HISTORY OF OUR PATRON

 

BEFORE CHRIST

Mount Carmel is a biblical place where the prophet Elijah dwelt.  It rises 1,742 feet above sea level and towers above Israel’s Mediterranean coastline.  It was here where Elijah prayed to God for the salvation of Israel, which was suffering a terrible drought at the time.  He continued to pray and sent his servant up the mountain several times to look for rain.  On the seventh try, Elijah’s servant returned with good news.  “Behold a little cloud arose out of the sea like a man’s foot” (1 Kings 1:44).  Soon thereafter, torrential rains fell upon the parched land and the people of Israel were saved. 

Elijah saw the cloud as a symbol of the Virgin mentioned in the prophecies of Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14).  The hermits who lived on Mount Carmel followed Elijah’s example and prayed for the advent of the much-awaited Virgin, who would become the mother of the Messiah.  The origins of the Carmelite Order can be traced back to Elijah and his hermited disciples.

 

ST. SIMON STOCK

In the 13th century, during the Crusades, St. Simon Stock joined a group of hermits on Mount Carmel during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  In 1247, he was elected the 6th superior-general of the Carmelites at the first chapter held in Aylesford, England.  However, the order had difficulty gaining general acceptance and suffered much persecution and oppression from secular clergy and other orders which prompted the monks to have recourse to the Blessed Virgin in the year 1251.  

On Sunday July 16th, 1251, as Simon Stock knelt in prayer, Our Lady appeared to him, holding the Child Jesus in one arm and the Brown Scapular in the other.  She uttered the following words: Hoc erit tibi et cunctis Carmelitis privilegium, in hoc habitu moriens salvabitur” (This shall be the privilege for you and for all the Carmelites, that anyone dying in this habit shall be saved).  On January 13, 1252, the order received a letter of protection from Pope Innocent IV, defending them from harassment.  

 

St. Simon Stock lived a holy life for 100 years and died in the Carmelite monastery at Bordeaux, France on May 16, 1265.

 

THE BROWN SCAPULAR

The scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, also known as the Brown Scapular, is one of the most popular and celebrated of Roman Catholic devotions. The sacramental (as the lay faithful commonly use it) is a miniature derivative of the actual brown scapular used by the Carmelites – the sleeveless outer garment falling from the shoulders which is worn as a sign of their vocation and devotion.

Our Lady gave St. Simon a scapular for the Carmelites with the following promise, saying, “Receive, My beloved son, this habit of thy order: this shall be to thee and to all Carmelites a privilege, that whosoever dies clothed in this shall never suffer eternal fire…It shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger, and a pledge of peace.”

 

Attached to the wearing of the Brown Scapular is the Sabbatine Privilege.  The name, Sabbatine Privilege, originates from the apocryphal Bull “Sacratissimo uti culmine” of John XXII, March 3, 1322.

According to Pope John XXII, the Blessed Virgin gave him the following message in a vision related to those who wear the Brown Scapular: “I, the Mother of Grace, shall descend on the Saturday (Sabbath) after their death and whomsoever I shall find in Purgatory, I shall free, so that I may lead them to the holy mountain of life everlasting.”

Based on Church tradition, three conditions need to be fulfilled to obtain the benefits of this Privilege and the Scapular:

  1. Wear the Brown Scapular
  2. Observe chastity according to one’s state in life
  3. Pray the Rosary

In order to receive the spiritual blessings associated with the Scapular, it is necessary to be formally enrolled in the Brown Scapular by either a priest or a lay person who has been given this faculty.  Once enrolled, no other Scapular need be blessed before wearing.  The blessing and imposition are attached to the wearer for life.

 

 FEAST DAY

Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s Feast Day is July 16, the same day she appeared to St. Simon Stock.  

 

 

HISTORY OF OUR CHURCH 

 

On April 3, 2017, the National Park Service designated Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church (built in 1904) to the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural and historical significance. The large brick church, dominated by twin square towers with copper domes surmounted by white crosses and defined by a larger-than-life statue or Our lady of Mount Carmel, is “a fine example of the Romanesque Revival (architectural) style” that swept the United States in the late 19th century. Moreover, historians write, Our Lady of Mount Carmel “exhibits long standing and ongoing cultural significance to the state’s Italian-American community, and specifically to Denver’s Little Italy, for its enduring, multi-generational traditions and heritage transplanted directly from Italy.”

 Thus the National Park Service recognizes what Our Lady of Mount Carmel parishioners have known for generations: this remarkable church lies at the center of Denver and the American West’s profoundly important stories of immigration, faith, and a resilient community’s simultaneous embrace the traditions of the old country and the opportunities of a new land. 

