By John Monfredo, retired Worcester Public Schools teacher and principal and former Worcester School Committee member
Just recently, as I drove past my old house where I grew up on East Central Street in Worcester, I had to stop my car and look across the way as workers were taking down the Mt. Carmel Recreation Center building.
It was a nostalgic time because I started to think of all my childhood memories of growing up on East Central Street and time spent at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and its nearby Center. These were special memories for my family and me. My brothers, Joe and Ben, and I had such good times in the neighborhood at the church facilities!
It is with sadness that I now look at the demise of the church being torn down and now the property associated with the church … the ball field and the recreation center all gone. However, instead of dwelling on what was, I’d like to look back and think about the good times growing up in the shadow of our beloved church, built by Italian American immigrants. It was the center of Worcester’s Italian immigrants and their families for decades.
Unlike now, we all knew all our neighbors and we all watched out for one another. It wasn’t uncommon to leave your bike or toys in the yard because no one would take them. We respected each other’s property. We were fortunate, for the adults watched over us and made sure we did the right thing.
At that time on East Central Street I was surrounded by many Italian families – the Spaziante’s, the Vigliotti’s, Palumbo’s, D’Elia’s the Virzi’s, Ranucci’s, DeLFemine, Dattis, Panucci’s and the Natalie’s, just to name a few. It was a neighborhood of two and three deckers. All the families were vigilant when it came to children, and folks were not afraid to call up your parents if you did something wrong.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church played a major role in our upbringing because, not only did it provide spiritual guidance to us Mt. Carmel families, but there were many activities available for the children in the parish. …
I remember going to the beach for the day on a bus with Father Bafaro, as well as going on various field trips to state parks.
WCCA TV’s Mauro DePasquale, far left, one of his church’s cantors. Mauro and so many other parishioners and Worcesterites are heartbroken over the loss of the beautiful Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and the church’s recreation center and baseball field. Mauro was hoping to build a small shrine on the site, where people could come to pray and remember Our Lady of Mount Carmel. But the property was sold by the Worcester Catholic Diocese to a real estate developer who’s building a huge apartment complex and garage on the once hallowed ground and focal point for Worcester’s Italian American community.
At the Recreation Center, who could not forget the teen record hops where we would meet with many of our friends and have a great time? Kids danced the night away! At the end of the night, we would hear these words from Father Bafaro: “The best way home is the shortest way home.” We also had the pleasure of candlepin bowling at the Center, as well as playing basketball with friends or joining a church team and competing against other teams.
Then there was the cafeteria at our Recreation Center where all sorts of events took place: community suppers and so much more. The
Rec Center provided so many other events for our families to attend! At the field, next to the Rec Center, we played baseball and football. I can also remember every Thanksgiving Day morning we would go to the field and have a touch football game with the guys.
I asked some family and friends for their lasting impressions and here is what they said: For my brother Joe it was very personal, for that’s where he met his wife to be! He enjoyed going to the dances every week, and he also mentioned that he loved bowling and playing basketball for the CYC at the Rec Center. … Carleen D’Elia Ford, a friend for life, stated that her first impressions of the church started when she went to Communion classes run by the sisters of Venerini because the nuns were so helpful and communicated well with the students. She then spoke about appreciating the Columbus Day Parade and the Italian Festival in the parking lot of the church that took place each year and how the innocence of youth was so prevalent in those days.
Ann Spaziante, my friend and next-door neighbor on East Central Street, had lasting memories of the Friday night dances and of Father Bafaro driving around to make sure we went right home. She also said, We used the bowling alley downstairs and really had fun. In addition, we all enjoyed just “hanging” around the Rec … great friendship, never an argument, just good socializing. You never had to go very far to be with friends because they were always there in good and bad times.”
These three deckers, by the church site, off of Shrewsbury Street, are still standing. They were once home to Worcester’s Italian American immigrants, their children and grandchildren. The Italian immigrants built their beloved church just yards away from their three deckers! photo:R.T.
One of the strongest advocates in keeping the church from closing was Mauro DePasquale of Worcester and executive director of WCCA TV. I asked him about those positive memories: “My favorite memories of growing up in the Church and Rec Center are too numerous to mention. Attending the church with the organ music shaking the congregation amazed me as a young child. Seeing my Dad kneeling over the pew in deep reverence and prayer facing the alabaster white altar with angels and the Blessed Mother, our Lady of Mount Carmel holding the Scapular was memorable. That was the sacred space where my faith and family traditions were taught to me. I have many other fond memories growing up at Mount Carmel such as attending Catechism and later helping teach our faith to other children and adults. I performed at my first “Battle of the Bands” concert at the Rec Center, produced “Notte D’amore” (two seasons), an evening of multi-genre music and poetry for the Italian Cultural Center, while serving on the Board. The church was a community epicenter for the neighborhood, a community of Italian Americans and blended families, and so much more. Fighting more than four years to save the church from being abandoned and demolished by the Diocese was heartbreaking. The church and the buildings are gone, but the spirit and values learned from Our Lady’s and the Holy Family presence among us will shine brightly in our hearts forever.”
Finally, my brother Ben perhaps summed up the many thoughts of others with this statement: “We all loved going to the Rec, for there was candlepin bowling, bus trips to the beach and to ballgames, the record hops, the Italian Festivals in the summer where we could go and enjoy Italian food and carnival rides in the evening hours. There were also Catholic Christian values classes where our parents sent us to learn values that helped shape our lives. There was always something to do. It kept kids off the streets and offered an alternative to just hanging out. They also had the Joe DiMaggio Little League field as well as a playground with swings, seesaws, a jungle gym area and a bocce court. We didn’t have video games, so we played outside with friends and came home when it was dark. Those were special times, and the Church played a big part in our development. Yes, I will always remember those special times growing up and how the church played an important part in my life.”
Our Lady of Mount Carmel church has been blended into another Worcester Italian American church, Our Lady of Loretto Church. But the Mt. Carmel parishioners still pray together, and together, praying, they are Our Lady of Mount Carmel! photo:R.T.
As you can see, Mt. Carmel was a very special place for many of us. After all these years, it is still missed! The demolition of church and recreation center is a loss for the new generation!