The next time you pass through the parking lot of St. Frances Cabrini Church, imagine it as a schoolyard. It was the schoolyard for Carmela Rosch, a native of Ocean City who was born in 1929 and attended the original St. Augustine Catholic School in a building that once stood at Second St. and Atlantic Ave.
“The school had four classrooms,” she explained. “Two grades to a classroom; one nun taught both grades.” Because the school doubled as a summertime church for visitors, it had an altar in the auditorium and a side sacristy, which, Carmela distinctly remembers, was off limits to curious children. On Sundays the action moved down to the original St. Augustine Church on Asbury Ave. “Even though we went to Catholic School, we still went to Sunday School,” Carmela recalled. “We couldn’t wait to go to Communion so we used to go to the 8 a.m. mass and then come back and sing at the mass at 10:15. Church was everything.”
Carmela (nee Calese) grew up on 10tth St., one of six children of immigrants from Panza, Italy. She lived in a neighborhood rich with extended relations of family and friends. Social and spiritual life blended easily together. Though many changes came to her parish and her city over the years, Carmela has continued to knit together the social and the spiritual in her long and varied service to the parish. She joined the PTA when her own two daughters attended the newer, larger St. Augustine Catholic School, helping to raise money by organizing dinner dances and Mardi Gras festivals. “We worked hard and did everything we could to support the school,” she said. “I know the pastors appreciated what we did, and we stuck together.” The school is long closed, she said, but “most of my friends now are those PTA friends.”
Another change in Carmela’s world came in 1973 when laypersons were permitted to become Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. Carmela was among the first in the parish to be asked to go for a four-week training course. “I prayed over it,” she said, describing herself as both “thrilled” and “nervous.” Actually, she took deepest satisfaction in taking the Eucharist to the homebound, beginning with her own father, an amputee by that time, and also to parishioners in the hospital. Eventually, the altar steps became too difficult to navigate and Carmela had to curtail her participation in the Eucharistic ministry. What if there was an elevator to the altar? “I would probably get stuck in an elevator,” Carmela joked. “I do feel bad sometimes when I see people putting their pyxes on the altar and I’m not visiting the hospitals anymore,” she said.
Carmela said her spiritual life is focused on prayer, which she describes as “talking to God or the Blessed Mother.” A small statue of Mary sits in Carmela’s living room. “Mary helped grow up my children,” she said. “I seek her intercession every day,” especially at morning mass. “I could talk to her here but in church I feel that she hears me more.”
Carmela’s husband of 62 years passed away in 2016. Her 94-year-old sister, Philomena Costello, just passed away this spring. “My sister and I always went to Saturday night Mass together and always sat in the same pew,” she said. In recent weeks, Carmela has been trying out other pews. Always ready to adapt to change, she stays constant in her faith.