Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church in Cruz Bay, St. John celebrates its 60th anniversary on July 16 with a series of events that have already begun.
On Thursday, July 14, guest speaker Reverend John Mark will discuss the mission of the church at 6:30 p.m. On Friday, July 15, the church will sponsor a youth concert at 6:30 p.m. mass will begin at 6 p.m., followed by dinner at the Slimman parking lot at 7 p.m. Finally, on Sunday, July 17, the congregation will host a beach party at Oppenheimer Beach at noon.
All events are open to the public, according to the Reverend Anthony Abraham, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, but for catering purposes, those planning to attend the dinner were asked to have responded to their invitations. last week.
The OLMC Church has grown tremendously over its six decades. The first stone of the first foundation was laid on July 16, 1962; since then, the church has “transformed” twice, growing in size and acquiring new forms.
The parish received its name from a Roman Catholic order founded in the 12th century by the pilgrim/crusader Berthold on Mount Carmel, according to a history of the congregation provided by church administrator Simonia Dagou.
“William Callahan was the pilgrim/crusader behind the creation of the Chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel,” the story reads. “Mr. Callahan generously contributed to the construction of the chapel. It is probably more than a coincidence that Callahan’s wife, who was also devoted to the church, was named Carmel.
In its early days, masses were celebrated by visiting priests and were attended “mainly by migrant workers from Puerto Rico, as most of the people of St. John were attached to their Moravian or Lutheran faith,” the story states. However, some St. Johnians of other denominations also attended mass at the Catholic church, including St. John’s son, Guy Benjamin, who became the church’s organist.
In the 1970s, when one of the pastors developed throat cancer, he invited congregants to read passages during mass. Church members and visitors (at the time, usually guests at the Caneel Bay Resort) enjoyed participating, and the practice continued over the decades.
Now “full-time families number about 200, intermittent families about 30 and 100 tourists per week [attend] in high season. Many tourists return to St. John year after year and make significant donations to the parish, as they consider OLMCs to be their “parish home,” according to the church website.
New homeless shelter
For the past two years, the OLMC has operated a halfway house for the homeless in St. John, primarily funded by some of those visitors who consider St. John their parish “home”.
Abraham was driven to seek help from the congregation when a popular local street musician suffered a stroke, became wheelchair bound, and returned to the island with no place to live.
“I mentioned the need for a homeless shelter at Mass on Sunday and Monday, a couple who owned property in St. John said they would pay rent for a two-bedroom apartment for a year,” Abraham said. Another couple who were regular visitors offered to furnish the apartment, he said.
Deacon Evans “Smiley” Doway is now director of the shelter, which has provided transitional housing for 27 men and three women. The shelter is run by a board “not just made up of Catholics,” Abraham said. Current members are Annette Small, Vera Powell, Cheryl Jackson and Kayanne Callwood.
“We have had some success stories, and some have returned to the streets; they weren’t ready to do the job,” Abraham said. “We realized that we need more professionals who can better assess their mental health.”
Abraham is proud that several residents with substance abuse issues were able to successfully complete a rehabilitation program at the Village of Sainte-Croix. “They are doing very well,” he added.
But St. John’s homeless population continues to grow, and Abraham was looking for a place to build a larger facility. The opportunity arose when a structure was demolished on government property across from Courtesy Car Rental in Cruz Bay.
The property lease has been approved by the Senate Finance Committee and is now awaiting approval by the Legislative Assembly. The property is cramped, Abraham said, but an architect is currently working on a plan for a three-story structure that could accommodate 17 people when complete. A benefactor has come forward to fund the project, he added.
Meanwhile, Abraham said plans are moving forward to build a complex on 2.84 acres of land in Coral Bay which will include a chapel dedicated to Saint Therese, a residence for nuns, a community center and a facility to help the homeless population on the east end of the island.
The Catholic Church purchased the property – plot 6R-2-c – several years ago; however, after the diocese submitted plans to the Ministry of Planning and Natural Resources in 2021, church officials discovered that the property had been rezoned in 1987 from B-2 (Secondary Business) to C (Commercial .)
Although a church may be built on property zoned as a secondary business, a church is not permitted on property designated as commercial. After losing an appeal to the Land Use Appeal Board in March, the Catholic Diocese requested a zoning change to allow the construction of the chapel.
Abraham said the rezoning has been approved and two nuns are ready to move into the Coral Bay complex to manage the shelter once construction is complete. Deacon Michael Jackson Sr. coordinates construction projects.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel continues to work with Catholic charities of the Virgin Islands and other organizations to provide meals to the starving in St. John. Breakfast and lunch are served in the church hall and lunch is delivered to those in need in Coral Bay. Nearly 70 meals are served daily.
“I often say that the history of the Catholic Church deals with the marginalized in society,” Abraham said. “I don’t just want to sit and chat with pastors; I want to share love with those who need it.
Since arriving in St. John in 2011, “Father Anthony” – as he is known throughout the island – has found ways to reach out to the community. His efforts include involving St. John’s men in congregational leadership. (In addition to Doway and Jackson, Peter Laurencin and Cassius Mathurin serve as deacons.) Mass is held in Spanish on Sundays at 5:30 p.m. to include the Spanish-speaking community, and younger members of the congregation are encouraged to join in a variety activities for young people.
Friday’s concert will include performances by the church’s Youth Steel Band, the Quadrille Dancers, Ronald Lee Jr. and friends.