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Italian Immigrant Catholic Clergy and an Exception to the Rule: The Reverend Antonio Demo, Our Lady of Pompei, Greenwich Village, 1899–1933

  • Mary Elizabeth Brown (a1)

Extract

Italians have long been the exception to generalizations about ethnic American Catholicism. As early as the 1880s, American bishops considered them a “problem.” In 1946, Henry J. Browne summarized the “problem”: Italians did not regularly attend mass, did not receive the sacraments, did not contribute to the support of the church, did not educate their children in their faith, did not respect the clergy, and did not appreciate that they should be doing better in all these areas. Although Browne's work has become the subject of revisionist criticism among students of Italian American Catholicism, specialists in other aspects of American Catholicism have incorporated into their work generalizations generated by the Italian-American experts.James Sanders's study of Chicago parochial schools referred to Italians as least likely to support such schools. David J. O'Brien's history of the diocese of Syracuse emphasizes the difficulties Italians faced and the troubles they created for the clergy and hierarchy. Dolan's survey of American Catholic history has a large bibliography on which to base its conclusion that “thereligion of the [southern Italian] people was not the same as the official religion of the church.

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1. Tomasi, Silvano M. and Stibili, Edward C., Italian Americans and Religion: An Annotated Bibliography, second ed. (New York, 1992) is a helpful guide to the published sources. Michael Di Giovanni, Stephen, “Michael Augustine Corrigan and the Italian Immigrants: The Relationship Between the Church and the Italians in the Archdiocese of New York, 1885–1902” (Ph.D. diss., Gregorian Pontifical University, Rome, 1983) is a good account of late nineteenth century American and Italian plans for Italian immigrant pastoral care.

2. Browne, Henry J., “The ‘Italian Problem’ in the Catholic Church of the United States, 1880–1900,” United States Catholic Historical Society Historical Records and Studies 35 (1946): 4672.

3. The revisions take two forms. Vecoli, Rudolph J., “Prelates and Peasants: Italian Immigrants and the Catholic Church,” Journal of Social History 2 (1969): 217268, agreed that the Italians did not practice their faith with the same fervor as Irish Catholics, but argued that this was because the southern Italians who made up the majority of immigrants had been twice alienated from Catholicism: once by church officials in Italy, who allied with the landowners against the peasants, and once by the anti-Italian attitudes of the Irish-American Catholics. Tomasi, Silvano M., Piety and Power: The Role of the Italian Parishes in the New York Metropolitan Area, 1880–1930 (New York, 1975) argued that Italians did indeed practice their faith, albeit using their own devotional customs and under the pastoral guidance of clergy of their own ethnic background.

4. Sanders, James W., The Education of an Urban Minority: Catholics in Chicago, 1833–1965 (New York, 1977), pp. 6771, 112115.

5. O'Brien, David J., Faith and Friendship: Catholicism in the Diocese of Syracuse, 1886–1986 (Syracuse, N.Y., 1987), pp. 132139, 217222.

6. Dolan, Jay P., The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present (Garden City, N.Y., 1985), pp. 173176, 254255, 280, and 282.

7. Demo (pronounced DAY-mo) was profiled in the (New York) Catholic News in November 1921, a piece which was reprinted almost verbatim in January 1936. There are two brief biographies: Rizzato, Remo, P.S.S.C. Figure di Missionari Scalabriniani (New York, 1948), pp. 107112, and a serial in Pompei's newsletter, [Charles Zanoni], The Village Bells (Winter 1985—Winter 1986). Demo's stockpile of historical documents permits the present view into a heretofore little-studied ethnic group. He seems to have saved every scrap of paper that came his way at Pompei: advertisements, announcements, balance sheets, bills, brochures, bulletins, correspondence, financial records, flyers, form letters, invitations, newspaper clippings, minutes from meetings, notes, personal letters, photographs, play bills, postcards, programs, sacramental registers, sodality dues records—everything.

8. See Caliaro, Marco and Francesconi, Mario, John Baptist Scalabrini, Apostle to Emigrants, trans. Zizzamia, Alba I. (New York, 1977).

