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Passaic parish to honor late pastor, priests with street name and garden

PASSAIC — Short in stature but big in heart, the late Capuchin Franciscan Father Ignatius Zampino led many to the Cath olic Church during his priest ly service in the Paterson Diocese. And to honor the Passaic native, Our Lady of Mount Carmel (OLMC) Parish will have a street that leads to OLMC Church here named in his honor.
Written in Italian on one side, “Piazza Padre Father Ignatius Ignazio Zampino” will Zampino be the name of a street that is part of OLMC’s property and perpendicular to St. Francis Way. The other side of the sign reads in English, “Father Ignatius Zampino Plaza.”
The dedication of the sign will take place on Sunday, May 19 following a special 10:30 a.m. Mass on Pentecost Sunday. The sign will stand on the private street on church property between the church building and the parking lot. On that same day, a memorial garden behind the church will also be dedicated to past pastors and priests who have served OLMC. The memorial garden will consist of two cemetery- sized headstones. One headstone will have the “Prayer for Peace,” often associated with St. Francis of Assisi, and the other will name significant donors.
Father Zampino was pastor of OLMC at the time he died last September. Born on Christmas Day in 1933, he was a Capuchin Franciscan priest for 51 years, raised in the city and baptized at OLMC.
He attended the former St. Anthony School at St. Anthony Parish in the city, which began as a mission of OLMC serving Italian Americans. It was at St. Anthony’s where Father Zampino came to know the Capuchin order, who then served there.
Capuchin Franciscan Father John Aurilia, who was named pastor of OLMC after Father Zampino’s death, said, “Father Iggy was a great speaker and a good Franciscan. He lived an excellent example of St. Francis’ life.”
The two priests worked together when Father Aurillia came to the United States from Italy in 1973. He served with Father Zampino at OLMC during that time. “Everyone would call us brothers because we were both short and Italian,” said Father Aurillia. “Father Iggy was dedicated to serving the Church and he would do anything for the people. Even in his illness, he would still celebrate Mass.”
Father Zampino entered the Capuchin novitiate in 1952. In 1957, he was sent to Pisa and Florence, Italy for his theological studies where Bishop Florit ordained him a priest on March 18, 1961 in Florence.
Returning to the U.S., he completed graduate studies at Fordham University, the Bronx, N.Y., and earned his master’s degree in pastoral studies at the N.Y. Theological Seminary.
For several years, he taught at St. Lawrence Capuchin Seminary and then became involved in parish ministry serving as pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, the Bronx, N.Y.; St. Francis Parish, Hackensack, where he also served as chaplain for the Hackensack Fire Department; St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Charlotte, N.C.; and in Passaic as pastor of OLMC and serving at his home parish, St. Anthony in Passaic. He returned to OLMC in 2006 as pastor and served there until his death.

The memorial will also remember priests who served at OLMC including two priests who recently passed away — Capuchin Franciscan Father Vincent Liuzzo, who was in residence at OLMC and served as chaplain at St. Mary Hospital in Passaic and Msgr. Thaddeus Lee, who founded the first Spanish mission in the city of Passaic at nearby Our Lady of Fatima Parish here.

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 01/31/13 – Catholics around diocese can continue ringing in the New Year 2013 and the Year of Faith — which the universal Church has been celebrating at the invitation of Pope Benedict XVI — by filling their ears — and their hearts — with sounds of home-grown, faith-based music, created here in the diocese.
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Passaic Pastor Recalls Service as Padre Pio’s Secretary

As a young Capuchin Franciscan, Father John Aurilia saw first hand the miracle that has attracted flocks of devoted followers, worldwide media attention and even some skepticism for decades: the stigmata suffered by St. “Padre” Pio of Pietrelcina. In this native Italy, the priest got the opportunity to look directly into many of those “ugly wounds” on St. Pio’s frail body — like the profuse bleeding in his hands, feet and left side — that corresponded with the wounds suffered by the crucified Christ.

 “You could see right through the wounds of the stigmata. St. Pio found it difficult to walk and write. The wounds needed to be cleaned twice daily. They were uncomfortable. St. Pio suffered much,” said Father Aurilia, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (OLMC) Parish here, who spent one month during the first year of his priesthood in 1967 as St. Pio’s personal secretary at the Capuchin friary in San Giovani Rotondo in rural Italy. “Thousands of people around the world would write to St. Pio for prayers and advice. Hundreds of people would wait in line before his Masses at 4 a.m. It wasn’t St. Pio’s miracles [like the stigmata] that impressed me, but rather his simplicity and humility,” he said.
For the first year of his priesthood, Father Aurilia got an up close and-personal look at St. Pio, also known “Padre Pio.” The priest and an army of other secretaries lived with the future saint at San Giovani Rotondo that sits atop a mountain — inaccessible by cars. There, the priest saw different sides of the Italian-born St. Pio — sometimes reserved, sometimes funny — that the public never or rarely saw. “To the world, St. Pio was a miracle worker. To us [friars], he was one of us — a regular human being,” said Father Aurilia, who first met St. Pio as a seminarian and saw him regularly at San Giovani Rotondo until his death there on Sept. 23, 1968 at 81. “People wanted to touch the stigmata, but St. Pio refused, because he didn’t want to risk infection and he didn’t want the attention. Actually he wasn’t a big talker and was quite shy. He was the very image of peace,” he said.
The world knew St. Pio as a mystical Capuchin priest afflicted by unexplained stigmata. He also attracted the devotion of faithful around the globe, great fascination and even disbelief from doctors and even some Vatican officials, who conducted medical investigations years before Father Aurilia got to know him. Yet, St. Pio was a famed confessor and had a widespread reputation as one whose prayers were effective in procuring miracles.  Pope John Paul II canonized him as a saint on June 16, 2002.
Father Aurilia first met St. Pio, while traveling to San Giovani Rotondo from the Capuchin sem inary about 50 miles away. After his ordination 1966, the priest was assigned to the future saint as his personal secretary in August 1967. He and several other secretaries — fluent in English, Italian, French, Spanish, and German and Eastern European languages — would answer up to four sacks of letters from faithful around the world. They would send out correspondence almost like a form letter, declaring, “Padre Pio is praying for you” and “Continue to be a good Catholic,” along with a stamp of his signature.
We would reply in only a few days.  We felt fantastic as St. Pio’s secretaries, because we were telling people that he was praying for them. St. Pio was busy all day, hearing confessions,” said Father Aurilia.  “St. Pio was thankful for our work.” Sometimes, Father Aurilia would consult with St. Pio about the proper response to a letter. Most of the time he responded with great reverence, but occasionally let his sense of humor shine through.
A couple from Milan once asked St. Pio if it was OK to go on pilgrimage. Without missing a beat, he told Father Aurilia, “Tell them to check the weather. If it’s good, then they can go,” the priest said.  That personal relationship between Father Aurilia and St. Pio continued from until the future saint’s death in 1968.  Over the years, the priest returned to San Giovani Rotundo, while teaching in a local seminary. Father Aurilia watched faithful wait in long lines for confession from St. Pio, who would hear Confessions for several hours each day aided by his miraculous gift of being able to look into people’s souls.
Often, St. Pio would celebrate Masses that lasted up to two hours and attracted standing-room-only crowds at the friary.  Sometimes, the future saint would “get stuck in neutral,” spending long periods of time “filled with the love of God,” praying meditating or crying, Father Aurilia said.
“It was wonderful,” said Father Aurilia, who also noted that St. Pio remained a popular Mass celebrant, even though he was not a great preacher or singer. “When he did preach, he stressed love for Mary, the Blessed Sacrament and Jesus crucified.  He prayed the rosary to Mary for hours each day. He spent time before the Blessed Sacrament. He would stare at Christ crucified on the Cross,” he said.
During his relationship with St. Pio,  Father Aurilia never saw any of the future saint’s other miracles, such as his gift of bilocation. The priest noted that photos exist of St. Pio at a courthouse in Italy on a day when he never left San Giovani Rotundo. Father Aurilia finds it miraculous that St. Pio raised significant amounts of money to build a hospital and a larger church without actively campaigning.  Father Aurilia carries those memories of St. Pio to OLMC, where he displays images of the saint in his office.
He became administrator after the death of his friend and OLMC’s pastor, Capuchin Franciscan Father Ignatius Zampino, who died Sept. 1. Bishop Serratelli named Father Aurilia pastor last month. He first served OLMC as associate pastor with Father Zampino from 1974 to 1976. He also served in other locations in the Garden State — including  mthe former Don Bosco College, Newton, where he taught ethics — as well as pastorates in Virginia, North Carolina and Florida.

