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Highway wears on Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church

Posted By January 30, 2015 | 10:59 am | Featured Article #3
Photo by Tanya Connor
Front doors to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church closed with caution tape.
Photo by Tanya Connor Front doors to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church closed with caution tape.

By William T. Clew

What does the future hold for Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church?
That is the question Msgr. F. Stephen Pedone, pastor, and members of the parish are dealing with as the church building continues to show signs of damage.
The church cornerstone was laid in 1927 and the church was completed in 1928. It fronts on Mulberry Street. In 1958 construction began on Interstate  290 and an elevated portion of that highway is separated from the front of the church just by the width of Mulberry Street.
Because of its proximity to the highway and its visibility to those who drive on it, the church was given the nickname “Our Lady of the Highway.”
And because of the vibrations from vehicles, especially heavy trucks, on that highway, the church over the years has suffered, Msgr. Pedone said.  He said the digging and blasting done to build the highway probably caused some damage initially.
He said the church facade has separated from the front wall of the building. The front doors have been closed for safety and the side doors now are used to enter and exit the church. The front wall is slowly sinking. The steeple foundation columns are eroding and the choir loft seems to be sinking toward the south side of the building.
Flashing on the roof is gone and water has seeped between the facade and the front wall. Freezing and thawing has caused the separation. The facade was braced last year, Msgr. Pedone said.
A new furnace was installed in the church a few years ago, but the pipes are from the original furnace installation. They are old and one of them burst, causing water damage in the sacristy. A space heater now heats the sacristy, Msgr. Pedone said.
He said an inspection of the church by engineers would require taking out sections of the wall to determine whether the movement of the choir loft and the steeple is continuing or has become stable.
That inspection, he said, would cost $50,000. The parish council and the finance committee voted unanimously not to spend the money for an inspection, Msgr. Pedone said, reasoning that they already know what is wrong with the church building. A temporary repair would cost between $85,000 and $100,000. A permanent fix, undertaken in years to come, could cost $500,000 to $1 million.
Msgr. Pedone said he will talk to state officials and to the Worcester Historical Commission to find out whether they can help with repairs.
Five years ago the parish launched a campaign to raise $1 million. At that time a list of damages included a leaking roof, water damage to interior walls, worn wooden frames holding the stained glass windows and falling ceiling plaster, among other problems.
Some people think the parish has money, he said, but it does not. Msgr. Pedone said weekly offertory collections average about $5,000, but at least $9,600 a week is needed just to meet the parish bills. The parish showed a $72,000 deficit in 2014.
He said the parish must make a difficult decision soon on whether the church should be repaired or perhaps replaced with a smaller building. That is one suggestion that has been considered, he said. He said he has talked to parish members from time to time, and will continue to do so, about what can be done.
He said the parish recreation center – The Gene J. DeFeudis Italian American Cultural Center – could be put into use, as it has been in the past. It has a new furnace, given by an anonymous donor.  But the pipes are old and the building is antiquated. It would cost an estimated $1.3 million to bring it up to code. Some of that work would include an updated fire alarm system, handicap-accessible bathrooms and, perhaps, an elevator.
The first attempt to found a Catholic parish for the Italian residents in Worcester was undertaken in 1894, when Father Vincent Magliore brought immigrants to St. Stephen’s Church. There were about 700, according to “History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Springfield,” by Father John J. McCoy, published in 1900.
Father Magliore bought a 80-by-160-foot lot on Summer Street to build a church, but was not able to make more headway toward forming a parish, according to Father McCoy. The congregation continued to attend St. Stephen’s, and some later attended Notre Dame des Canadiens Church.
In 1904, Msgr. Maffei bought a mission chapel from the First Swedish Baptist Church at the bottom of Normal Hill. Bishop Thomas Beaven of Springfield dedicated it to Our Lady of Mount Carmel on Nov. 4, 1906. It was Worcester’s first Italian-American Catholic Church.
The congregation eventually outgrew the church building and a new church was planned on Mulberry Street. A fund-raising goal of $100,000 was set. Within a month the Italian-American community had raised $103,027.
Construction of the Romanesque style church began in 1929. It was completed in time for midnight Christmas Mass that same year, according to a parish history. The old church was used as the parish center for several years.
Later the parish acquired a 235,000-square-foot plot near the church from the state for $1. The parish recreation center was built there.
In 1962, Bishop Flanagan merged St. Ann’s Parish, the second oldest in the city after St. John’s Parish, with Mount Carmel. The St. Ann’s congregation had diminished and the financial burden had grown too great for the parish to handle, the bishop said.
He named the new parish St. Ann and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish. Since then it has come to be called Our Lady of Mt. Carmel-St. Ann Parish. In 1991 the parish dedicated a seven-story, 75-unit apartment building. Called the Mount Carmel Apartments, it was designed to help alleviate the affordable housing shortage in the city. The church tower underwent major renovations in 1990-1991.