9. Giacomo Gambera to Demo, Boston, 19 July 1899, Box 7, Folder 62. All documents are at the Center for Migration Studies, Flagg Place, Staten Island, New York in their collection 037. The box and folder number for each document are given here. Most of the documents are letters, and were written in New York unless otherwise specified. The letters are about evenly divided between business correspondence written by persons in official capacity, and correspondence from parishioners and other Italian immigrants and Italian-Americans. When the letter is from or to an official, the official's name is used. When the letter is from or to someone in a private capacity, the street address is used. In the interest of space, only one example will be cited; there are usually dozens of requests for the same kind of help over the thirty-five-year period covered by the letters.

10. For Pompei's early history, see Sassi, Constantino, P.S.S.C. Parrocchia della Madonna di Pompeii in New York: Notizie Storiche dei Primi Conquant Anni dalla sua Fondazione, 1892–1942 (Rome, 1946).

11. For more on southern Italians, see Anthony Orsi, Robert, The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880–1930 (New Haven, Conn., 1987).

12. For Pompei's demographic profile, see Odencrantz, Louise C., Italian Women in Industry (New York, 1919); Salvetti, Patrizia, “Una parrocchia italiana di New York e i suoi fedeli: Nostra Signora di Pompei (1892–1933),” Studi Emigrazione 21 (1984): 4364; and my “A Case Study of the Italian Layman and Parish Life at Our Lady of Pompei, Greenwich Village, New York City” (Paper delivered at the American Italian Association Annual Meeting, New Haven, Conn., 15–16 November 1992).

13. For an event, see John Dolan, P.S.M. to Demo, 5 July 1904, Box 2, Folder 5. For donation, see Giuseppe A. Caffuzzi, 28 Nov. 1930, Box 6, Folder 40.

14. For camp, see J[oseph] M. Congedo to Demo, 24 July 1923, Box 4, Folder 30. For donation, see Sister M. Matilde Marazzi to Demo, 8 May 1926, Box 5, Folder 35.

15. For sending clergy, see Mother Mary Jospehine, M.S.C. to Demo, 12 Dec. 1923, Box 4, Folder 29. For recommending Columbus Hospital events, see Pacifico C. Rossi to Demo, 24 May 1924, Box 5, Folder 31.

16. D. P. Conway to Demo, 12 May 1910, and Anna Cornetta to Demo, 15 June, 17 June, 29 July, and 30 Dec. 1910, Box 1, Folder 11; Cornetta to Demo, undated and 19 Jan. 1911; and D[ennis] J. Gerrity to Demo, 2 Sept. 1911, Box 1, Folder 12.

17. For tracking down relatives, see Albert Garvin to Demo, Chesire, Conn., I8 Jan. 1915, Box 2, Folder 16. For finding jobs for ex-inmates, see Eastern New York Reformatory to Demo, 1 Aug. 1913, Box 2, Folder 14. For employment reference letters, see 534–8 W. Broadway to Demo, 19 May 1928, Box 5, Folder 32.

18. Demo to Catholic Charities, undated, Box 5, Folder 37.

19. 23 Bedford Street to Demo, 31 Mar. 1915, Box 2, Folder 16.

20. 569 Hudson to Demo, 6 April 1927, Box 5, Folder 37.

21. Little Sisters of the Poor to Demo, 13 Sept. 1908, Box 1, Folder 9.

22. Demo to Saint Vincent de Paul, 28 May 1926, Box 2, Folder 17.

23. New York Foundling Hospital to Demo, 20 Feb. 1904, Box 10, Folder 117.

24. Demo to New York City Department of Health, 7 Sept. 1933, Box 6, Folder 43. See also Louise C. Spaziano to Demo, 30 June 1925, Box 5, Folder 33.

25. C. B. Bacon to Demo, 23 Nov. 1918, Box 3, Folder 22. See also William P. Richter to Demo, 11 Mar. 1927, Box 5, Folder 37.

26. Hayes, circular letter, 31 Oct. 1917, Box 3, Folder 20.

27. Meehan, Thomas F., “Evangelizing the Italians,” The Messenger 39 (1903): 32.

28. Ravitch, Diane, The Great School Wars: New York City, 1805–1973: A History of the Public Schools as Battlefield of Social Change (New York, 1974), pp. 376.

