Father Ivanow was the retired pastor of St. Valentine's, Bloomfield and stepped down from that post in 1921 due to health problems. However, in 1925 Father Ivanow had become tired of the inactive life and was longing to do parish work again. Bishop O'Connor granted his request by appointing him pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Therefore, at the age of 69, Father Ivanow began a new endeavor.
The parishioners who worshiped in the original church on Franklin Avenue recall that it was small. It contained only 11 pews on one side and nine on the other, seating about 120 people. After a heavy rainstorm, water would frequently find its way into the church basement, which was not unexpected because the structure was built adjacent to the Third River, which runs through Belleville and Nutley.
In spite of the church's size, the parish provided for the spiritual and social life of some 170 families and the parish flourished. The parish celebrated traditional Polish services and observed Polish customs. There was Pasterka, at midnight of Christmas, Kolenda after the Feast of the Epiphany, the Joyful Procession on Easter morning, the Swienconka and Paschal meal, devotions to the Blessed Mother in May and October and many other liturgical celebrations.
In 1944, at the age of 88, Father Ivanow passed away. His former assistant, Rev. Walter Niedzwieck was appointed temporary administrator. Father Niedzwieck purchased a nearby tract of land in 1949 at the corner of Harrison Avenue and Prospect Street from the Township of Nutley for one dollar. Rev. Francis Czechowski was appointed as the second pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in 1948.
Sunday Mass attendance increased dramatically at this time while the church was still on Franklin Avenue. Each week, an average of 300 people came to the little church that could only accommodate less than half that number. When the parish was founded, there were 170 families; by 1950, the roles had increased to 250.
Less than a year after groundbreaking, on Dec. 10, 1950, Archbishop Thomas Walsh laid the cornerstone and dedicated the new church. There were 40 pews of solid oak that could accommodate 230 people, less than the 300 proposed. This new church would come to be known affectionately as "The Little Church on the Hill."
In 1979, Rev. Edward A. Haber became pastor. Previous pastor Rev. Henry Juncewicz had maintained that only individuals of Polish extraction could be parishioners. By 1980, the Nutley population had grown substantially and had become more diverse. Father Haber changed Father Juncewicz's policy and by 1996 the parish had over 600 registered families. He also believed there was no need for three Sunday masses in Polish and offered only one.
The current church in Nutley, which was dedicated in 1950, features beautiful stained glass windows representing the life of Jesus and saints.
On July 1, 1997, then-Archbishop Theodore McCarrick appointed Rev. Thomas J. Ciba as pastor. Although being third-generation Polish, Father Ciba never learned to speak Polish. However, having served in two Polish parishes, he was very familiar with Polish customs and practices.
Father Ciba, looking to boost funds for the parish, formed a capital campaign committee, an architectural committee and a building committee. The capital campaign rose over $575,000 in pledges to improve the church building. A larger sanctuary area, a handicap ramp, a new shrine area, a new confessional, a handicap restroom and additional seating were constructed.
Today, the parish has 925 families but only a small percentage of parishioners have a Polish heritage. Ethnically diverse, there is a mixture of Italian, Irish and some Vietnamese members. There is also an increasing number of Filipinos, celebrating with feasts such as Simbang Gabi as well as a monthly Tagalog Mass. The majority of the congregation is in the 30-to-65 age bracket. Parish membership has increased 50 percent in nine years.
"Our parishioners and visitors enjoy a small church that creates an atmosphere of warmth and togetherness. We are open and inviting. Our Mass schedule is convenient and we strive to serve the needs of the parishioners. Visitors and newcomers of all races and ethnic backgrounds are made to feel like another member of the family," Father Ciba said.
Father Ciba describes his parish as a close-knit community. "I have been blessed to be pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. I have so many good, generous and supportive parishioners. We have many parishioners, ready and eager to volunteer whenever there is a need. Additionally, I have an excellent parish staff. Our full-time and part-time secretaries work very hard and often give more of themselves than one can ask."
The parish has a spirit of volunteerism that organizes a fully stocked food pantry, winter coat drives and a Giving Tree program. Bereavement ministry YANA (You Are Not Alone), Ladies Auxiliary and an involved youth ministry are all trademarks of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish. Most of these ministries flourished when Father Ciba became pastor.
"We had a dearth of ministers and ministries. I needed to recruit additional lectors and extra-ordinary ministers of the Eucharist. I felt it was necessary to introduce a variety of musical motifs to the Sunday liturgies. I also wanted to introduce new ministries. Most of all, I wanted to maintain a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere in which people could worship," Father Ciba explained.
The youth ministry program, headed by Denise Roman, was established in 1999 and is source of pride for the parish (see The Catholic Advocate, July 19, 2006). The youth group, with 12 members, exemplifies the parish's strong communal spirit. Whether organizing food drives for the local Red Cross, sponsoring a winter coat drive or organizing a pro-life baby shower for the Gateway Pregnancy Center, the youth ministry program is an example of the congregation's spirit.
(Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish is located at 120 Prospect St., Nutley.)