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Our Lady of Mt. Carmel celebrates 170 years of service

Since its beginnings as the work of one Irish priest who held the borough’s first Catholic mass in a home, Astoria’s Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish has seen a multitude of changes during its 170 years which were marked with an anniversary mass last week.

“It was a celebration of both the unity of the parish … but also the diversity of the parish in terms of language, culture and even age,” said Monsignor Sean Ogle, who has led the church, at 23-25 Newtown Ave., for the last three years.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel held its anniversary mass July 16, which close to 1,000 people attended, Ogle said. The day was chosen because it is the Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, another name for the Virgin Mary in her capacity as patroness of the Carmelite Order, a group of Christian hermits believed to have been founded at Mt. Carmel in what is now northern Israel.

“It’s a title for Our Lady that reflects that whole idea of prayer and study,” Ogle said.

The monsignor said the service was conducted by 11 priests in five different languages: English, Spanish, Italian, Czech and Vietnamese. Nicholas DiMarzio, bishop for the Diocese of Brooklyn, spoke at the mass. It also featured a procession of the church’s 30 diverse parish groups, from the Knights of Columbus and Rosary Society to prayer groups held in multiple languages to groups for young adults and married Hispanic couples. Afterward, visitors enjoyed a dessert reception prepared by the parishioners in the church’s gym.

Astoria’s Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, referred to as “The Mother Church of Queens County,” began with the Rev. Michael Curran, Ogle said. Curran, an Irish-born priest who was eventually assigned to St. Paul’s in Harlem, would take ferry rides to Queens and preach in Astoria, Flushing, Jamaica and the Rockaways.

Curran held Astoria’s first mass in a home in 1935, the official start of the parish. Five years later, the parish built its first church at what is now 26th Avenue and 21st Street. The church’s current location began to be built in 1871 to accommodate the growing community.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel has seen some changes recently, Ogle said. In addition to holding services in multiple languages, it also serves multiple ethnicities: 30 percent of its parish, which once served Irish congregants, is Filipino. Its parish school was closed in 2005, and the church has become more oriented toward providing adult services.

“We try to do a lot of adult education in terms of lectures and study groups and ministry programs to try to educate adults about the faith,” Ogle said.

The monsignor said the church’s next 170 years will increase its devotion to “Faith, Hope and Charity,” making a reference to a verse in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in the Bible. He said the anniversary mass was a way for the church to celebrate and thank God for his gifts to the church.

“It was a very, very successful and upbeat day,” Ogle said. “It was a great feeling of warmth among the people and a sense of achievement.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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