“There are fewer Italians at Mount Carmel than before and more Hispanics and Filipinos. There’s no more parish school, but there are a lot of active parishioners today that I remember as altar boys back in the 1970s,” Father Aurilia said.  “This [the return to OLMC] is like going back to where I began. It feels fantastic,” the priest said.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012
The Record
The Rev. Ignatius Zampino — “Father Iggy” to his flock — was known to send off his Passaic
parishioners with an enthusiastic “Have a Giant day!” on football Sundays.


“He was short in stature but big in heart,” said Joseph Liptak, a retired Passaic
police officer who maintains the physical plant at Our Lady of Mount Carmel R.C. Church, where Father Zampino was the pastor.
The Capuchin friar, a Passaic
native, died of cancer on Saturday. He was 78.
Father Zampino was in his second tour of duty at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. He also had ministered at St. Francis of Assisi in Hackensack
, Immaculate Conception in the Bronx and St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte, N.C.
His tenure down South, from 1993 to 2006, proved a test for the die-hard Giants fan. In addition to serving as pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas, a 2,400-family parish near the University of North Carolina-Charlotte campus, Father Zampino was a chaplain for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.
“Whenever the Panthers were playing in town, he said Mass for the Catholic players,” said Deacon Mark D. Nash, whom Father Zampino hired as a pastoral associate. “But he rarely stayed for the game because he had obligations here at the church.”
Nash said Father Zampino felt at home in Charlotte “because most Catholics in North Carolina come from someplace else, and he was surrounded by a large contingent of New York and New Jersey Catholics, many of Italian ancestry, like him.”
Father Zampino was more than a “prayerful man,” Nash said; he also was a good businessman.
The pastor arrived at St. Thomas Aquinas as construction of a new church building was getting under way. “His job was to keep raising money and paying the bills and paying down the debt,” Nash said, adding that the $3 million debt was retired in 2005, before Father Zampino’s return to Passaic
The Rev. Vincent Liuzzo, who taught a young Ignatius Zampino at an upstate New York seminary, said his former student was a pastor for all people.
“He worked well with teenagers; he worked well with adults; he was helpful in any way he can be,” said Liuzzo, 90, who resides in the friary at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. “He just grew on people.”
The funeral Mass is today at 10:30 a.m. at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. Burial will be in St. Lawrence Friary in Beacon, N.Y.

PASSAIC – For the Franciscan Sisters of Ringwood here, the term “begging” meant more than just going out in the street asking for donations. It was a way of life, a way of evangelizing.
“As Franciscans, we didn’t consider begging demeaning. In fact I loved it. We used to go out to the neighborhoods in Passaic. We got a lot of converts and brought back many people to the Church by meeting them. Eventually, week after week, the people would actually wait for us,” said 95-year-old Franciscan Sister Apollonia Morelli.
The Franciscan Sisters of Ringwood have a long history with the city of Passaic dating to 1924, when Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish served as the order’s first motherhouse. They first served Italian immigrants who came to the United States for a better life. Through the years, they have served at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in many ministries and at its school and across town at St. Anthony Parish, when it was a mission church. Now after more than 87 years of service in Passaic and throughout the Paterson Diocese, four sisters living at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Convent here will be leaving this month.
“We did every kind of ministry there was that are now known by these fancy names today,” said Sister Apollonia. “It was missionary work and we were very successful in our relationships with our parishioners. I remember while taking a census, we found a family with five children – all Catholics – but the five children were not baptized. Our sisters started instructing them in the catechism. The five of them received their sacraments and to this day, they still keep in touch thanking us for what we did.”
According to the Franciscan Sisters, through the generosity of the Capuchin Franciscan Fathers whose kind assistance has been a source of encouragement to a young religious community, the Capuchin Sisters as they were formerly known, purchased the Convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on Park Place here, July 23, 1926. The Franciscan Sisters eventually moved their motherhouse to Ringwood in 1931, which was known as Mount St. Francis. The current convent on Reid Avenue here was purchased in 1971. In 2003, the Franciscan Sisters of Ringwood merged with the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia.
While their motherhouse moved to Ringwood, the sisters continued to be a presence in Passaic serving in pastoral ministry, assisting in social work, teaching catechism, evangelizing the faith, hosting retreats and educating the young in parish schools, which would be a major apostolate for the congregation. The sisters served Our Lady of Mount Carmel School from its opening in 1954 until June 2010, when the school closed.
Franciscan Sister Clare Agnes Conforti, who served as principal at Mount Carmel for more than a decade, said, “Teaching the children was the highlight of my ministry. They brought to us energy. The people brought us the support and the love that we were able to reciprocate back to them and, of course, with the grace of God.”
To Capuchin Franciscan Father Ignatius Zampino, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the sisters played a very active role in the community. A lifelong resident of Passaic, Father Zampino said, “They have been a part of my whole life. They were probably instrumental in my vocation. The whole parish is indebted to their contributions.”
Sister Apollonia even prepared Father Zampino for his Confirmation when he was a teen.
When the sisters leave Passaic, they will be moving on to different ministries. Sisters Apollonia and Francis Madaio will move to and volunteer at Our Lady of the Angels Convent, which is the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia in Aston, Pa. Sister Clare Agnes will minister at the Spiritual Life Center, also in Aston. Sister Berard D’Amato will move to and minister at St. Anne Convent in Jersey City.
There will be Mass of Thanksgiving in the sisters’ honor on Nov. 20 at noon in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church followed by a reception at the Sevilla Restaurant across the street from the church. There is a $40 donation for the reception.
Sister Claire said, “It has been a privilege and an honor to serve all of you throughout the years. We wish to thank Father Ignatius, all the Capuchin Fathers with whom we worked, all the children, parents, staff members and each and every one of you for all the love and support you have given to us. You will not be forgotten. Keep us in your prayers.”
To attend the reception, contact Our Lady of Mount Carmel rectory (973) 473-0246.



