When was Our Lady of Mount Carmel built?
Our Lady of Mt Carmel was founded by Msgr. Gioacchino Maffei in 1906 in response to the large influx of Italian immigrants in the City of Worcester. Maffei purchased the land for $6000. The present church building was erected in 1928.
Who have been OLMC parishioners over the years?
The parish was a haven for the Italian immigrants who came to America in the 20th century and for their descendants, down to the present generation. Many of the original parishioners’ families still attend church here and donate generously.
Is Our Lady of Mount Carmel a landmark in Worcester?
Yes. It is familiarly referred to as “Our Lady of the Highway” because it is a gateway to the city from nearby I290. It is an iconic historic and cultural heritage center for Worcester’s Italian Community and it has welcomed people from all backgrounds.
Describe the neighborhood the church is in.
Shrewsbury Street and the area surrounding the church became a place where these immigrants settled, and it became a vibrant neighborhood which over the decades has contributed much to the growth and development of Worcester. Currently, it is a destination location as it features restaurants, cafes and other attractions.
What role has the parish played in Worcester over the years?
The parish and its people have truly been a mainstay of Worcester in good times and in bad in the past 110 years.
Can you provide an example of this?
One outstanding event was when all of Worcester staggered under the impact of the horrific Cold Storage fire of December 3, 1999. Our Lady of Mount Carmel church and buildings served as a command center for first responders and families of the injured and dead. The parish literally fed these families during this time. Later on, requiem Masses were held for the deceased.
What services did OLMC provide to the community?
This church and its members have been active and committed to the City of Worcester and the needs of all cultures, through fundraising efforts for various organizations. They have held Italian Festivals which attract thousands of people from all over the state. Members have generously donated their time and efforts. There have been parades, cultural activities, Irish festivals, Indian festivals, and activities to get kids at risk off the streets. It has also been the site of political rallies, Knights of Columbus, UNICCO, Sons of Italy functions, and also teachers rallies and meetings, fundraisers and activities too numerous to mention.
Does this church provide services for an elderly home nearby?
Yes. Our Lady of Mount Carmel has provided spiritual and pastoral support for the elderly since the home was established. Elderly residing at the Mount Carmel Apartments — owned by the parish — often walked next door for Masses. Now they have nowhere to go for Mass.
How did the parishioners come to learn the church was to be closed?
In possibly the most callous way imaginable. The community was gathered for First Holy Communion on April 30, 2016 – as it has done for 110 years — for the children when the announcement was made from pulpit. The very next day, the church doors were chained shut.
What was the community’s response?
The entire community was devastated. After the abrupt closing of the Church, parishioners met with the Pastor and presented viable resolutions to raise the money and sustain the parish. Parishioners appealed to have Masses continue, temporarily, in the Recreation Center (even if only once a week) to encourage parish continuity and to continue raising money, while keeping the parish family together in prayer until any repairs needed were completed.
How did the Pastor respond? The Diocese?
The answer was always NO and they later refused any discussion at all.
Was there any input from the parish’s financial council?
There was never a vote by the finance or parish council to close the Church. They were disbanded without notice and a replacement committee was handpicked by the Pastor.
Reasons for Closure
What were the diocesan reasons given for closure?
The official reason was that the church needed such a large investment in repairs that it was financially impossible to keep it open.
Is Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish financially viable?
ANSWER. Yes. Collections from 2015 surpassed $700,000. OLMC was one of the top parishes in the diocese for donations.
Does OLMC need repairs? How much? Have you raised this?
The pastor told parishioners verbally that the building needed in excess of $5 million in repairs. No costs for repairs were submitted for review and bids were not solicited to substantiate this claim. When they inquired at the city assessor’s office, they were told the number was actually $120,000, which they promptly raised.
Has the City of Worcester weighed in on whether the church should be destroyed?
Yes. Commissioner of Inspection Services John Kelly stated during a public hearing stated for the record that after his inspection of repairs that were needed he determined that “There is no reason this building has to be
What was the Diocese’s reaction to all of this?
They refused to discuss it.
Why was the church in such bad repair?
In essence, mismanagement. The church and buildings were not maintained, and were allowed to fall into disrepair. Insurance forms were not filed. Damage was done to the façade when stop-gap repairs were attempted, and this has increased the cost to parishioners.
Has a sustainability plan been provided?
Yes, the pastor was given a sustainability plan put together by professionals that would have provided amply for support of the church and buildings.
What was the diocesan response?
There was no response to the plan submitted. Instead, considerable effort was made to convince the parishioners that the Church could not survive.
