East Harlem Italian Parish Gets New Life from Polish Order

Our Lady of Mount Carmel on E. 115th was founded in 1881. (Photo by Paul Lowry, Flickr Creative Commons License)

Our Lady of Mount Carmel on E. 115th, founded in 1884 by a German Pallottine priest but long considered an Italian parish, was recently placed under the care of the Polish Pallottine order. (Photo by Paul Lowry, Flickr Creative Commons License)

(This translation was excerpted from the original article in Nowy Dziennik)

A couple of months ago, the renowned sanctuary Our Lady of Mount Carmel located at 449 East 115th Street in East Harlem, was placed under the care of the Polish Pallottine order. In December, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, appointed the Rev. Marian Wierzchowski to be church’s pastor and administrator. As of today, Polish-speaking New Yorkers can attend Mass offered in Polish.

The first Polish Mass is one of 15 services offered throughout the day in different languages to commemorate the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. After July 16, Polish masses will be celebrated each Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Rev. Marian Wierzchowski was recently appointed pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, an East Harlem parish now under the Polish Pallottine order. (Photo by Wojtek Maslanka via Nowy Dziennik)

Rev. Marian Wierzchowski was recently appointed pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. (Photo by Wojtek Maslanka via Nowy Dziennik)

“The celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel started a couple of days earlier. We held a three-day evening novena in French for Haitians, a three-day novena in Spanish and in Italian, and prayers in English. In the future, I would like to organize a similar evening of prayer for Poles,” said Wierzchowski.

East Harlem doesn’t have a Polish community, however, the pastor hopes that the Polish Masses will attract Polish churchgoers from the entire city.

“In  May, I did an experiment and celebrated a Polish Mass for the Feast of Our Lady Queen of Poland. We had about 50 people in attendance,” he said.

“I hope with time, once the word spreads there will be more and more Polish immigrants coming to pray here,” said Wierzchowski, who has been getting help from a Polish seminary student and since last Sunday has been joined by a vicar, Rev. Zbigniew Zieba. The latter previously worked as a priest in Mexico. Since recently the sanctuary has also had a Polish organist/pianist, Mariusz Wolf.

“Polish people have a special respect for sanctuaries. They like to make pilgrimages to sanctuaries in Czestochowa, Lichen or Swieta Lipka in Poland. I hope and would love to attract them to our sanctuary. But I guess all is in the hands of the Blessed Mother,” said Wierzchowski.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel is a very unique temple, which has the status of sanctuary and holds the rank of a minor basilica. The statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel housed in the East Harlem sanctuary is one of three in the Americas that have been coronated by the Vatican. The two others are Our Lady of Perpetual Help in New Orleans, La., and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico.

The gold crown of the statue of the Madonna and child in the East Harlem church is adorned with jewelry gifted by Popes Leon XIII and Pius X. Besides, there have been several documented miracles that are believed to have been performed by the Blessed Mother of Mount Carmel.

The East Harlem’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel church was built in 1884. Its founder was a German Pallotine, Rev. Emiliano Kirner, but the history of the sanctuary is closely associated with the immigration of Italians to America. East Harlem was the third area in the city, after Mulberry and Canal Streets, known as Little Italy, heavily populated by Italian immigrants, who faithfully attended church on holidays.

They were present in great numbers for the first Feast of Out Lady of Mount Carmel in 1881, so on completion of the church three years later, the parish was instantly called Italian.

In the last decades, with the boom in residential construction in East Harlem came demographic and cultural changes and most of Italian immigrants moved to other parts of the city. As a result, the parish started to deteriorate. The elderly Italian priests passed away, and young and energetic fathers were hard to find. That’s when Cardinal Dolan decided to place the sanctuary under care of the Polish Pallottines order.

Currently, Our Lady of Mount Carmel counts only 300 parishioners, for whom services are offered in English, Spanish, French, Italian and Latin. At 10 a.m. on Sunday, a Tridentine Mass is celebrated.

One Comment

  1. Lucan Nutley says:

    Dolan “decided”? That’s a laugh. He’s running out of priests and he knows it.

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