BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The proposed merger of two Roman Catholic churches in Montclair has upset longtime Bloomfield and Glen Ridge parishioners who are members of one of the churches.
The Archdiocese of Newark, which oversees Catholic churches in Essex County, issued a decree on July 18 combining Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and Immaculate Conception.
In a telephone interview, James Goodness, the public information director for the archdiocese, said the decree was read at the two churches on July 23 and 24.
On Sunday, Aug. 7, during the St. Donato of Arezzo street procession, which traveled from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church into nearby Glen Ridge neighborhoods, parishioner were dismayed, believing their church would be closing, which was not the case, according to Goodness.
“Sept. 4 is the date to merge the two churches,” said Glen Ridge resident JoAnne Ficarra. “The new church will be called St. Teresa of Calcutta. That’s the plan, but we’re still fighting it. We have money. Why are they doing this to us?”
Maryann Zecchino, the Mount Carmel Parish council president, sitting outside the St. Donato Society office, on Glenridge Avenue where the marchers took a break, said the reason the archdiocese gave to close the church was that its parishioner base was declining.
“A lot of people stopped going to church in the last 20 years,” Zecchino said. “We’re solvent and we have $80,000 in surplus.
Hopefully, the archbishop will reconsider and leave it open.”
She said the parishioners first heard about the closing in May.
“They gave us no clue,” she said. “Fifty more people have joined since the closing was publicized.”
Bloomfield resident Nicole Priolo, 32, said she was baptised at Mount Carmel and her daughter was baptised and made her first Holy Communion there.
“We were financially stable,” she said of the church.
Priolo said her family has resided in the area for a long time and that her grandparents settled in Glen Ridge when they came from Italy.
Marialena Marzullo, who was a Mount Carmel committee member, said the catechism school was closed a few weeks earlier. According to Marzullo, the parishioners of her church were being push out because of money.
“Take a look at the size of the parking lot and these buildings,” she said. “It’s worth over $7 million to developers.”
Her family is also from the area. When her great-grandfather came from Italy, she said he was hired to light the gas lamps in Glen Ridge.
More than 3,000 supporters signed a petition asking Pope Francis to keep the church open. Along with hundred of letters, the petition was delivered to the Vatican by the son of Bloomfield resident Wendy Priolo.
“It was delivered on July 10,” Priolo said. “That was the same day as our rally at the Basilica in Newark.”
She said members of her husband’s family have attended the church for 50 years and he was baptised there. She has been a member for 30 years.
Following the 11 a.m. Mass that morning, the statue of St. Donato was lifted and taken from the church and placed on a three-wheeled float, called a bailardo, at curbside. Depending on the grade of the street, between about seven and 12 males handled the bailardo.
Montclair police attended to traffic as the procession wound its way through nearby neighborhoods, with a band accompaniment.
The parade route taken, according to St. Donato Society member, Dan Arminio, was because of the number of Italians living there.
Arminio is a 1991 graduate of Glen Ridge High School.
The procession stopped for more than an hour at his mother’s Laurel Place home, in Glen Ridge, where everyone had something to eat and drink. The street sloped down to the house and without a brake, the cart had to be held back. After the meal, the procession started up the hill and headed back to the church.
According to Goodness, on Sept. 4, the churches will not close but will be combined within a new parish, called St. Teresa of Calcutta. Goodness said the intent of the archdiocese is to keep both churches open. The decree said the churches would keep their names and remain open “as long as it was possible and beneficial to its members.”
Presently, the churches are in separate parishes and within walking distance of each other. According to the decree, St. Teresa is a prominent figure whose congregation is highly represented in the archdiocese.
“The worship sites of the two churches will remain the same,” Goodness said. “This is not unusual where new parishes are formed.”
One church, he said, will be known as Our Lady of Mount Carmel, of St. Teresa of Calcutta, and the other will be called Immaculate Conception, of St. Teresa of Calcutta.
“The offices for the churches will be at Immaculate Conception,” he said.