‘Mike,’ usher at cathedrals for 60 years, retires
“What did I like?” Mike Carcano asks rather incredulously about his 50-plus years as an usher at St. Vibiana, Los Angeles’ original cathedral, and then at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels for the last nine years. “I was proud to be an usher at both churches. I just wanted to do it.”
Working as a salesman at the McPherson Leather Company next door, he was able to keep an eye on his two sons and three daughters who went to St. Vibiana Elementary School. During his lunch break, he could even watch them playing in the schoolyard.
And years after he started ushering in the early 1950s, he would round up his grandsons, and later granddaughters, to make sure they arrived early for the 8 a.m. Mass on Sundays to be altar servers. After, the whole family would come back to the Carcano home in East L.A. for breakfast. Special occasions, however, would be celebrated at Clifton’s Cafeteria.
Over the decades, there were baptisms, confirmations, weddings and wedding anniversaries, as well as funerals at St. Vibiana’s --- including Mike’s beloved wife Jessie’s in 1992.
Ten years later on September 2, Mike carrying relics, together with two grandsons serving as altar boys, was the first layman to enter the new cathedral during its dedication. “Yeah, it was a big change,” says Carcano with a sigh. “We all loved St. Vibiana’s.”
“But I felt very proud to be the first one to go into the Cathedral with a tray of relics of St. Vibiana. I was very proud.”
So was his grandson, Jason Amaro, who carried the cross through the two 30-feet-high great bronze doors that took nearly five years to make.
“I’ve got to say that was a big nervous moment for me. It really was,” he confides. “Even though I had so many years behind me with altar serving, that moment was really nerve-racking knowing that there were so many TV stations and radio people out there just looking at us: ‘Just keep walking, you know, keep that smile.’
“And walking in with my grandpa, it was emotional,” Jason admits. “I got a little bit choked up. As a family, we’d been so involved at St. Vibiana’s for so long with baptisms, marriages and everything. Plus, he’d been an usher there all those years. And now we were coming back together at a new cathedral. So I was very happy and very glad that it was all back. This was the first time we’d seen those double doors opening up. It was like walking into paradise almost with my grandpa.”
Center of family
The 94-year-old patriarch of the Carcano clan is sitting on a short couch in the living room of his stucco house on Allston Street, surrounded by his three daughters, Sylvia Bravo, 65, Annette Avila, 51, and Minerva Amaro, 56, and her 32-year-old son Jason. His sons, Mike Carcano, Jr., 70, and Carlos Carcano, 54, weren’t able to attend the impromptu gathering.
They all say the cozy room and adjoining dining room are exactly the way their mother left them 20 years ago. There are wood-and-glass cabinets full of ceramic knick-knacks she so loved to collect. The coffee table in front of the couch has a forest of framed family photos, as does a round table in a corner covered by a green crocheted cloth. The soft burgundy carpet seems to warm up the semi-dark room, lit mostly by morning sunlight through draped windows.
One by one, the daughters and grandson try to put into words what their dad and grandfather has meant to them and their families.
“I’m very proud of my father for what he’s done,” Minerva says. “He’s been such a devout Catholic father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great grandfather. And he’s a legacy at the new Cathedral. Everyone knows him by his first name. But all in all, I’m very proud to look at him and say he has really left a mark. And he’s someone to look up to --- not only for myself, but for my family and my kids.”
Annette says she’s equally proud. “All the grandchildren look up to him,” she reports. “They say that Grandpa is the center of our family. He keeps us together through church and being with us all the time. You know, he just shows us how to give of yourself, and he has done that for so many years.
“He loves being an usher, and all the priests, bishops, cardinal and now archbishop acknowledge him. They know him on a first-name basis, and he just feels very comfortable at the Cathedral. And all the people who attend the 8 o’clock Sunday Mass, they come and shake his hand. So we’re very proud.”
Sylvia points out that her father has also ushered at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Montebello for the last 10 years during the weekend vigil Mass. “So he loves what he does,” she says. “Obviously, he loves it because he goes from the Cathedral and then on Saturday evening to Miraculous Medal. He loves to be around people.
“So, yeah, we’re real proud of my dad. He just loves to give of himself. And all of his grandchildren and all of us, we look up to him. Hopefully, we can live up to what he’s done all these years.”
Minerva adds, “I think he loves to serve the Lord. He feels very comfortable doing that, and he loves what he does. It comes from his heart, and it’s something that’s natural.”
Jason, Minerva’s son, is the last to speak. He says his 94-year-old grandfather’s pure “will” is pretty awesome. He goes out every day for a walk or to visit his wife’s grave at Calvary Cemetery on Thursdays. And then the weekends are still devoted to church and family, which presently includes five children, 23 grandkids, 27 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.
“He’s kept the circle of life for everybody,” he says. “We believe that, you know, he keeps that circle blessed because of my grandmother.”
Minerva speaks up again: “He’s 94-years-young.”
Mike Carcano, who’s in good health except for his hearing and broken ribs he’s suffered from falls, says he officially retired from being an usher at the two cathedrals for 60 years on his birthday Sept. 7, when he turned in his driver’s license. But his last day on the job was actually August 28 at the 8 a.m. Sunday Mass.
In fact, he didn’t feel up to going to church that day because his ribs were bothering him. And when they got to the Cathedral, he told his daughters that he just wanted to sit down.
But when he spotted his whole family there, he knew something was up. “I’ve got to do it,” he said. “They all came to see me.” So he picked up the collection baskets and walked down the aisle to the altar as erect as possible.
His family thought it was a miracle because the day before he could barely stand up and walk.
“Well, I was not happy about it, you know, ’cause I wasn’t going to go to the Cathedral no more,” he says, still sitting on his couch. “But then I was happy that the whole family went over to see me that day.
“And it was a big surprise,” Mike adds, shaking his head a little. “I didn’t know nothing about it. And then Msgr. [Kevin] Kostelnik [Cathedral pastor] called the family up on the altar after Communion and then he called me to sit next to him for a special blessing. So it was a big surprise.”