Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (West)

Upon entering Cleveland's west side "Little Italy", one is instantly met with a display of Italian colors on benches, fire hydrants, sidewalks, and telephone poles. Best known for its street processionals and annual church festival, this small Italian neighborhood dates back to the early 20th century. At the core of this Italian American community lies Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church.

The smaller of two Italian settlements on Cleveland's west side during the early 1900s, early settlers predominately hailed from the Campania coastal region of Italy. Initially drawn to Cleveland by work opportunities offered in local factories and manufacturers, the choice to settle in what is now the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood has been attributed to the close proximity of the lake and the area's resemblance to the Bay of Naples. The Italian neighborhood replaced what was previously an Irish settlement, and was bounded by West 65th, West 69th, Detroit Avenue, and the lake.

Following in the footsteps of immigrant groups that came before them, the Italian community first set up societies and organizations to provide security and help ease the process of relocation. For Italian immigrants, these groups generally grew from familial or territorial ties. Efforts then focused on developing churches. For the Italians living north of Detroit Avenue, securing a full time pastor was initially delayed due to the small size of the community. Sacraments were received at St. Rocco's, the Roman Catholic church built by the West Side Italian community near Fulton Avenue and West 33rd Street. In 1924, the first mass for what would become Our Lady of Mt. Carmel was held at St. Helena's Romanian Catholic Church on West 65th and Detroit Avenue. A room in a house on West 69th Street was then transformed into a chapel and masses were held there until 1926. That year, under the leadership of Father Sante Gattuso of St. Rocco's, the mission of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel was founded.

The room on West 69th Street was replaced in 1926 by a saloon on the same street that had been converted into a chapel. Despite the effects of the Great Depression, enough money was eventually saved to purchase a double house on Detroit Avenue in 1932. This house would remain the home of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel until 1949, when post war prosperity (and a financially successful Our Lady of Mt. Carmel celebration) enabled the parish to begin construction of a building to house both a school and church. As the parish continued to thrive through both the contributions of a growing congregation and the revenue raised by its annual festival, a parish hall was constructed in 1951 and work soon began on a new church. Taking about one year to construct, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church was dedicated on April 19, 1953.

As residents of Cleveland's larger Italian neighborhoods relocated outside of the city in suburbs and new ethnic neighborhoods, the Mount Carmel community would retain a strong presence in the west side of Cleveland. While the small Italian community did not escape the effects of assimilation and suburbanization, the church's commitment to the neighborhood intensified. Under the guidance of Pastor Rev. Marino Frascati, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel helped lead the efforts to redevelop the neighborhood and create what is now known as the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood.

Images

Father Marino Frascati

Father Marino Frascati

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel became a territorial parish in 1966, even though a majority of the congregation's 600 families had at least one person of Italian descent. This change reflected a redefined understanding of ethnicity, as years of intermarriage and assimilation altered the character of the Italian community. This decision was also a response to changes in the urban environment. Postwar prosperity offered parishioners the opportunity to move from the city into the suburbs. The Diocese of Cleveland and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel encouraged those leaving to join the territorial church of their new neighborhood. Similarly, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel would become the territorial church for non-Italian Roman Catholics settling within their boundaries. The changing face of a city deeply scarred by the effects of suburbanization altered Our Lady of Mt. Carmel's mission within the community. As a mass exodus of commerce and industry led to the deterioration of much of the City of Cleveland, the pastor and parish of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel were instrumental in revitalizing their neighborhood. Under the guidance of Father Marino Frascati, assigned to the church in 1957, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel aided in the rehabilitation of the Gordon Square Arcade, the construction of a high-rise for seniors called Villa Mercede, and the development of properties throughout the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. The church was a regular site for community meetings, and often facilitated conversations between unhappy residents and developers. Father Frascati was also one of the founding members of the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization. Following his death in 2009, the church has remained active in their efforts to redevelop the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. Photograph courtesy of Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization View File Details Page

Our Lady Of Mt. Carmel Street Procession, 1962

Our Lady Of Mt. Carmel Street Procession, 1962

Street processions were common in many European religious traditions. Italian immigrants preserved the customs and rituals surrounding these processions upon their arrival in Cleveland, and created a new Italian American tradition in the process. In Italy, parishes held annual celebrations to honor the patron saints to which their church and town was dedicated. Since Italian immigrants generally chose to settle in communities and form societies with people from their own birthplace, they continued to hold annual celebrations honoring the patron saints of their villages. With each church having multiple societies, as well as their own patron saint, outdoor processions were a common affair during the summer months. Regularly accompanied by fireworks and bands, the festive celebrations attracted large crowds and became an important source of revenue for churches such as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Processions and festivals were also important for preserving Italian heritage, both in public memory and within the increasingly Americanized Italian community. Photograph courtesy of Cleveland Public Library View File Details Page

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, 1972

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, 1972

The design of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel incorporated a modified cruciform shape. The Romanesque structure could hold 600 people, and included a bell tower adorned by a statue of the patron saint. Photograph courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections View File Details Page

Construction of Our Lady Of Mt. Carmel School, 1949

Construction of Our Lady Of Mt. Carmel School, 1949

April 24th, 1949, Father Sante Gattuso blessed the cornerstone on the south side of the school building. In part due to the success of the annual festival held by Our Lady of Mt. Carmel festival, no money was borrowed to finance the construction of the school. Photograph courtesy of Our Lady Of Mount Carmel School's Alumni Association View File Details Page

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Construction Site, 1949

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Construction Site, 1949

Pictured above is the present site of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, prior to construction. The site, located between West 69th and West 70th Street, overlooks the Italian neighborhood. One unique aspect of Italian immigration was the banding together of immigrants in Cleveland based on village or district. This "chain migration", in which immigrants from Italian villages and towns were followed in large numbers by others from their same town, helped define the tight-knit character of the community living north of Detroit Avenue. Photograph courtesy of Our Lady Of Mount Carmel School's Alumni Association | Source: Photograph provided by Mark Gerace View File Details Page

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School, 1949

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School, 1949

Children of Italian immigrants that attended school were often encouraged to speak only in English at home in order to help parents learn the language. While family members would talk to the children in Italian, their response was expected in English. As a result, many second generation Italian Americans could understand Italian, but were far from fluent when speaking the language. This aided in the process of assimilation, but resulted in the the language disappearing from use by subsequent generations of the Italian community. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School currently offers both Italian and Spanish for grades 3 through 8. Photograph courtesy of Our Lady Of Mount Carmel School's Alumni Association | Source: Photograph submitted by Mark Gerace View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Richard Raponi, “Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (West),” Cleveland Historical, accessed March 27, 2017, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/184.
comments powered by Disqus

Share this Story