Passaic parishes to combine programs, services

PASSAIC – St. Nicholas and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parishes in the city of Passaic will continue to be open for worship, but programs and services offered by the parishes – including their business offices – will be combined and administered from one location – at nearby St. Mary Parish on Market Street in the city.
Parishioners at all three parishes were told of the changes in a letter from Bishop Serratelli, which was printed in their parish bulletins and also read from the pulpits at weekend Masses April 30-May 1.
In his letter, the bishop wrote: “Over the past few months, the Diocese of Paterson has been studying ways in which we can better serve our parishes, based on the resources we have. We are looking to operate the diocese smarter and more streamlined, ensuring that we invest in the programs and services that best fit our mission to live out the Gospel message.”
The bishop explained in his letter “after detailed discussion and analysis,” St. Nicholas and Our Lady of Mount Carmel (OLMC) “will remain as places of worship. Programs and parish services will be administered from St. Mary’s Church.”
The bishop wrote the proximity of the three parishes – they are all located less than one mile from each other – along with combining programs and services “makes certain that the needs of parishioners of all three parishes can continue to be met.”
According to the bishop, the diocesan Office of Evangelization “will help to develop a religious education program combining the strengths of the three parishes. The programs of youth ministry will also be coordinated for the three parishes. Business offices will be consolidated for all three parishes at St. Mary’s. Locations for religious education that make the best use of the parishes’ resources will be announced.
“By combining programs and services,” the bishop wrote to the parishioners. “We can remain strong in serving the people. The City of Passaic has a long tradition of constantly evolving to meet the needs of its people. One of its special strengths has been its gift of welcoming those who have come to this country from other lands. It is a reminder that we, though many, form one Church, one body in Christ,” the bishop wrote.
He added that the appointments of priests and other personnel for the combined services “will be announced in the near future.”

PASSAIC – Parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel here believe that the homeless who live on the streets near their church are their neighbors. Because of that belief, volunteers from the parish came together to host an Easter dinner for the homeless and less fortunate in the church basement April 4.
By word of mouth, more than 40 people walked through the doors of Our Lady of Mount Carmel where they were served a hot Easter dinner of turkey and all the trimmings along with dessert and enough “leftovers” to bring with them on the road.
Capuchin Father Ignatius Zampino, pastor, said, “This day is made possible because of the volunteers who have given their time to serve the meals and parishioners who donated or cooked the food. We saw that we have a real opportunity here in Passaic to serve our neighbors truly in need.”
This is the second time, the Passaic parish has hosted a dinner for the homeless and less fortunate. Last Christmas Eve, the parish came together and shared some holiday spirit and joy with people of the city who had nowhere to go.
Grace Wolfe, a parishioner at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, has been an advocate for the homeless, spearheading the service project with her fellow parishioners. “Father Ignatius has been my support and inspiration in all this,” she said. “Just recently in one of his homilies he reminded, as we all celebrate the season of Lent, it’s important that we take care of our less fortunate.”
Feeding the homeless, many of whom live right off of Route 21 near State Street here, is a plan Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish hopes to do one Saturday a month as a new ministry at the Capuchin Franciscan-led parish. “Nearby organizations serve meals for the homeless during the weekdays but on Saturdays or Sundays the homeless don’t really have anything,” said Father Zampino.
This desire to serve the homeless all began with “one gentleman and his dog, five years ago,” said Wolfe. She met a Polish-born man named Tadeusz walking on the streets of Passaic one day and heard his story.
“I would talk to him and then became more aware of many more homeless people and I felt compelled to do something,” said Wolfe. In talking with Tadeusz, Wolfe learned that while there are those typical stereotypes, homelessness many times is caused by the tough situations of life such as the loss of a job.
Hearing these stories, the parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel came together to bring awareness to the larger community about the homeless situation in Passaic. They have been in close contact with a nearby Presbyterian church in the city, which already feeds the homeless every Saturday to implement a plan about feeding the hungry. The parish also hopes to have a similar model like Eva’s Village in Paterson where the homeless are given shelter.
Joe Liptak, longtime parishioner at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, said, “I’ve been speaking with Sister Gloria (Perez), director of Eva’s Village, and a Capuchin priest in Delaware, hoping in Passaic we have a place where the homeless can find shelter and get back on their feet. It’s long overdue.”
At the dinner while it was aimed to serve the homeless, the Our Lady of Mount Carmel parishioners found themselves also serving many people who have homes but are facing tough times putting food on the table. One of those people included a mother and her young son.
Maureen Fontenot, who has been helping Wolfe on this mission, said, “You never know when you may be in the same situation. The way the world is today, you have to realize there is a lot of good people that want to help out.”
Reminding everyone that serving the homeless is the responsibility of all who are followers of Christ, Wolfe said, “I want to be a true disciple. I feel this is what Jesus wants us to do. I’ve been so blessed in my life. I have to give back to others.”

Monday, January 5, 2009
Herald News

PASSAIC — Two girls rushed in to make a donation toward the end of a blood drive held Sunday at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish.

