Annual Our Lady of Mount Carmel novena brings celebration to Melrose Park

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Annual Our Lady of Mount Carmel novena brings celebration to Melrose Park

Parishioners from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish-Shrine in Melrose Park celebrate the 128th annual Feast Day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on July 18, 2021. The event started July 9 with a nine-day novena and events leading up to the feast day with Masses in English and Spanish. It concluded with a mobile procession with the statue of Our Lady making her way through the surrounding neighborhood where families greeted her at their homes. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
An image and statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel are on display in a home. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel travelled the procession on a cart. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Members of the Pones family sit in front of their house with the family’s candle house dedicated to St. Joseph on display. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Members of the Pones family touch the statue’s mantel. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
An image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is displayed on the fence of a home. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Many homes in Melrose Park displayed banners for the novena and feast in their windows. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A man and child walk along the procession route. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
People set up shrines in their yards to remember loved ones who have died. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Maggie Martinez and Anna Maria Martinez toss roses as the Madonna. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Anna Maria Martinez touches the statue’s mantel. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Members of the Manzo family greet the Madonna as she passes by their neighborhood. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

“To me, it was more important than Christmas.”

That’s how Rosalie Augustine, 101, described the annual novena to Our Lady of Mount Carmel at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Melrose Park.

As she sat along North 21st Avenue on July 18 waiting for the procession to appear with the statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on the last day of the novena, Augustine shared memories of participating in the procession over the years through various ministries. This was her 101st novena to Our Lady, she said.

“We grew up looking forward to it,” according to Augustine.

Augustine was joined by three generations of her family for the procession. Her daughter Carol Augustine Grossman recalled dressing in all white, as was the tradition, and walking with family.

“It does mean family,” said Carol Augustine Grossman, recalling how her parents would take the children to every night of the novena when she was growing up.

The annual feast day celebration includes Masses, novena prayers and presentations of banners and roses. It is a community-wide event with banners to Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the windows of homes and families hosting parties to watch the procession.

The closing procession usually includes many families carrying “candle houses,” three-tiered floats lined with candles on all sides that feature a statue of the family’s patron saint. Families carry the floats in the procession and often add images of loved ones who died the previous year.

Because of COVID-19, the parish restricted the procession to the statue processing through the neighborhood on the back of a cart. Parish priests joined the procession, blessing people along the way. Many families set off fireworks as the procession passed by. Others tossed rose petals on the cart and touched the statue’s mantle.

Judy Pones sat outside her home with about two dozen friends and family waiting for the procession to pass by. Her family’s candle house, which her mother made 53 years ago, was on display.

Pones said her family will be back in the procession next year.

“It’s a lot of tradition, a lot of years, a lot of family and family friends that have been doing it with us for years,” she said. “It means everything. It’s like the biggest day of the year to celebrate this. The best part is the nine-night novena.”

She and her family have offered up many prayers to Our Lady’s intercession during the novenas.

“We do this in thanksgiving to show our devotion and our gratitude for all of the blessings we’ve received as a family,” Pones said. “It’s our 128th year and I hope it goes another hundred.”

Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Maureen Field has also participated in the novena for many years.

“It’s starts with the traditions of the family, who is responsible to carry on the traditions because the ones who came before them said, ‘Now, listen. I won’t be here forever and the Madonna has to be revered no matter what,’” Field said.

As she participates each year, Field said she often recalls those who have died who attended the novena with her, like her brothers, images of whom were included on a candle house after they died.

“It’s really very emotional, even without COVID,” she said. “But we’re grateful to be part of this tradition and it’s in our little village of Melrose Park. I’m very proud to be a part of it.”


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