Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Swartswood, NJ is truly a “RENEW” parish. They began with the original RENEW process in the 1980’s, followed by RENEW 2000, and have recently completed RENEW International’s four-year process of faith formation and evangelization, Why Catholic? Journey through the Catechism.
Most Reverend Arthur Serratelli, Bishop of the Diocese of Paterson joined parishioners in early December as they celebrated the parish's 40th anniversary. The article below appears courtesy of the diocesan newspaper, The Beacon.
Celebrating 40 Years of Faith, Service in Swartswood
Rural Sussex Parish Marks New Era of Promoting Evangelization
By MICHAEL WOJCIK
News Editor, The Beacon
SWARTSWOOD, NJ - Bishop Serratelli celebrated 40 years of faith and service of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (OLMC) Parish here - an active rural western Sussex County faith community that continues its legacy of being "small but open, not only with the architecture of the church, but also with the friendliness of the people themselves."
Those glowing comments came from Matthew Marchioni, a parishioner of 12 years, after OLMC held Mass on Dec. 5 to mark its 40th anniversary. Bishop Serratelli was main celebrant and homilist, with concelebrating priests, including Father John Quinlan, pastor.
Anniversary celebrations then moved to the parish hall, where the faithful enjoyed a cover-dish-dinner and photo displays that depicted the rich history of OLMC, which serves 567 families.
"Our Lady of Mount Carmel is a small parish. People know each other. They share in each other's joys and sorrows," said Father Quinlan, pastor for 14 years of OLMC, which serves townships in the picturesque and bucolic Highlands area. "Our parishioners are excited about the anniversary."
These recent 40th anniversary celebrations also highlighted the many faith-filled parishioners, who today have been channeling their "warm and welcoming" personalities into spreading the Gospel to the wider world, inspired by Why Catholic? Journey through the Catechism process. OLMC joined many other parishes in the diocese in embarking on Why Catholic? - a faith sharing and formation process during Lent that encourages participants to explore much more deeply "the basics" of the faith - in response to Bishop Serratelli's campaign to urge local Catholics to get more involved in evangelization, Father Quinlan said.
"Why Catholic? has had a positive effect on the parish," said Father Quinlan, who also had served OLMC in the summer of 1969, while studying for the priesthood.
"Parishioners have gotten a lot out of the process, which encourages them to share their faith. Some people have come back to church," he said.
OLMC's re-invigorated passion to spread the "Good News" builds on the vibrant parish's long legacy of caring for God's people, Today, these big-hearted parishioners serve others through a variety of social justice ministries, such as outreach to the homebound, a food bank and support to local churches that temporarily host clients of the Sussex County Hospitality Network for Homeless Families, Father Quinlan said.
The rural parish's long legacy of deep faith and caring for others started in the 1940s, when Catholics of western Sussex County traveled, sometimes on foot, to St. Joseph Church, Newton, for Mass and religious instruction for their children. Under Msgr. Michael Donnelly, St. Joseph's pastor, Masses were celebrated on Route 521 in an old schoolhouse, named St. Michael's Chapel. Mass also was offered at Louis Lake House and that the home of Andrew and Louise Fontana, who asked that the chapel be renamed in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, OLMC's history states.
OLMC was established as a mission served by St. Joseph's, whose pastor at the time, Msgr. Joseph Gallo, bought land for the future church. Also, land adjoining Swartswood Volunteer Fire Department, sold by the Cionek family, was used as a summer chapel to accommodate the large number of faithful at Mass, according to the parish history.
"Swartswood was a summer destination in those years and the population swelled considerably during the warmer months," OLMC's history states.
At the start of summer 1967, the first Mass was offered in OLMC's mission church, which seated 500 congregants in a diamond-shaped main area around a free-standing altar. In 1970, Father Louis Biesiada, associate pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Mendham, was appointed first resident pastor of the mission. On Dec. 7 that year, OLMC was raised to parish status with Father Biesiada as founding pastor, OLMC's history states.
The early 1970s showed OLMC's building a garage and storage building and a rectory. Over the years, the parish population grew from 170 families in 1970 to 450 families in 1979, placing great pressure on the limited available space of its facilities. So in the early 1980s, OLMC completed a 6,000-square-foot addition. The decade brought more growth to the parish with its involvement in the RENEW program and its establishment of a blood band and Knights of Columbus Council 9920, the parish history states.
In 1996, OLMC marked the end of an era, when Father Quinlan replaced Msgr. Biesiada (who died in 2004). The parish embarked on a weekend Parish Renewal Program, and to celebrate the new millennium, introduced RENEW 2000. Also, Debra Tripi, religious education director, led the revamping of the CCD program, which Marchioni once served as a catechist.
"I loved revisiting Scripture," said Marchioni, who once taught the classes of his children, 8-year-old Sarah and 15-year-old Lucas, with assistance from his wife Anna, trying to make lessons fun through activities, such as a game, "Jerusalem Jeopardy." "It was gratifying to pass on the word of God to the kids."
Over the years, OLMC embarked on many renovations - from replacing the old heating system in the church with a new forced air system to replacing the partitions in the community center with modern sound-deadening units, which benefited the religious education programs and allows for meetings to be conducted at the same time without interfering with each another. The parish also installed a new ceiling, lighting and heating/air conditioning system, OLMC's history states.
OLMC's history finds the parish filled with "joy and anticipation" with the arrival of the 40th anniversary.
"During the past four decades, both as individuals and as a faith community, the people of the parish have witnessed the presence of God in their lives and in so doing nurtured the small part of the vineyard God entrusted to their care," OLMC's history states. "They have used their spiritual and human talents and abilities to nurture their faith and share it with those around them. All that has transpired during these past decades is a testimony to their faith."
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