Our Lady of Sorrows Builds Community One Person at a Time


The parish council at Our Lady of Sorrows outlined its plan for 2019 at its meeting before Christmas to continue strengthening its parish community by building 1-on-1 relationships for parishioners.

“At our last parish council meeting, we said, ‘Let’s not take on a new initiative,’” said Father Thomas McNamara, O.F.M. Cap., pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows for a year. “Let’s focus on what we’ve been doing and build relationships. We need to know each other, our neighbors, figure how we can help each other and build our parish by getting to know people. It gets integrated into all of our parish events.

“You attend Mass and may not know anybody. You have to build 1-on-1 relationships.’’

Our Lady of Sorrows sells coffee and meals in the parish center after Sunday Masses for parishioners to meet and chat with one another. For the homebound, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion bring the Blessed Sacrament on Sundays, and other parishioners will visit to offer prayer and song.

The parish also participates in 1-on-1 relationship meetings through Manhattan Together, where people meet and build friendships with other members of their community. Founded in 1991 by congregations of different faiths, Manhattan Together addresses local and citywide issues such as education, pedestrian safety and public housing.

“We have to keep building relationships because the community keeps changing with the times, and you have to renew and update relationships to keep moving forward as a parish,” Father McNamara said.

Our Lady of Sorrows dates back to 1867. Its current church was dedicated a year later, becoming the first Capuchin Franciscan parish in New York City. The parish served as a home to German immigrants before Italians came to the Lower East Side at the beginning of the 20th century. Following World War II, the neighborhood became home to Spanish-speaking people, and the parish is now about two-thirds Spanish-speaking.

Last October, the parish concluded its 150-year celebration with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Boston. Also concelebrating was Father Michael Greco, O.F.M. Cap., provincial minister of the Province of St. Mary of the Capuchin Franciscans.

Eight hundred parishioners attend five weekend Masses, three Spanish and two English. Father McNamara is assisted by Father Michele Vricella, O.F.M. Cap., parochial vicar; Brother Robert Gerdin, O.F.M. Cap., pastoral associate; and Deacon Wallace Zambrana.

The parish offers ministries for altar servers, choir, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, a prayer group, food pantry, Marriage Encounter, ushers and three societies, Fatima and Sacred Heart for women and Holy Name for men.

The religious education program, with coordinators Yvette Rivera and Damaris Saliva, has 100 students registered.

Since Our Lady of Sorrows School closed in 2011, the parish has continued efforts to increase the numbers of young people involved in parish activities, such as youth groups and a monthly Holy Hour. Ricardo Avalos is the youth minister.

“They are the future of our parish,” said Jason Ortiz, president of the parish council. “When our school closed, we wanted to make sure to have something for youth to come back and be present. We didn’t want them to be forgotten because we did not have a school.”

Pura Cruz, 52, said the school closed when her daughter, Hiliana Arroyo, completed fourth grade. Hiliana is a member of the parish youth group and sings in the church choir. Ms. Cruz, who was baptized at Our Lady of Sorrows, is on the parish council and is a lector. Her mother, Anna Guzman, is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.

“It’s home,” Ms. Cruz said. “You know the people. I always feel joy and peace at the same time.

“The Capuchins have always brought in a community feeling. They teach us to love each other, evangelize and speak up for ourselves and others.”

Millie Hradek, a parishioner for 11 years, moved to Forest Hills, Queens, nine years ago and continues her parish involvement, serving as secretary of the parish council, a catechist and an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.

“It’s a real church community where people get connected and talk,” she said. “When people visit our parish, they walk away thinking this is a wonderful church community. We hear positive feedback from everyone.

“I hope in the future more people will come by to visit our church, see what a wonderful community it is and feel at home like I do.”

Information: ols.weconnect.com