William Gyimah, a phlebotomist with The Blood Center of New Jersey, works during a blood drive at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish on Sunday.
William Gyimah, a phlebotomist with The Blood Center of New Jersey, works during a blood drive at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish on Sunday.
“I just wanted to try it because it’s for a good cause and mostly because of ‘Twilight.’ They’re doing this thing where if you donate they will give you a pin,” said Jennifer Figueroa, 18, referring to a promotion made by the popular vampire movie and series of books. Jennifer said she came with her 20-year-old sister Jessica, who is constantly coaxing her to donate her time to Clifton Recreation Department and other area needs.  People trickled in and out of the blood drive held in conjunction with The Blood Center of New Jersey.
The event, held annually for almost 35 years, has traditionally been held in January because that’s when the need is greatest, said Peter Kueken Jr., coordinator of the blood drive as a volunteer with the parish located on St. Francis Way.  “It coincides with the Feast of the Epiphany, where the wise men brought the gifts to Jesus,” Kueken said. “It represents giving.”  The blood drive has been held since church member and former volunteer , Anthony Catanzaro lost his 17-year-old to Cooley’s anemia. Cooley’s anemia is a usually fatal genetic blood disorder that causes severe anemia, enlargement of the heart, liver and spleen and skeletal deformation. Kueken took over running the event for Catanzaro, 85, several years ago.
Although the holidays are always slower than usual, this year has been especially difficult for the blood center. “With the bad economy, morale is kind of down,” said Anthony Manganaro, account representative for The Blood Center of New Jersey, based in East Orange. “We were at Avis the day they had layoffs. You can imagine how bad that day was.” Seventeen pints of blood were collected between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday. Six people were turned away because they either didn’t weigh enough, were iron-deficient or had colds. Gas cards were given out to people who came to donate blood. “We’re giving away $15 in gas. The incentives, they’re helping or I’m sure we’d be doing even worse,” Manganaro said, adding that traditional blood drives have not been producing as much blood as they used to. “Years ago, this would have been packed. We’ve had to get creative.”
Manganaro said that blood drives are now being held at stores such as Kohl’s, Wal-Mart and Home Depot at which gift cards are given away.  “The stores have been very helpful,” Manganaro said. “They have been carrying us.” In New Jersey, 2 percent of people donate blood and 25 percent are in need of blood, Manganaro said. It forces blood banks to purchase blood from out of state for exorbitant amounts of money. Jennifer Figueroa, the 18-year-old Wallington High School student, said she is inspired by her older sister’s generosity. “I don’t know why she does it,” Figueroa said of her older sister, a liberal arts student at Bergen Community College. “She’s always, constantly giving all the time. She passes out sometimes. If I passed out, I wouldn’t do it again.”
Jennifer Figueroa grimaced as she was turned away because she was slightly anemic. She said she would come back again, as she watched her big sister give a pint of blood. “If you don’t do much, that’s a little something you can do,” she said. “It’s little, but it’s something.” Reach Heather Kays at 973-569-7157 or [email protected]

In hard times, many in need try trimming costs
PASSAIC — Everybody’s holiday mission: Finding the low-cost bird that gives you the biggest bang for your buck.
For four weeks, Patricia Negrete, 34, and Sara Negrete, 24, had been accumulating points on their ShopRite card so they could get a free Thanksgiving turkey.
But as the two sisters proudly held their 20-pound frozen turkey on Monday at ShopRite on Eighth Street, the Mexican immigrants said they didn’t have enough money to purchase pies for their holiday meal.
“I guess we won’t have dessert,” Patricia said in Spanish, adding that she didn’t have any cash left after spending nearly $50 on the dinner.
“Tiramasu — it’s $3 apiece,” Sara said. “Well, maybe I’ll make rice pudding — that’s not that expensive.”
From the welfare-dependent to the well-heeled, people are looking for ways to save on their Thanksgiving meal this year. The American Farm Bureau reported the average cost of a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 increased to $44.61 for a grocery list of 12 items, a $2.35 jump in price over last year’s average of $42.26.
And with many consumers worried about the poor economy, patrons were out at ShopRite on Eighth Street Monday scurrying around the aisles to find a frozen turkey or yams on sale.
Some, like Aleaj Sanchez, 35, of Garfield, said she wasn’t inviting anybody over for Thanksgiving dinner this year, at the risk of offending relatives.
“No family members, just us,” she said of her husband, Chad, and three children, as she rolled a shopping cart down the aisles. “Nobody called us to come over and I hope they weren’t waiting for us to call.”
Sanchez said she was looking for a smaller turkey this year and waited for items to go on sale. She said yams, for example, usually cost $1.19 a pound, but ShopRite had a special — five pounds for $2.99.
Connie Campbell, 78, of Wallington, said she wasn’t buying “extras” such as a leg of lamb she usually purchases in addition to a turkey.
“I love lamb,” she said.
But the 11-pound, $22 turkey would be enough this year to feed her family, Campbell said. The real concern, however, was for her 26-pound cat, Powder. Campbell said the finicky feline won’t eat cat food, but loves sliced turkey breast from the deli counter. The sliced meat costs $8 to $9 a pound, she said.
“I told him to ‘go get a job,’ ” Campbell said of her cat.
Thanksgiving for Lois Banca, 75, of Rutherford will become a real family affair with everyone chipping in to prepare the holiday dinner. Banca is in charge of making fried cauliflower, a family tradition, and a baking a few apple pies.
“If I had to do it all myself, it would be too hard,” Banca said.
At Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church on St. Francis Way in Passaic, 100 people gathered in a line that stretched around the block. They waited for an hour to get a free turkey and food basket for Thanksgiving.
Richard Jackson, 29, who is unemployed, said he wanted to pick up a free turkey to contribute something to his family’s annual Thanksgiving dinner.
“Holiday seasons are hard times to get through,” Jackson said, “if you don’t have a high income.”
Church officials said they had collected 125 food baskets for the poor, which included a 5-pound bag of potatoes, and a $15 ShopRite gift certificate.
“People have been generous this year,” said Joe Liptak, who coordinated the food giveaway, sponsored by Resurrection Parish in Randolph, St. Clare Church of Clifton and individual donors.
Reach Meredith Mandell at 973-569-7107 or [email protected]

