History of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church

(From the 100th Annivesrsary Book published in 1995.)

A REFLECTION

“Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it.”

Little did I think that when I came to these early wrinkles of the foothills of the Catskills, I would linger so long.  In the closing days of May, this year, 1995, Father John Breen, a dear friend, asked me to compile a history of the parish of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, that at one time embraced the towns of Tuxedo and Sloatsburg.  I found that the sources for this enterprise were meager indeed.

Reflecting on the paucity of sources, there is some satisfaction found in the comments of the French historian, Pierre Nora, who tells us that only the elite feel the need to preserve memories and that ordinary people feel less the remoteness of the historical past and rely more on living memory than on written records.

In the view of this historian, it is necessary not only to remember, but also to forget, and it is lamentable to recall misgivings, errors, wrongs of the past, so that these conflicts and misgivings are brought to bear on our present concerns.

In his book, “Tuxedo Park: A Journal of Recollections,” Albert Winslow, our late town historian, remarks: “The Lorillard family had been interested in the Tuxedo locality since 1814.  Pierre Lorillard visited the rockly tumbled hills and conceived the idea of utilizing (such) for sport” . . . eventually changing “his original plan . . . to a community.”

While it seems hard to believe in this day and age, “to make a plan a reality, 1800 men were imported and lodged in a small city of shanties built along regular streets with such names as Fifth Avenue, Broadway and Corso.  The mess hall was called Delmonico’s.  Working with only the primitive tools then available, the men from this camp in the next eight months succeeded in building thirty miles of graded dirt and mecadam roads, a complete water and sewage system . . . By May 30, 1886, it was ready for the opening celebration.”

The 1800 men (and their families) were of Irish, Italian and Slovak stock.  As Mr. Winslow stated, each nationality formed its own compound.  The Italians lived in the East Village, nearby the Slovaks occupied an area known as Slovak village, and the Irish lived in the hamlet near the Church.  These settlers were the immediate forebears of many of our people of Tuxedo and Sloatsburg.

There is no mention in any of our sources of the difficulties or hardships of these hard-working immigrants.  Who would recall the difficulties of learning a new and difficult language? . . . the subsequent misunderstandings? . . . the meager wages? . . . the laborious work? . . . the lengthy hours?  Who would recall the disenchanted who left Tuxedo to return home?  Who?

Earliest Written Records

The earliest written records of the parish are to be found in the parish marriage register of 1876-1895.  At that time, Fathers Brogan and Quinn of St. Rose of Lima, now Sacred Heart, Suffern, officiated at one hundred and five marriages of Tuxedo and Sloatsburg residents.  (Incidentally, all the couples were of Irish stock.)  Clearly, therefore, the parish had been functioning at least ten years before the formation of the enclave of Tuxedo Park.

The archives of the Paulist Fathers refer to a parish mission in 1893.  Paulist priests used a public building for mission services and found hospitable quarters among the Catholic families of the area.  By 1895, the cornerstone of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel was in place and the work of the building of our parish church was in progress.

In 1902, Father Peter Guinevan, rector of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, wrote to Archbishop Farley, “We will open a grand Mission for the Italians.  Fathers burke, Carcingione  and Riordan and I discussed ways to insure satisfactory results.  The Fathers will visit all the Italians personally promping them to attend.”

In 1906, His Excellency, Archbishop Farley received this poignant letter.

“The Slovak residents of Sloatsburg and suburbs with breaking hearts see that amongst our people, under the present circumstances, religion will die out.  The greatest cause for this is that we are located a long distance from a Catholic Church, where we would hear the World of God in our own native tongue.  We turn to you for aid and ask for your consent to the building of a small chapel in this town.  We have an organization consisting of 112 Catholic members, who willingly help toward the support of the same.  We greatly appreciate this, even though we would get the service of a Slovak priest but once a month.  We do not wish a large or expensive building.  Just a small building, for which we can stand the cost of construction.  We hope this humble and respectful request be accepted and authorized.  Thanking you, most sincerely in advance, we remaiin, your most obedient children in Christ.  (signed) John Rozum, John Kopchack, Adam Miter, John Melinda.”

The Archbishop granted this request and what started out as a mission church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel ultimately became the parish church of St. Joan of Arc.

In the depression years of the 1930’s, Mrs. Katherine St. George, our Congresional Representative, devised a strategy to lower school taxes by the simple device of combining a few classes and eliminating a teacher.  This plan left vacant a school building which was offered to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel as a proposed grammar school.  After a careful study, however, the diocesan authorities concluded that this parish would be unable to fund such a worthwhile enterprise.

The New Pastor

In the first week of June 1974, Msgr. Philip Murphy, Episcopal Vicar of Orange County, wrote to Msgr. Thomas Leonard, Chairman of the Priests’ Personnel Board.  There was no hesitation on Msgr. Murphy’s part to nominate Father John Tobin, then administrator of this parish, as the Pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.

Social Problem

The Episcopal Vicar continues and sites a “social problem without question” in this parish.  He writes of three layers of persons in Tuxedo.  The people living in the enclave, Tuxedo Park, are the top layer; those of Sterling Forest, the second layer; and the people of the hamlet, the third layer.  Msgr. Murphy concludes with a reference to the dim prospects of growth “since most of the land is owned by the Tuxedo Park people and the Sterling Forest group.”  Father Breen, when questioned about the “three layers”, recognized this as an established disorder but noted that time and drastic changes have ameliorated the situation.

So there our reliable sources of information end.  Certainly this brief rendition is not a history, it is but a chronicle.  Much is missing.  There is no mention of the famine of 1845-1847 or the devastation of 1879 in Ireland.  There is no word of the unification of Italy in 1870 or the suppression of the Slovaks by Hungary.  There is silence about “trusteeism” and the single tax of Henry George.  Who recalls Father McGlynn?  All of these factors, to a lesser or greater degree, affected the Catholic people of this parish and this diocese.

Gaps and Space

The Chronicle ends leaving gaps of time and space.  It does not describe Big Sunday, a yearly celebration in honor of Our Lady in the East Village.  The formation and demise of Tuxedo hospital, so well served by our parish priests, is omitted.  And the short-lived Samaritan manor has pased away unnoticed.

Yet it is the hope of our people that the parish of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel at Tuxedo has been and is now more than social cement.  Here, we hope we have been the instrument and the foretaste of the Kingdom of God, affirming our ultimate hope, as the people of God.

In retrospect, the chronicle is about people, our people, us . .  as living signs of contradiction, exposers of evils, rejecting apathy, selfishness.  Always, we have been conscious of the inestimable heritage of our Catholic past; always, we have affirmed the values of our faith, our Mass, and our sacraments.

“The Lord has done great things for us;

we are glad indeed”

(Psalm 136:3)

(Also from the 100th Anniversary book)

Renew Prayer

Lord, we are your people,

the sheep of your flock,

Heal the sheep who are wounded,

touch the sheep who are in pain,

clean the sheep who are soiled,

warm the lambs who are cold.

Help us to know the Fahter’s love

through Jesus the shepherd

and through the Spirit.

Help us to lift up that love,

and show it all over this land.

Help us to build love on justice

and justice on love.

Help us to believe mightily,

hope joyfully, love divinely.

Renew us that we may help renew

the face of the earth.  Amen