Italian immigrants from Polla, in the province of Salerno, Campania, Italy, built the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at 447 East-115th St. by hand. Begun in 1884, it was dedicated in 1903, the first Italian Catholic parish in New York. The statue of Our Lady, ordered from Polla, was crowned solemnly July 10, 1904. In the 1930s, the feast day of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, celebrated on or around the liturgical date of July 16, drew over 500,000 people, mostly Italian immigrants, to the shrine in East Harlem.
By the 1960s, the festival crowd of remaining Italians and returning former parishioners numbered only a few hundred. But numbers doubled in the 1980s, when Haitian immigrants settled in the neighborhood. Accustomed to the July celebration of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel at the waterfall shrine of Ville Bonheur in Haiti, they transferred their tradition here, revitalizing the local customs. (Photo of statue, taken during 100th coronation anniversary procession in 2004, from Shrine’s site, www.mountcarmelofeastharlem.com.)