Parish fundraiser reflects multiethnic congregation
PASSAIC — Two strapping men stood at the ready to dish out sugar-coated funnel cake at Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s annual street festival on Sunday. But most of the crowd was waiting for the tostadas and Filipino barbecued meat dished out by Passaic residents.
Held in a lot near City Hall on Passaic Street, the four-day fundraiser for the church’s school offered bumper cars, a Ferris wheel and other carnival staples. But the exotic cuisine reflected the church’s multiethnic parish, one that has mixed cultural groups for years.
“It’s a family here. It always has been,” said Maria Rodriguez, 39, of Passaic, whose entire family grew up attending the church.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a Franciscan church, was founded more than a century ago. Most early congregants were Italian. The church has run the annual summer fair for at least 60 years. Games and food stands would span the block back when two-story family homes once stood on St. Francis Way, said Peter Kueken Sr., 46, a Passaic resident who grew up in the church.
But over the years, the congregation has declined as Italians moved from the area beginning in the 1960s. Eastern European immigrants streaming into Passaic opted to start Polish and Slovak Masses at other city churches. But Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Filipinos began filling Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s pews in the 1970s.
“It was like the U.N.,” said Michael Giunta, 53, who graduated from the school in 1969.
Today, most of the school’s 300 students are Hispanic, said the Rev. Ignatius Zampino, pastor of the church since 2006. Nearly half of those attending noon Mass on Sunday were Filipino. Those performing altar service included a 90-year-old Italian man and a Filipino girl who just graduated from high school.
“It still has an Italian flavor,” Zampino said. “But through the school, the church has diversified.”
Once a month, Filipino congregants hold a Mass in Tagalog, followed by a dance party in the school auditorium. But the three Sunday Masses are all said in English, unlike other area churches that offer services in other languages.
On Sunday, Latino and Filipino parishioners said worshiping only in English isn’t an issue.
“I love the priest,” said Mireya Moreno, 30, who drives to Our Lady of Mount Carmel from Paterson. Moreno originally attended Blessed Sacrament, a Paterson church with a Spanish Mass, but was drawn to Zampino’s ability to make his sermons relevant to day-to-day living for parishioners.
Zampino ministered on the hunger in the world, encouraging the 200 congregants on Sunday to give to others both spiritually and monetarily.
But during the carnival, attendees focused more on enjoying gooey zeppoles and tamales. An estimated crowd of 4,000 people were at the street festival, which organizers said they hope will raise some $30,000 for the school.
“Everybody wants my food,” said Pat Sullivan, a church member from Passaic, who served skewers of meat to Mexican children and older couples.
Reach Heather Haddon at 973-569-7121 or [email protected]

PASSAIC — Two of the city’s parochial schools, Passaic Catholic Regional and St. Anthony of Padua, will merge in the fall. The announcement was posted in a letter to parishioners on St. Anthony of Padua’s Web site and confirmed Wednesday by diocese spokeswoman Mariana Thompson.
Beginning in September, Passaic Catholic Regional School at 212 Market St. will operate out of St. Anthony of Padua School at 40 Tulip St.
The move comes amid a restructuring effort by the Paterson Diocese at a time of decreased enrollments and financial woes at its 50 schools. Two weeks ago, the diocese announced it faces a $37 million deficit, and in the previous week Paterson Catholic administrators appealed in a letter to alumni to raise $350,000 by April 15 to save the 400 student co-educational high school.
Two other diocesan schools in Passaic, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and St. Nicholas, merged in 2006.
The Diocese of Paterson said the merger of the two pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade schools will broaden educational opportunities for all students. State-of-the-art technology will be brought to St. Anthony, including computer access in every classroom as well as computer labs and library updates.
“The new configuration should also give parents and children from both schools more options for social and education interaction,” diocese spokeswoman Thompson said in a statement. “Parents sacrifice to send their children to Catholic school. Strategic planning at the diocesan and local level must work consistently to ensure that Catholic education is accessible, sustainable and affordable for our families.”
Passaic Catholic serves 172 students with 11 teachers on staff, according to the Web site, The Web site says 88 percent of the children enrolled are students of color.
St. Anthony of Padua, also K-8, serves 242 students, of which 100 percent are students of color.
The diocese said Sister Joselle Ratka of the Felician Franciscan order will take over as principal of the new combined school, St. Anthony-Passaic Catholic School.
Three nuns at St. Anthony of Padua, from the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, a Philippines religious order, will return home. Thompson said the decision was agreed upon by all parties concerned.
Thompson said school officials are waiting to hear from teachers about whether they intend to return next year before making any staffing level decisions. She did not rule out the possibility of layoffs.
“We are going to do an evaluation of staffing levels,” Thompson said.
Thompson said no determination has been made about whether the building would be sold.
On Wednesday, Magarita Lozano, who has a 13-year-old enrolled in the sixth grade at Passaic Catholic, said it was a shame the school would be shutting its doors. She said school officials held a meeting with parents at 7 p.m. Tuesday night to tell them the news. She said the principal told parents the school did not have the funds to stay open.
Lozano, who said she pays $250 a month for her son to attend, praised the school’s principal, Ratka.
“She is able to manage the children very well,” she said. “In the public schools they need police, they cannot control the students.”

The number of Catholic schools in the nation has dropped 10 percent since the 1996-1997 school year, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. Dioceses throughout New Jersey have consolidated schools. Earlier, this month the Diocese of Camden announced plans to close some of its schools in a major restructuring effort as well.


Photo gallery: Temporary Life

When I get off work, and the jitney returns me to the city of Passaic, my time finally is my own.
August’s heat leaves me thirsty and uncomfortable, my feet sore from standing all day. I’m hungry for food and human connection. In this grueling month, I find pockets of relief.
My room at Señora Maria’s rooming house offers a few comforts: a soft sofa, my bed. There’s a wire for cable if I could afford a television. One afternoon the guy next door brings over a stack of clothing for me. On the porch downstairs, I talk with Marilyn, a long-term tenant, about the books we like to read.
I find an oasis in the Passaic Public Library. Every night, I walk through its electric sliding doors, feeling welcomed by the air conditioning and the warmth of the library’s wood paneling. And the bathrooms are free.

