The church, then without a name, began expanding when Father Po moved the congregation to a store on Westminster Place owned by Raffaele Fusco. After deliberation, the store/ church finally received its name in 1904 after the famous shrine located 2,300 ft. above sea level in Avellino, Italy, near Naples-the Shrine of the Madonna di Montevergine.
In Fusco's store, a butcher shop, was born Our Lady of Mount Virgin Parish.
A temporary chapel was built in 1904 in the newly purchased property on Frederick Street and Grenelle Avenue (now MacArthur Avenue). To care for the increasing number of parishioners, a basement church was built in 1907 on the corner of Frederick Street and the present MacArthur Avenue. It was used until 1927 when the present structure was erected. The outer structure of the older church still stands. The façade emulates the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. Bishop John J. O'Connor blessed and dedicated the new church on Nov. 27, 1927.
Our Lady of Mount Virgin Parish has survived two fires. The first, in 1940, almost ruined the building except for the rear and outer structures and the sidewalls. One year later, another fire began after lightning struck the steeple.
Reconstruction of the building was finally completed in 1942, without the cupola over the sanctuary and the columns along the aisles. Anew bell tower was built and the church boasts beautiful stained glass windows.
As the church building was renovated, parishioners grew in number. Today, the parish has 1,300 registered families and 25 percent are Italian-speaking. An estimated 35 percent of parishioners are adults between the ages of 30-59. New members account for 10 percent of the parish community, which Father Peter J. Palmisano-the current pastor-describes as " close-knit."
Joanne Briglio is a lifelong parishioner. "I remember as a child growing up and going to church with my parents and grandparents. Now I can understand the love they had for Mount Virgin. By their example, I now have the same faith and pride in my parish community."
As a parishioner for over 40 years, Dan Tummillo has his share of fond memories. "Mount Virgin is my second home. As a child, my father would take me to the gymnasium on Saturday mornings to roller skate with the Filippini Sisters, which is how they got their exercise. Once I grew older, I was given the privilege of being pulled out of school to help shovel the snow in the church parking lot. Now as an adult, I participate in other ways, like opening the church each morning, that has been passed down though my family."
"I would say that the parishioners' faith has also been renovated, as shown in the growing attendance and participation in the parish's activities," Father Palmisano said. "We now look forward to continuing the spirit of New Energies with St. Leo Parish (Elmwood Park), Most Sacred Heart Parish (Wallington) and St. Anne Parish (Fair Lawn)."
A feeling of camaraderie and a sense of community unite the parishioners at Our Lady of Mount Virgin.
The community spirit is enhanced during special feasts, religious celebrations and devotions. Every week, there are devotions to the Sacred Heart, rosary, Padre Pio, St. Jude and eucharistic exposition. A special celebration honoring St. Joseph each year incorporates a dinner and dance fundraiser. In August and September, an Italian feast is prepared by parishioners and a live band highlights the festivities.
The annual feast strengthens the bond of Italian heritage between parishioners and priests. "Mount Virgin is a family-oriented parish in which a percentage of the parishioners are highly active. This can be proven by the annual Italian feast, which shows great teamwork among the parishioners," participant Michelle Vernuccio said. "Mount Virgin is comprised of tradition, caring families, multiple ministries and parish organizations who reach out to the poor, needy and sick," parishioner Terry Qautrone said. "The parish has taught me the importance of life as a good and faithful steward."
Several ministries, such as Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), the stewardship program, welcoming committee and ministry to the sick strive to include all members of the congregation into the faith community. Pat Nunno, who works with funeral ministry, finds fulfillment in helping fellow parishioners during their troubled times.
"Funeral ministry brings me so much satisfaction. Meeting with families at the most painful time in their lives, helping them to plan their final tribute to their loved one, the Funeral Mass. Families have voiced comfort in choosing their hymns and readings," Nunno said.
Ministering to the community is one way the parish encourages a deeper spirituality. "Mount Virgin has served as a powerful beacon of spiritual growth and Catholic inspiration to its parishioners. The parish continues to prepare its people to carry on the work of Christ," Quatrone said.
An all-encompassing approach to spiritual and building a faith community is what draws generations of families to Our Lady of Mount Virgin Parish, many parishioners said. "If I ever had to make a decision to relocate my home again, the first consideration would be the distance to Mount Virgin," Andrew Kaczynski said.
(Our Lady of Mount Virgin Parish is located at 188 MacArthur Ave., Garfield; phone: (973) 772-2295; Web site: www.mountvirgin.com)