The Diocese states that the parish has such large debt that it cannot be serviced.
The debt in question –$600,000 — was incurred due to misuse of funds at another parish, Our Lady of Loreto and this is an apparent effort to get OLMC parishioners to shoulder the debt from the Loreto parish. Suggestions were made to merge the parishes at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The answer was “NO.” The Diocese seems intent on destroying Our Lady of Mount Carmel in order to pay down this debt incurred at Loreto.
Real Estate Value of the Property
What’s happening with real estate prices in the OLMC area?
Worcester is experiencing a period of rebirth. Both the location of this land as the gateway to a growing downtown and with commercial real estate on the rise and so little supply in this neighborhood – it all makes this site very valuable indeed.
Do you have a valuation on the building’s worth?
Yes. From a real estate perspective, the property is undoubtedly quite valuable. Our Lady of Mount Carmel church and rectory alone with parking sits on a parcel of 17,080 square feet. The church and rectory buildings are assessed at $1.333.000. The entire parcel is 5.5 acres with a assessed value of $7.652,500. According to the Worcester city assessor’s office it is common for tax exempt properties assessments to be inaccurate. Full market value would of course be much more.
Architectural Value of the Property
What do experts say about the architectural value of OLMC?
It is a model of Italian architecture and features fine stained glass windows and an interior is of Carrera marble. There are five marble altars in the Church, including the main altar. The walls of the church were designed and hand-painted by Professor Anthony D’Ambrosio, a well-known artist from Italy at the cost of $15,000, an enormous amount of money at the time.
What do historical societies have to say about plans to demolish OLMC?
Our Lady of Mount Carmel was nominated and then selected to be added to the National Historic Register. However, the Diocese rejected this significant honor. Preservation Massachusetts has declared the church as one of seven most endangered historic resources in Massachusetts. Preservation Worcester and the City Historic Commission have both declared it a local historic site; their professional opinion is that the church can be repaired and sustained. Both organizations have stated that they recognize 1) the historic renaissance and Baroque architectural value of the building and 2) that the church is a primary artifact linked to the early Italian Catholics in Worcester.
What is the status of the demolition plan that the Diocese wants to pursue?
Last year, the City of Worcester’s Historic Commission granted a one year stay against the planned demolition. That reprieve for this magnificent church runs out on May 17, 2017.
Why was your Society formed?
The Mount Carmel Preservation Society was formed as a response to this egregious situation, and our members are mainly from this congregation. On the civil side, the Society has filed to become a 501(c)(3) organization.
What kind of support do you have?
The Society enjoys wide support among the people of Worcester. We currently have over 13,000 signed petitions in support and asking to save the Church. The majority of Parishioners, of course, want their church back.
What alternatives can your Society offer for OLMC?
Our Society simply wants the Diocese to follow the rules of the Church. The Canon Law of the Catholic Church – which applies worldwide in every diocese – has provisions for situations such as these. Under Church law, Our Lady of Mount Carmel could become a Shrine, an Oratory or a Chapel – and in any case, it can be managed by lay people, a responsibility we are willing to undertake.
Has this plan been successful elsewhere?
Yes. The Oratory of St Francis de Sales in Saint Louis is a perfect example. This magnificent church was voted ‘2017 Most Beautiful Church in America’ – when just a few years ago it was scheduled for the wrecking ball.. This church (established 1840) was brought back from the very brink of destruction by a small group of concerned Catholic businessmen over the objections of the diocese who wanted it torn down. This church has the only Vatican-certified miracle in North America associated with it. This church is no longer a part of the diocese but is still used for weddings and other similar events. http://www.shrineofstjoseph.org
What would the financial impact to the Diocese be of such a plan?
Basically, none. Except of course if their intent all along has been to demolish Our Lady of Mount Carmel and sell the land in order to defray the costs of the mismanagement of Our Lady of Loreto parish, which has a shrinking enrollment and so cannot shoulder this burden themselves.
What would the impact to Worcester be of such a plan?
Our Lady of Mount Carmel is an integral part of Worcester, and should continue to grace the streetscape of our city as it experiences a new rebirth. The church could still be used for weddings and funerals and as a community resource, just as it always has.
Why should the wider community care about this?
Our state has been a leader in the preservation of our nation’s architectural heritage. The Italianate beauty of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is an awesome legacy, a gift to future generations from the people who worked so hard to create such beauty. For that reason alone, all people of the city and the state have an investment in keeping this beautiful building and the community it has sheltered, alive.