by Robert Mau
This year, the Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel will celebrate 120 unbroken years of devotion to the Mother of God.
Festivities culminate on July 14 with a 9 a.m. Mass in English and Italian at the Shrine, a procession to a noon field Mass and a second procession featuring traditional festa music. A street festival featuring food booths, activities for children and live entertainment will run from July 11 to 14, and a Novena will run from July 6 to 13. Related events include the presentation of the banners at 7 p.m. on July 9 and the presentation of the roses at 6 p.m. on July 10. (708-344-4140)
The feast had humble beginnings. In 1894, Mrs. Emmanuela DeStefano commissioned an artist in Naples to create a replica of an image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel that had long been venerated in Laurenzana, Provincia di Potenza, Italy. Italian Americans have a unique devotion to the Blessed Mother under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Many immigrants from throughout the Italian peninsula who came to North America left Italy from Naples, where, very near the port, there is a church dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. These immigrants often offered prayers and lit candles in this church, asking Our Lady to pray for their safe voyage to the New World. This devotion remained with them after they safely reached North America, and many Italian parishes throughout the United States and Canada were built in her honor and named Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
In Melrose Park, the first feast was held on July 16, 1894, on Mrs. DeStefano’s farmland at 25th and North avenues, now the home of Al Piemonte Ford. A chapel was built soon after the turn of the 20th century on 24th Avenue, and Our Lady of Mount Carmel was established as a parish in 1905. Initially staffed by the Servite order of priests, the Archdiocese of Chicago asked the Scalabrini order to manage the parish and serve the rapidly growing Italian immigrant community in Melrose Park. The Rev. Benjamin Franch arrived that same year, and a lot was purchased on the corner of 23rd and Augusta avenues — the parish’s current location. In order to accommodate the growing parish, Fr. Franch oversaw the construction of a new church that was completed in 1909. A school was added in 1913, along with two additional school buildings in 1950 and 1961. A larger, modern church and shrine were constructed in 1968.
During all of these years, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel grew to become the largest Italian-Catholic religious event in the country. In 1944, during the height of World War II, new crowns were commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the feast. In June 2009, the image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel received a Papal Incoronation, and new crowns for the images of the Blessed Mother and baby Jesus, made with gold donated by devotees, were personally blessed by Pope Benedict XVI. The Papal Incoronation Mass was broadcast live worldwide on EWTN.
For the feast’s centennial in 1993, a new bell tower was erected next to the church and was paid for by generous donations from parishioners and devotees.
The feast continues to attract devotees from all over the world, who come to Melrose Park every year to participate in the nine-day novena, procession, field Mass and street carnival, and many miracles have been attributed to our Blessed Mother’s intercession.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel hosts religious events all year, including a Vernerdi Santo (Good Friday) service and procession, the Feast of St. Anthony, and a Mass and procession for St. Michael in honor of our area police officers. For more information on the 2013 feast, please visit our website at www.olmcshrine.org.