Low wages, strong backs
Library and church offer refuge and A/C
Temp work not glamorous, but can lead to more
Rooming houses wane as low-cost alternative
For one immigrant, economics forces a wrenching decision
Through hard work, and prayer, temp worker makes his way
Tom’s journal
How we did it

The library is full of old people, young people and a cross-section of Passaic’s ethnic groups: Orthodox Jewish, black, Asian-Indian, Peruvian, Mexican. People check out the video collection, and some arrive at the wide tables near the back as if they’ve got an appointment to read the newspaper. After getting proof of residence at Señora Maria’s place, I get a library card to check out books, but I’m also eager for the library’s Internet access. Longing for personal contact, I look up people I cut ties with years ago, e-mailing them to say hello.
My fiancée, Ginger, visits a few times, and treats me to a meal or a movie. She spends $20 to get me an electric fan for my room. Many immigrants, I know, are tapped into a support network. It’s clear to me now how important that is for supplying small favors and material help. Temp work comes with no benefits, but permanent employees at the warehouses offer their own small acts of kindness. More than once someone buys me and the other temps a soda or a Dixie cup of ice cream.
There’s relief in other places, too. One Saturday I fail at my attempt to pick up construction work with the day laborers outside The Home Depot, but on the way home I pass a Presbyterian church offering free lunch. About 40 people are seated at tables. I chow down on a meal of hamburger, salad, rolls and two kinds of dessert, bowled over by how delicious it is.
Each Sunday I go to church at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, where the peace and air conditioning create a welcome refuge. The Capuchin friars celebrates Mass there.
The parish is a mix of immigrants: first- and second-generation Italians, Latinos, Filipinos. In his homily, Father talks about diversity and inclusion. There’s plenty of space, he says, plenty of jobs. Immigrants do jobs Americans won’t do. America should offer a blanket amnesty to everyone, welcome everybody. I think about Julio, Priyank, and a few other immigrants I work with at Brickforce. The priest offers a different kind of comfort. You and your work matter, he’s saying. There’s hope.

For some, life on mean streets is a desperate choice
PASSAIC — Mary Forys sleeps curled up in a ball behind a garbage can to shield her from the wind.
The homeless woman is a familiar part of the Main Avenue landscape. Business owners call her “Smelly Mary” for her unpleasant odor. Police have arrested the 53-year-old woman more than a dozen times for loitering, panhandling and drug use. Mayor Samuel Rivera said he’s received calls about her soiling herself in the post office. Some passers-by give her dollar bills or cigarettes, others simply yell obscenities.
But most ignore her as they walk by talking on their cell phones, running to catch buses or picking up children at school.
Mary is just one of an estimated 1,300 homeless people on any given day in Passaic County and among the 349 chronically homeless, according to the county’s Point in Time survey, part of a one-day effort to get an accurate snapshot of homelessness in the region.
The reasons people remain homeless for years are complex. Many suffer from mental illness or drug addiction. Some avoid shelters because they refuse to accept curfews or zero-tolerance rules. Others feel less safe in a shelter than on the street. In Mary’s case, police said they have tried bringing her to a shelter or a hospital, but she steadfastly refuses.
“She just wants to be left alone,” said Detective Andrew White of the Passaic Police Department. “On the police end, we can only do so much. We can bring her to the hospital but if she refuses any kind of medical treatment, that’s up to her.”
Jane Grubin, the city’s human services director, said if someone comes to her office seeking help, the city will try to get them into a shelter. The city’s municipal alliance runs free HIV testing and drug intervention programs, but if people do not seek help, Grubin said, there’s not much else that can be done.
“It’s not against the law to destroy yourself,” she said.
Grubin said many homeless people she deals with suffer from mental illness. She said the trend of deinstitutionalization — moving the mentally ill out of large-scale psychiatric institutions such as Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, a state facility in Parsippany, into community-based and family-based housing — leaves local officials like herself to deal with the problem haphazardly.
“Since Greystone and all these mental institutions have closed down, they put the mentally ill on the street and what are you supposed to do?” she said. Grubin said that in extreme cases of those who find themselves deinstitutionalized, there are those who “don’t take their meds. They don’t have the wherewithal or the ability to take care of themselves, and they have created a whole new class of homeless people.”
Some homelessness advocates have suggested Passaic needs a shelter. The Salvation Army operated the city’s only homeless shelter until the Fire Department cited its officials for several building code violations. The facility was shut down in 1996. Several years ago, the city attempted to purchase a homeless shelter, but the deal fell through when the owner sold the building to another buyer, Grubin said. Some believe the city should use some of the federal housing money it gets to build a shelter, but city officials say it isn’t enough and there isn’t any room.
“We are a densely populated community and we don’t have a large vacant building that would be adequate,” said Ronald Van Rensalier, the city’s community development director. “Even if there was a facility big enough, we wouldn’t have enough money to adequately rehabilitate it.”
Rivera said many people come into his office who say they are about to be evicted, can’t pay their bills and are on the verge of losing their jobs.
“My heart goes out to all these people and I want to help them, but the federal government should come to the aid of municipalities,” Rivera said.
Last March, after a group of homeless squatters allegedly sexually assaulted a young woman beneath a Route 21 underpass, the city’s homeless problem came to the forefront of public attention. The squatters lived beneath the road in squalor, posing a danger to themselves and other city residents.
About 10 people, concerned for the homeless, started Homecoming, a group that occasionally meets in the basement of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. The organization’s secretary, Grace Wolfe, said the group has made little progress in 10 months and she’s frustrated.
“Why isn’t the city of Passaic stepping up and saying we need to find a shelter or help the Salvation Army fix the problem?” she said. “We’re just 10 individuals who really care and we want the officials to guide us on how we are going about getting this shelter. We can be workers, but tell us how we go about doing it.”
Mary said she never imagined her life would turn out like this. She once lived a middle-class lifestyle in Garfield. She said she can still picture the yellow house with brown trim where she celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas with her family. An only child, she said she took ballet lessons and loved it. After she graduated from Garfield High School, she went to work at Englewood Hospital where she drew blood as a lab technician.
She said things took a turn for the worse after her parents died five years ago. They were alcoholics and died of cerebral hemorrhages, she said. She began showing up to work drunk. Then she took heroin. She said she soon began to snort it every day. She started showing up at work intoxicated and soon lost her job. Then, when she couldn’t make mortgage payments, the bank foreclosed on her parents’ house and she ended up on the street, she said. Three years ago, she overdosed and spent about a year in drug rehab at Bergen Regional Medical Center in Paramus. She insists that she is clean now.
Mary has two elderly aunts. One is 81-year-old Olga Tripple of Garfield. Tripple’s brother, Joseph, was Mary’s father, she said in a telephone interview Thursday. Tripple said Mary used to live with her parents a block away and confirmed that after Mary’s parents died, she became hooked on drugs. Tripple said Mary used to come over and ask her for cigarettes and money. Since Mary moved to Passaic several years ago, Tripple said, she lost touch with her niece.
“I have macular degeneration. I have enough with my own children and my own problems. I couldn’t take her. She’s a big, big problem,” Tripple said.
Mary’s other aunt is 86 and lives in Virginia Beach, Tripple said. That aunt used to visit Mary frequently until she was injured in a car accident and could no longer make the journey to New Jersey, Tripple said.
Mary said she returned to the streets because she prefers Main Avenue to a homeless shelter, where, she said, she doesn’t like the people. Mary fears being robbed. It’s happened before. Two men once took $50 that she had collected. A few weeks ago, someone else took her crocheted blanket.
Mary is quite blunt about her life on the street.
“Hi, I’m Mary and I’m homeless, and I have no place to go and I need food and that’s it,” she said, introducing herself a few weeks ago during an interview. Her body shakes as she speaks, the result of her Parkinson’s disease, she said.
Those who study homeless behavior say people like Mary are homeless not only because of their individual ailments — such as addictions or mental illness — but because of larger socioeconomic and political forces.
“People have free will, but they make choices among the opportunities available to them,” said Columbia University professor Brendan O’Flaherty, author of “Making Room: The Economics of Homelessness.” O’Flaherty said national studies show that there was very little homelessness in the 1960s and ’70s. In the 1980s, on the other hand, he said, the number of homeless began to rise as more expensive housing units were built and the income gap widened.
Glenda Kirkland, a professor at Bloomfield College who wrote a paper titled “Homeless in New Jersey: Why does it happen?” said homelessness persists because the problem has slipped away from the public consciousness.
“There’s not much focus on homelessness anymore. It’s just not the topic of the day,” Kirkland said. “Do you hear any of the presidential candidates talking about homelessness or hunger? If this were important to anybody, it would be discussed by the 18 candidates running. We would be asking questions in town meetings. How do you feel about this, Mr. Edwards and Mrs. Clinton? There’s no political will to make sure that people don’t fall through the safety net.”
Part of the problem, Kirkland said, is that legislators have disparaged those in need as “welfare queens” and have made cuts to social programs, such as the federally funded Housing Choice Voucher Program known as Section 8, that can help keep people off the streets.
“We tend to medicalize it and blame the individual,” she said. “We tend to look at it as an individual problem, not a public one.” Kirkland said she believes elected officials find it easy to dismiss the homeless because “they don’t vote.”
Meantime, Mary continues to live out in the cold, alone and disheveled.
When it’s raining, Mary said, she sleeps in hallways or sometimes at the Hotel Passaic on Henry Street. Occasionally, she’ll take the bus to Bergen Regional Medical Center where, she said, she goes for treatment of her drug addiction. In an interview earlier this month, she lay on the street, curled up on a soiled blanket, wearing paper-thin blue hospital slip-ons. She said she went to the hospital to get treatment for a sore on her foot and that the hospital took away her sneakers, leaving her with nothing but the slippers.
“Could you buy me some sneakers?” she asked. “My feet are cold.”
Mary spends nearly her entire day sleeping. She never looks at a newspaper, she rarely sits in a chair or lounges on a sofa. She can go a full day without having a conversation with anyone. Her only concern is getting food.
“I sleep, I eat, and I ask people for change and that’s it.”

