At the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century a great number of Italian immigrants entered America through the Port of New York. Some traveled westward but most stayed in the East. Many came and settled in the Bronx, especially in the Belmont section.
Along with their desire to improve their economic lot they brought with them a strong faith and strong family values. They worked to build railroads, tunnels, subways, reservoirs, skyscrapers, on farms and some established small businesses. What kept them together was their common language and faith.
In the Northwest Section of the Bronx in 1900, only St. Philip Neri Church on the Grand Concourse and 202nd St. had an Italian-speaking priest. So the faithful from the Belmont section made the long trek to the Concourse to attend Mass, receive the sacraments and to bury their dead.
As their number grew, the journey became more difficult. A committee was formed headed by Mr. Pietro Cinelli to ask Father Daniel F. X. Burke, the Italian-speaking Pastor of St. Philip Neri, to open a mission in Belmont. Father Burke aware of the need, petitioned Archbishop John J. Farley, who graciously granted the request. The mission was opened and the first Mass was celebrated by Father Joseph Caffuzzi on June 13, 1906 in a store front at 659 E. 187 St. From the store front, a basement Church was built on 187 St. and Belmont Ave. in 1907. The upper Church was built in 1917, dedicated to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. The pioneer efforts of Father Burke and Father Caffuzzi resulted in the largest Italian National Parish in the Archdiocese of New York. At the height of its history in the 40's and 50's, more than 40,000 Italians made Our Lady of Mt. Carmel on E. 187 St. their parish.
In 1924, Father Caffuzzi with the aid of the Pallotine Sisters opened the Parish School for 205 children. A New School was built in 1949 by Msgr. Joseph M. Pernicone and an extension was added in 1956 to increase the capacity to 1800.
Space does not permit to describe the many religious, educational, social and charitable activities sponsored by the parish in over 100 years of its existence. Suffice it to say that at one point Bishop Pernicone, Pastor from 1944 to 1966 had 8 assistant priests, 32 Pallotine Sisters and 16 Brothers of Holy Cross in the School and countless lay people in various parish organizations. Seventeen young men became diocesan priests and countless young ladies entered the convent and many lay people were active in the apostolate.
As the parish celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 2006, we reflected on the activities of the past and look to the challenges of the future. The parish continues to serve the Italian community of the Bronx and welcomes the new immigrants from Latin America and serves them with the same devotion and love with which the Italians were received and served by the kind Fr. Burke and saintly Fr. Caffuzzi, the co-founders of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the Bronx.