ROCHESTER — Though the language may sound antiquated to modern ears, the sentiment from the former Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School’s alma mater rang true.
"E’en when from thee we roam, thou wilt call us thine own," the lyrics state.
Though many of the former students have traveled far from their home parish and neighborhood, they returned Sunday, Sept. 27, to celebrate the 100-year legacy of the former Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church with a bilingual English and Spanish Mass.
That legacy moved several parishioners to tears as they sang the alma mater. Their sadness was due in part to the fact that their home parish had merged in 2007 with Corpus Christi and Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier churches to form Our Lady of the Americas Parish. Mt. Carmel and Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier closed in 2008, and all Masses for Our Lady of the Americas are celebrated at the Corpus Christi location.
A history of Mt. Carmel Church noted that members originally met in the basement of Corpus Christi Church. On Aug. 1, 1909, Mt. Carmel parishioners laid the cornerstone for the Ontario Street building that doubled as a church and school.
Although the parish was begun in 1904 as a parish for Italian immigrants, in the 1960s it began to reach out to the Puerto Rican community that was moving into the neighborhood around it.
Speaking after the Mass, Father Vincent Panepinto, Our Lady of the America’s pastor, noted that the Mass was intended to help parishioners heal following Mt. Carmel’s closure.
"It has been a very hard transition, and there are a lot of people that have been hurt, including a lot people who are very much a part of this new parish," Father Panepinto said. "My prayer and hope is that this brings them to some kind of end or closure, that there would be peace for everybody."
In his homily, Father Panepinto, who grew up in Mt. Carmel, said those tied to Mt. Carmel should not forget their collective humble roots and should remember to selflessly serve others. He said the parish helped families overcome ethnic prejudice.
"We were not, like some others would have it, second class," Father Panepinto said. "We had a dignity equal to all others, and we were to be always proud of and always willing to share with the world our cultural background."
He recalled how the Sisters of Mercy also taught this lesson of equal dignity at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School and in the parish’s religious-education program.
"Sister Ambrose, the principal of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School during my childhood, said to us that no one would graduate out of or school without equal education or readiness as any of our other counterparts we would meet in our high schools," Father Panepinto said.
Anthony Fama, who lives in the neighborhood and continues to support Our Lady of the Americas Parish, said seeing the parish’s former priests and sisters at the Mass brought back many memories. Fama said the changes in the parish have brought him sadness, but he said he remains committed to the parish and the city because it is the right thing to do.
"I realize things change, but God has his own way of doing things, and I have to go along with things and accept things as they are," Fama said.
Yolanda Nuñez said although Mt. Carmel Parish doesn’t exist anymore, its people are still very much alive.
"This (Mass) just embodies the struggles and the strength of people’s faith, and the importance of community," said Nuñez, who was part of the last graduating class in 1975 from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School and who volunteered for 12 years as the parish religious-formation director for 12 years before moving to Niagara County.
Several former parishioners stressed how much a part of the neighborhood their parish had been, and how much a part of the parish the neighborhood was.
"I can’t say enough about how neighbors were true neighbors," said Adeline (Caputo) Campanaro, who now attends Rochester’s Peace of Christ Parish. "Everybody looked out for each other."
Campanaro said she was baptized at Mt. Carmel, attended grammar school there, graduating in 1939, and was married in the parish in 1947.
Former parishioner Anna Ventura Batz recalled how when her family walked home from Mass in the summer, neighbors would invite them into their back yards to join them for an afternoon meal.
Like many former Mt. Carmel parishioners, Batz’s parents were Italian immigrants; she said they learned to speak English by going to the parish. Batz now attends Peace of Christ Parish.
Carmen M. Cinanni Sr., an Irondequoit resident, recalled how he wound up attending school at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. His parents had at first enrolled him in public school, he said.
"The kids I was hanging around with were bad, and I knew I was going to get in trouble, so I went by myself and enrolled myself in the school because my parents didn’t speak any English," Cinanni said.
He noted that at the school in second grade, he met his future wife. They have been married nearly 63 years.
"We had a great time in school," Cinanni said. "Mt. Carmel was our life’s blood."