Reach Meredith Mandell at 973-569-7107 or [email protected]

Lois Allen, left, and Wanda Rogers prepare meals at the Salvation Army soup kitchen in Passaic. (AMY NEWMAN / HERALD NEWS)
PASSAIC — A few years ago, a police officer approached city officials about starting a homeless shelter, but nothing ever happened.
“A lot of people are fearful of a shelter,” said Ed Lyons, executive director of the United Passaic Organization, a nonprofit city agency that provides assistance to the homeless. “They think it’s going to bring the city down, increase violence and drugs. I don’t buy it. There’s enough violence and drugs, even without it.”
Some say that Passaic should have a homeless shelter, but the city first must find the space, the millions of dollars to fund it and local agencies willing to operate it. Opening a shelter also takes a mayor and council willing to support it and residents willing to accept it.
Brenda Beavers, the state human services director for The Salvation Army, said the organization, which operates a soup kitchen in the city, could not accommodate a shelter because of the many obstacles.
“Our building is not built to accommodate a residential program. There are rooming requirements, licensing requirements, space, privacy and fire suppression systems,” she said. There also are maintenance considerations, including laundry costs, sanitizing bathrooms and utility costs. Additionally, Beavers said a shelter needs to employ professionals and a case-management team to help people with detox or other problems.
“It’s not, open a door, have a cot and here’s some soup,” she said.
The Salvation Army operates shelters in Montclair, Elizabeth and Perth Amboy, Beavers said. In Montclair, residents pushed for a shelter by urging the City Council to lease an old house the city owns to The Salvation Army for $1 a year, she said.
The operating costs a homeless shelter incurs depends on its size and range of services.
In Paterson, Eva’s Village, a nonprofit social service agency, offers a variety of shelters on its campus for men, women and mothers with their children. Medical treatment, dental care and drug treatment programs are also available.
“Our shelters are not dumping grounds or flop houses, said Sister Gloria Perez, executive director. “Anyone who comes to us, we are working with them.”
Eva’s Village this year has an operating budget of $5.5 million, said Perez, with half of it coming from private donors.
“If we didn’t have a great donor base, we would have to close,” Perez said.
Perez believes that Passaic needs a shelter of its own because it is a poor city, and the number of homeless who come to Paterson seeking services taxes resources of the city and Eva’s Village.
“The people in Passaic and other towns should not be dumped into Paterson,” she said. “We will take anyone, but you don’t know how much of a drain it is on our hospitals and shelters.”
Statistics show that nearly a quarter of Passaic’s population lives below the poverty line. The city’s unemployment rate is 7.1 percent and thousands of people are on the waiting list for public housing and Section 8 rental assistance.
“There’s no doubt the city needs a homeless shelter,” said Lyons.
When the homeless in Passaic go to a city agency for help, they are sent to shelters elsewhere, such as Eva’s Village in Paterson.
“Going to Paterson, with no means of transportation, that’s like going to California for a homeless person,” Lyons said.
The Salvation Army had operated the city’s only homeless shelter until the Fire Department cited officials for building code violations in 1996, and the facility was closed. Several years ago, the city attempted to purchase a site for a homeless shelter, but the deal fell through when the owner sold the building to another buyer, according to Jane Grubin, the city’s human services director.
Mayor Samuel Rivera said that in the past, when city officials tried to create a shelter, they received angry telephone calls from residents opposed to the idea.
“They say, those people are going to start problems — we don’t want this here,” he said.
Lyons said that the police officer who approached city officials a few years back became so discouraged that he quietly backed away from the plan. Another homeless advocate, Grace Wolfe, approached the council in March, shortly after homeless squatters living beneath a Route 21 overpass, police say, sexually assaulted a woman. Wolfe proposed starting a task force that would attempt to create a shelter. The task force was established in May, but no shelter plans are in the works, and Passaic has not applied for funds to open one.
Charles Featherson, an official with the county Department of Human Services, said that it is unusual for cities to start their own shelters.
“Cities don’t usually do it, agencies do it,” he said. “I think between the municipality and the county, we all need to put our synergies together to figure out how to get this done.
Community Development Director Ronald Van Rensalier has said there is no empty building available to place a shelter in Passaic and even if there were, it would be unlikely that city officials would designate all of its money from federal community block grants toward one homeless shelter, with so many other needs to be met.
“Everyone wants the money and unfortunately, there’s just not enough of it to go around,” he said.
Reach Meredith Mandell at 973-569-7107 or [email protected]


Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Passaic marks centennial

Beacon Staff

PASSAIC – It was 34 years ago, when Capuchin Franciscan Father Santo Sam Frapaul as a “summer assistant” first met the friendly parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, an active multicultural faith community here. “The cook here had left, so I ended up cooking. I called my mother for some help with some recipes,” recalled Father Frapaul, who was serving Mount Carmel in  1971 as a Capuchin priest candidate. “I remember that the people were kind and welcoming.”

More than three decades later, parishioners are just as warm and welcoming as ever at Mount Carmel, which last Saturday marked its centennial with a Mass of Thanksgiving with Bishop Serratelli as the principal celebrant. Established by Italian immigrants in 1905, the parish today serves a rich mix of cultures, including Italians, Hispanics, Indians, African-Americans, Asians and Filipinos. “Mount Carmel is a melting pot,” said Father Frapaul, pastor for more than 12 years. The Mass was followed by a dinner-dance in the school’s Father Sabatini Hall. “We all work together. We have the same faith calling, even though we speak different languages and have different cultures.

We are connected to each other,” he said. Head of the 400-family parish in the center the multicultural and historical Passaic, Father Frapaul added, “I tell our parishioners, ‘If you are involved, the parish will go on. It’s the faith commitment we all have. You are the lights of the parish.'” Also at the Mass were former clergy, former and current religious and laity who have staffed the parish or school and school alumni. The pastor said parishioners insisted on holding the dinner-dance in the church hall, which they consider “their home.”

For the centennial celebration Saturday, Mount Carmel’s church bells were rung by hand 100 times. In preparation for the jubilee Mass, the parish had a new electronic bell system and a new lighting installed and had leaks and peeling paint repaired, Father Frapaul said. Over the decades, Mount Carmel has received another type of makeover: a change in the complexion of its parishioners. Today, the parish continues to meet the needs of the community with Mass and other spiritual activities, faith formation and an outreach to the poor, which includes a food pantry and prepared food baskets for the holidays, Father Frapaul said.

“Our parishioners are generous and kind,” the pastor said. Today, many of Mount Carmel’s second-generation Italians – many of who have moved to Clifton and elsewhere – remain active at the parish, attending Mass and staying involved in such groups as the Altar Rosary Society. In 1986, they also revived an annual old-time tradition, the Our Lady of Mount Carmel feast day celebration and street fair.

It features a triduum with prayers and Benediction, a July 16 feast day Mass and a street procession. The celebration continues with a four-day street festival, which includes many international foods, games and rides, Father Frapaul said. The more recent immigrants also have been getting more involved at Mount Carmel’s ministries, including the various societies and as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.

The annual feast day celebrations also point up the parish’s diversity with booths, among them Italians and Hispanics, which include Puerto Ricans, Colombians and Mexicans. Father Frapaul said he hopes for participation by other ethnic groups. “At first, some were reluctant to participate in parish ministries,” Father Frapaul said. “But we made people feel welcome. I tell them, ‘Whatever you do for the church is appreciated.’ They have stepped forward when we called for help.” Located on the corner of St. Francis Way and Park Place, Mount Carmel has operated a day-care center for 28 years and has sponsored activities for children of all faiths including the CYO basketball leagues and scouting.

Since 1954, the 253-student school – which has received Middle States Association accreditation – has given students from Passaic and Clifton a faith-based education. One of Mount Carmel’s active immigrant parishioners, Romanita “Mengie” Ayala arrived at the parish 21 years ago from the Philippines. A married mother of two sons, ages 33 and 36, and grandmother of four, she has been involved in hospital ministry and choir and has been a lector. She also attends daily Mass. “When I came here, I liked the people,” Ayala said. “They were friendly.”

That sense of hospitality dates back to 1905, when Mount Carmel – among Passaic’s many ethnic parishes – became the Italian population’s first chapel in the city. It was originally located in a small storefront on Park Place and State Street.

After a move to the basement of St. Nicholas Church on Washington Place, the parish moved in 1912 to a converted firehouse on McLean Street, which was purchased for  $600, according to the parish’s historical records. Ten years later, the Italian Capuchin Fathers of the Stigmata of St. Francis Commissariat came to minister at Mount Carmel. They completed the current church in 1924.

Two years later, the Capuchin Sisters of the Infant Jesus – now the Franciscan Sisters of Ringwood – purchased Mount Carmel’s convent on Park Place as its motherhouse. They staffed the school, taught Sunday school, conducted missionary work for the Italian families and took charge of the parish’s societies for children and women.

In 1944 during World War, II, the sisters started a nursery school in the church basement. The sisters have staffed the school since its opening and today have several sisters here, including Sister Clare Agnes Conforti, the current school principal. “Mount Carmel School teaches Christ-centered values for Christ is the center of the curriculum – in all areas,” said Sister Conforti, principal for eight years. The school educates a broad multicultural spectrum of students from the parish and from around the city – including many non-Catholics.

The school instills those Christ-centered values by holding Masses, prayer services and other activities. It also promotes its multiculturalism by sponsoring International Days, during which children share the food, clothing and history of their native cultures, she said. In 1996, Mount Carmel built an addition to the school.

At the time, retired Bishop Rodimer had noted that the parish was one of the few inner-city parishes that were adding to its school at a time that many parochial schools were closing. Last year, the school earned its Middle States accreditation. Among the parish’s many second-generation Italian parishioners is Vinnie DiChiara, a lifelong member, who now lives in Rutherford. A retired Clifton schoolteacher, she has been a Mount Carmel trustee, an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist and has been involved in religious education.

She also remains active in the Rosary Society, which distributes roses for October’s Respect Life Sunday and holds Communion breakfasts, fish fries and monthly meetings. “Mount Carmel is a warm parish. We are quite a mix of people, but we all get along,” said DiChiara, who last year ended a 20-year ministry in the parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. “When people come here, there’s something that makes them feel welcome.”