities amid pandemic

(Above: Barbara Jo Carino is in charge of the parish ushers.)

Barbaro Joe Carino wanted to become an usher more than 20 years ago.

There was one obstacle, however, she encountered — she’s a woman.

“I wanted to be an usher for a while, but ushers were only men,” Barbara Jo said. “Every week, (the person in charge of the ushers) was looking for men to be ushers. Every week I told him he should get women. This went on for a while. One week he came to me and said he talked to Father Joe (Salerno), and I could start the next week. I have been an usher ever since. 

That was in 1999. Now, she’s in charge of the group of 15 — 11 men and four women.

This year has been a time of change, and that includes the ushers. In past years, parishioners were used to being greeted by an usher and noticed them once again when they took up the collection.

In this era of a pandemic, the ushers have taken on new roles.

“We direct the people to the pews using social distancing in all sections and answer any questions they have,” Barbara Jo said. “At the end of Mass, we hand out the bulletins, directing the people to leave one pew at a time. There is no collection; the collection baskets are at the back of the church for them to put their donations in.”

Nick Panuccio is head usher at the 8 a.m. Sunday Mass. He’s been an usher for 26 years.

Nick Panuccio, head usher at the 8 a.m. Sunday Mass.

“As a head usher, I unlock the church for the 8 o’clock Mass,” he said. “I walk around the church to check and clean the pews to make sure there are no papers or garbage. Before the COVID-19 restrictions, I would also make sure there were enough hosts and wine, clean purificators, hand towels and corporals, and would put the offertory gifts on the table, then choose a couple of people to bring them up during the offertory. 

“I organize all the ushers and make sure there are enough to help with collection, and open the doors and greet people as they come into church. I also fill the bulletins after communion, although right now we hand them out to everyone as they leave church because of COVID-19, and I watch out to make sure everyone is safe during Mass.”

Joe Furgol is head usher at the 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass. He’s been serving as an usher since the Rev. Henry Benin was pastor.

Joe Furgol, head usher at the 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass.

“My best friend, Phil Cornacchia, was head usher and asked me to volunteer; how could you say no,” Joe said.

Phil was the longest-serving usher until he died at age 102 a few years ago.

“I have extra duties,” Joe said, many of which have changed during the COVID era. “I get to church at 9:45, go to the rectory to open the safe for counters, go over to church to put bulletins in church, get parishioners to take (the gifts) to the altar. After that I make sure all aisles are covered for the collection, bring the collection to the altar, and after communion I bring the collection to rectory to be counted. … When everyone leaves church I close up.”

When the church reopened after the coronavirus lockdown, there were many changes. Parishioners have to wear masks, social distance, sign in at the door and remain in their pews until dismissal. The ushers are the ones who guide them.

Nick said there have been minor problems, but the people have become acclimated.

“In the beginning, people wanted to sit where they always sat, but because of COVID-19, we have to seat people starting from the front of the church going to the back, and if they aren’t from the same household, they have to be seated six feet apart,” he said. “When I see people not following the protocols, I politely tell them if they do not adhere to our safety measurements they will have to leave.”

All the ushers agree that they do what they do because they love the parish.

“It is where I grew up,” Barbara Jo said. “My grandmother lived in the building where our rectory is today. She worked in the nursery and school. We lived in West Utica and always came to Mount Carmel for Masses, sacraments, novenas, missions, festivals, etc.”

Nick said Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament is “home.”

“We are a very warm and welcoming parish, and everyone is like family.”


Usher lineup


  • Barbara Jo Carino
  • Tony Felitto
  • Joseph Martin
  • Mark Kelly 
  • Rocco Verdura


  • Nick Panuccio
  • Tony Leone
  • Norm Peek
  • Marie Mastro
  • Bob Cimbalo

10:30 A.M. SUNDAY

  • Joseph Furgol
  • Loraine Bolen
  • Scott Bolen
  • Jackie Thibault
  • Bill Thibault