oof the Parish
The Early Days
oof the Parish
History / Origins
following is taken directly from a publication of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Church commemorating the church's 75th anniversary. The church is located
at 94 Pine Street in Montclair, New Jersey.
Italy, in the nineteenth
century , was a nation in turmoil. For a millennium and a half, the Italian
peninsula had been the battleground of various European powers. Finally, in
1870, the many small states of the peninsula were united as a nation for the
first time since the fall of the Roman Empire. Such an achievement was not
without cost. Economic troubles plagued Italy during and after the
achievement of national unity. In particular, the southern part of the
country, the former Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, suffered severe economic
The people of these regions, mostly poor farmers, were forced to endure
great privations. The land, never very rich, could not support them any
longer. With great reluctance, they realized that they could not remain in
the land their ancestors had occupied for tens of centuries.
By ship, by horse, by donkey, on foot, word had reached even the most remote
hill towns of Sicily, Calabria and the Campagna that there was employment
and a future in a land beyond the Wide Sea, across the Great Ocean. With
little but the clothes on their backs, many ventured forth from Calitri and
Cerami and hundreds of other villages. They were stuffed into foul-smelling
ships and after a dangerous journey arrived at the "Golden Door" presided
over by the newly -erected Statue of Liberty.
Not far from the port of New York was the growing Town of Montclair, one of
the first suburbs" of Newark and New York. Incorporated in 1868 it is
nestled On the hills of the "Oranges" with the Watchung Mountains behind it.
The desire for work had brought the Italian immigrants to America and there
were jobs in Montclair. Many men had left families behind, in tending to
return to Italy when they had enough money. Others saved their funds until
they could bring wives and children to their new home. The newly arrived
Immigrants were often hired by padroni who organized work crews for the
American construction companies. Most of the immigrants were unskilled. Some
of the first Italians who came to Montclair were hired to dig water and
sewer lines. It was some of the first Italian laborers who laid the first
sewer pipe across the village square near the Presbyterian Church.
The workers were quartered in tents and barracks on an open lot on Midland
Avenue. Their numbers increased and many decided to settle in Montclair.
In August, 1887, these workers went on strike demanding at least $ 2.00 per
day, but they were unsuccessful. To supplement their earnings, some shined
shoes and took other part time employment as gardeners and handymen.
Other Italian immigrants were employed by the Erie Railroad and the
Lackawanna Railroad, as well as by the Public Service Railroad. They
excavated right-of-way and laid track for these companies.
Difficult as their lives were, the immigrants kept a good spirit about them
as records of period attest: In the evening they built large bonfires and
sang around them. Their voices could be heard blocks away and people would
come hurrying out of their houses and walk slowly up and down the street to
enjoy the music.
These men were roused early and with pick-axes over their shoulders were
ready to start out to walk to the place of their day's work at about the
time a crimson sun came over the horizon. Their leader was some unknown
Caruso. In the hush of a newborn day rose his high tenor voice, then a
refrain in which all joined to the accompaniment of tramp, tramp, tramp of
marching feet. The scene was dramatic, the music of rare beauty.
(Gladys Segar. Montclair in the Elegant 80's, V.IV)
The sedate Town of Montclair became aware of the newcomers who added quite a
bit of color to the local scene. A Montclair woman of the 1880's wrote:
"Foreign population was negligible in the 80's. I recalled with what
astonishment I first saw Italian laborers digging on Bloomfield Avenue.
Some wore bright magenta handkerchiefs tied about the neck and a few of them
had gold earrings in their ears. Their flashing dark eyes, unfamiliar
language and natural excitability struck me with force. They were hard
The wives who had joined their husbands would likewise begin their day's
work before dawn. Poor, they wasted nothing. They gathered dandelions damp
with the morning dew; they picked up pieces of coal from the tracks; they
saved bits of soap to add to water to make suds. Because their husbands
worked most of the day and did not return until late, it fell to te women to
be the centers of family life and pillars of strength within the home and in
the religious life of the community.
As the nineteenth century drew to a close, the Italian immigrants had
settled in two areas, the Fourth Ward and a small section of Forest Street.
Their dwellings were all cold water flats, and in most cases, the only heat
came from a large cast iron stove in the kitchen.