The large, airy sanctuary at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church was nearly full Sunday morning, as parishioners gathered to celebrate the parish’s 90-year history and to hear Bishop Howard Hubbard speak.
“It’s not usually quite this full, except maybe Christmas Eve or something,” noted Jenny McCadden of Schenectady, who has been attending church there since she was a toddler and has happy memories of Communion, confirmation, and her son’s graduation from the church’s school, which educated local children for 40 years.
Rev. Robert Hohenstein, the first non-Italian to lead the congregation, compared the history of the church to the crossing of many bridges.
“The bridge is a symbol of connection — literally and figuratively — it allows us to cross from one part of our lives to another,” he explained.
The parish came into being at a time when Schenectady was growing and there was a need for an Italian parish in the Mont Pleasant neighborhood. The first Mass was celebrated at the parish’s original church on Schenectady Street on Sept. 24, 1922. In 1962, the present church on Pleasant Street was built.
“They crossed the bridge of growth, and building an expansion,” said Hohenstein, of parishioners past. “We are asked to cross the bridge that challenges us to downsize in a changing neighborhood and seek to build a new church, a new bridge, that unites the parishes of St. Adalbert’s, St. Paul’s and St. Luke’s and our Lady of Mount Carmel. However, the bridge that united us has not changed. We are still being served by Christ.”
Bishop Hubbard, dressed in a vibrant green robe embroidered with a gold cross, and wearing a violet-colored zucchetto on his head, expressed his joy at being part of Sunday’s celebration. He praised Hohenstein’s dedication to the church and the renovations and improvements he has overseen there. He ribbed him good-naturedly as well, saying that he thought there was one thing missing from his homily.
“After all of the publicity that we’re getting in the newspapers this week, I thought you would reveal to us who Jesus’ wife is,” he said, eliciting roars of laughter from the congregation.
When no name was forthcoming, Hubbard continued on a more serious note. He extended two challenges to the congregation:
The first, to submit names of people who would make good priests. In January, the bishop said he will lead a diocesan retreat and invite all of those suggested.
“When I was ordained as a priest for the diocese of Albany in 1964, there were over 400 active diocesan priests. When I became bishop in 1977, there were over 300 active diocesan priests. Today we have 180 active diocesan priests. By the time I am scheduled to retire a year from now, there will be less than 100 diocesan priests and our projections show that if we do not reverse this trend, there will be 38 diocesan priests to serve the 130 parishes in our Diocese of Albany by the year 2020,” he told the congregation.
Hubbard’s second challenge to the parishioners was for them to make an active effort to reach out to the growing number of “unchurched” Americans.
“A recent survey indicated that one-third of those who were born and raised Catholic no longer practice their faith or have joined another faith community. That’s 20 million Catholics who are no longer active in our church,” he said, urging the congregation to be warm, welcoming and inviting.
The service ended with the hymn “O del Carmel Splendor,” an Italian tribute to the Virgin Mary. Congregants exited smiling, warmly greeting friends in the vestibule.
“It’s nice to see everybody, all of the old timers,” said Dianne Pacuk of Duanesburg, who has been attending services at Mount Carmel since 1965, after moving to the area from New York City.
“They’re all like my aunts and grandmothers,” she said, surveying the mainly elderly congregation. “I came up when I was like 23 years old, two kids, and they all adopted me. I’m happy we’re here.”