 

“As Living Stones We Are Built into the House and Altar of God”

We are proud of the church’s grandeur; in the Romanesque Revival Style we see the long story of our faith. And yet, Saint Augustine wrote, the true temple of God is made not of inert rock, but of human hearts, the voices of our parish.

Until the 1960’s, when Denver’s Italian Americans began their exodus from North Denver to the suburbs, the voice of the parish was exclusively Italian and the parishioners almost exclusively descended from southern Italy: the Mezzogiorno or “the land that time forgot.” The braccianti, those defined by their strong braccia, strong arms, arrived first, seeking pane e lavoro, bread and work. They settled in “The Bottoms” along the South Platte River near the bustle of Union Station and the stench of the Stockyards and dedicated their first years in America to securing the funds to retrieve their parents, siblings, wives, and children from the poverty, overcrowding, limited life expectancy, and natural disasters that had long plagued southern Italy. Mother Frances Cabrini – the Italian born founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, first American to be canonized, an early patron of The Mount Carmel School and Queen of Heaven Orphanage, called to Denver to bring “the holy joys” to “our poor emigrants”- wrote that the hard work involved in building Denver and the American Wets “the hardest labour is reserved for the Italian worker” (Voyages (1906) qtd. In Cabrinian Colorado Missions, 9) The Italian workers said simply “America è icci,” “this is America,” America is here” holding up their work-stained hands (qtd. In Gambino, Blood of my Blood, 84).

 

 Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church is a spectacular crowning testament to this hard work. As they were financially able, and as they were joined by family, these Italian immigrants migrated from The Bottoms north and uphill to what became “Little Italy.” By 1900, over 3,000 Italian immigrants lived in North Denver. Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and its numerous satellite social and educational services became the emotional and geographic center of this community. Its bell, fondly christened “Maria del Carmelina” by parishioners, could be heard throughout the neighborhood. The bell was North Denver’s “heartbeat,” one immigrant son remembered regulating life in Denver “the way church bells did in the old country.”

 The southern Italians had left an old country in which church and state were indistinguishable. The Catholic Church was the preeminent institution in their lives. Saints’ days and feast days marked the passage of a year. Church rituals – births, baptisms, first communions, confirmations, graduations, marriages, funerals-marked the milestones of a life. The laws and rituals of the Church guided their lives and their decisions. The immigrants did not relinquish this hold when they became American.

 Holding on, however, was not always easy. The first wave of Italian immigrants to North Denver found only the Irish-Catholic Saint Patrick’s Church, where priests did not speak their language and were unfamiliar with the uniquely Italian liturgy. This first wave organized in 1891 as the Mount Carmel Society, under the leadership of Father Mariano Felice Lepore, and devoted their considerable energy and less-considerable money to construction of a neighborhood church. Dedicated on Palm Sunday in 189, this simple wood church burned down only four years later. The Denver Times reported that all of Little Italy mourned: “ ‘Santo Rocco mio; Madonna mia; che disgrazia’” (August 27, 1898).

 

 And as surely as they mourned, they rebuilt more solidly, more substantially, of fire-proof brick and plaster – a church that would endure at the center of their and their American descendants’ lives. Denver’s Frederick William Paroth designed the new Our lady of Mount Carmel Church, Frank Kirchoff supervised its construction, and, on December 19, 1904, Bishop Nicholas Matz of the Archdiocese of Denver celebrated its Dedication Mass. Bishop Matz anointed the high altar with holy oil and intoned, in communion with its congregants, the ancient antiphon of the Feast of Dedication: “Open wide the doors and gates. Lift high the ancient portals. How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord. “Prior to the high Mass, he joined his “singing, flag-waving, flower-carrying” parishioners in a celebratory parade through the streets of Little Italy. It was, historian Thomas Noel reports, “a bright, sunny ‘Italian’ day.”

 

In the likeness of Things Divine”: Romanesque Architecture

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church marks the entrance to downtown Denver, its bell towers and copper topped domes clearly visible from Interstate 70 and of old North Denver know the church as a gateway and beacon; when we see it, we know we’re home. Historians, however, remind us that the church’s architectural significance extends beyond this appreciation. In its architectural form – its domes, arches, elaborate murals and statuary, symmetrical bulk and majestic presence – Our Lady of Mount Carmel tells a story extending to ancient Rome.

In the first decades after the death of Christ, practitioners of the early Catholic Church added the “Roman Arch” to the small scale of the ancient Greek Temple, allowing grand spaces to be spanned in a material reflection of the Church’s grand sweep; this same arch spans Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s entrance and defines its naves. Upon the fourth century transfer of the seat of the Roman Empire from Rome to Byzantium, the dome entered Catholic architectural vernacular; we see echoes of Byzantium in Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s copper-topped domes. By the 12th century, as the darkness of Europe’s Middle Ages lifted, church construction resumed in what became known as the Romanesque tradition: a conscious modeling of the grand public structures of ancient Rome and the early Church. The Romanesque tradition is replete with iconography: with murals and statues that testify to God’s presence on earth and with the elaborate gilt embellishment that honors St. John’s directives that the “tower of Jerusalem shall be built up of jewels” (Roman Breviary, Reformed). The interior of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is a jewel box. Finally, Catholic immigrant communities across the United States manifested their connection to the Old World, to Rome, and to the first Church with their revival of the Romanesque tradition, modified to incorporate local building materials: a modern Denver “accent” to an older, larger story.

 This ancient story and the more-local and more-modern “brick city” accent are read in the architectural lines, the interior iconography, the doomed towers, the uplifted crosses, and the brick construction of Our lady of Mount Carmel Church.

 

An entire generation of Denver’s Italian immigrants never learned to drive – they had no need. Everything they needed was in North Denver: their jobs, schools, businesses, ballparks, social organizations, parochial schools, and – at the geographic, cultural, and emotional heart of this community of faith and blood – their church. Again and again, Denver’s Italian-American community confirms the centrality of the church to their lives and their families’ stories. Parishioners report their membership in the church’ s fraternal organizations, their hard work in support of the church festivals and bazaars, their baptism and marriage in the church where their parents and their parents’ parents were baptized and marries (Zahler, Italy in Colorado, passim). It was there here that Denver’s Italian Americans saw the history of their community manifested most clearly. One third –generation parishioner remembers that “the immigrant women wore black, prayed the rosary aloud, and responded to the invocations in Italian. The second-generation, born in America, wore colors and pill-box hats, prayed more quietly, and responded to the invocations in English”. (Daly, Bellezza di Mamma, 77). And yet, they prayed together – and continue to pray together. Here, the National Register designation affirms, is a significant piece of our nation’s story: “first, second, third, and even fourth generations of families are parishioners; the parish is a maze of interrelated people whose lives have been all been closely associated”.

 This continuity and active participation belies rapid changes in the neighborhood. The streets surrounding Our Lady of Mount Carmel are less Italian these days. Many of the descendants of the first generation of Italian immigrants have moved to the suburbs, replaced most recently by a younger and more ethnically diverse population. The parish has adjusted. The old families continue to be dedicated Mount Carmel parishioners, commuting from the suburbs to Mass, supporting all church functions and activities, and welcoming the new residents of old North Denver to the congregation. As the neighborhood changes, the church remains constant.

 

Thus did Saint Augustine envision the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places honors both the inert rock and the human hearts that have made Our Lady of Mount Carmel the centerpiece of a community for over 100 years.

 

 **Written by Ann Emmons with the support of Father Hugh Guentner, OSM, and the National Register Nomination Committee.**

 

 

HISTORY OF THE SERVITES

 

In Florence, Italy, seven prosperous men gathered as a society to honor Mary, the Mother of God.  They eventually left their extravagant ways behind and moved into a dilapidated building outside of Florence in order to seek a contemplative life.  Their holy and penitential lifestyle attracted the attention of people wanting spiritual advice and prayers, so the seven moved to a secluded area atop the nearby Mount Senario.

Others joined the seven men on Mount Senario and the group soon became known as the “Friar Servants of Mary.”  The bishop of Florence approved the Friar Servants of Mary as a religious order sometime between 1240 and 1247.  It wasn’t until 1304 that the Holy See gave definitive approval.

 

Monte Senario, north of Florence

 

The Order of the Servants of Mary, otherwise known as the Servites, arrived in the United States around 1852 when Father Antoninus Grunder started working with German Catholics in New York City and eastern Pennsylvania.  During the First Vatican Council in 1870, Joseph Melcher, the first bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin, invited the Servites to join his diocese.  Four Servites took charge of St. Charles Church in Menasha, Wisconsin that same year.  Bishop Foley asked the Servites to come to Chicago in 1874 and after that, Chicago became the center of Servite activity in the United States.

Today, the Servites are present in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.  Like the Seven Founders, the Servites go where the needs of God’s people demand, seeking the perfection of the Gospel way of life under the protection of Mary, the Mother and Servant of the Lord.

 

The picture above is the Servite logo.  The ’M’ and ’S’ stand for “Servants of Mary” while the crown on top represents the Blessed Mother.  The seven flowers atop the crown represent the Seven Holy Founders.