29. 490 Hudson Street to Demo, 25 June 1924, Box 5, Folder 31 and Public School (P.S.) 95 to Demo, 23 Dec. 1912, Box 2, Folder 13.

30. P.S. 95 to Demo, 6 Dec. 1918, Box 3, Folder 22; P.S. 95 to Demo, undated, Box 1, Folder 12; P.S. 107 to Demo, undated, Box 6, Folder 44; and 16 Clarkson Street to Demo, undated, Box 3, Folder 21.

31. Mary F. Maguire to Demo, P.S. 223, 12 Dec. 1912, Box 1, Folder 12, and Elsa Ueland to Demo, 19 Feb. 1913, Box 2, Folder 14.

32. Harold Peyser to Demo, 4 June 1925, Box 5, Folder 33.

33. Demo to Loretta Rochester, 17 June 1925, Box 5, Folder 33.

34. For parents' meeting, see Maguire to Demo, 13 Feb. 1907, Box 1, Folder 8. For graduation, see Katherine Bevier, 16 June 1916, Box 2, Folder 17.

35. Maguire to Demo, 21 Feb. 1912, Box 2, Folder 13.

36. Maguire to Demo, 8 June 1915, Box 2, Folder 16, and M. C. Bergen to Michael Joseph Lavelle, 6 Jan. 1916, Box 8, Folder 91.

37. Peyser to Demo, 16 June 1926, Box 5, Folder 35.

38. Maguire to Demo, 1 May 1913, Box 2, Folder 14.

39. Katherine Bevier to Demo, 12 May 1914, Box 2, Folder 15; Demo to Rochester, Dec. 1925, Box 5, Folder 32.

40. For example, M. A. Leonard to Demo, 19 Mar. 1912, Box 2, Folder 13.

41. Anna B[illegible] to Demo, 25 Oct. 1910, Box 1, Folder 11.

42. Loring Brace, Charles, The Dangerous Classes of New York and Twenty Years' Work among Them (New York, 1880; reprint, Montclair, N.J., 1978), pp. 198199.

43. M. S. Collins to Demo, ca. 14 Nov. 1918, Box 3, Folder 21.

44. Augustus E. Califano to Demo, 14 Oct. 1920, Box 3, Folder 25; 30 Nov. 1921, Box 3, Folder 26; 11 Oct. 1923, Box 4, Folder 30.

45. M. S. Collins to Demo, 6 Dec. 1915, Box 2, Folder 16.

46. Bremner, Robert H., From the Depths: The Discovery of Poverty in the United States (New York, 1956), p. 53.

47. Muriel Hudnut to Demo, 9 Mar. 1926, Box 5, Folder 35.

48. M. Barrows to Demo, 22 May 1924, Box 5, Folder 31.

49. Hudnut to Demo, 25 Mar. 1925, Box 5, Folder 31; Hudnut to Demo, 6 Sept. 1924, Box 5, Folder 32; and L'thel Outerbridge to Demo, 21 Apr. 1925, Box 5, Folder 33.

50. Louise Sullivan, Mary, M.S.C. Mother Cabrim: “Italian Immigrant of the Century” (New York, 1992).

51. Kingsbury Simkhovitch, Mary, Neighborhood: My Story of Greenwich House (New York, 1938), p. 162.

52. Mary Carpenter to Demo, 9 Mar. 1916, Box 2, Folder 17; Ellen G. McDowell to Demo, 28 June 1922, Box 4, Folder 27.

53. For limiting Village construction, see Simkhovitch to Demo, 2 Feb. 1916, Box 2, Folder 17. For meeting with “prominent residents,” see Simkhovitch to Demo, 14 Dec. 1921, Box 3, Folder 26. For lunch, see Simkhovitch to Demo, 21 March 1925, Box 5, Folder 33. For steering committee, see Simkhovitch to Demo, undated, Box 3, Folder 25.

54. William Spinney to Demo, undated, Box 2, Folder 16.

55. For drama, see Helen Murphy to Demo, undated, Box 6, Folder 44. For art exhibit, see Simkhovitch to Demo, 27 Mar. 1922, Box 4, Folder 27. For pottery, see Edith King to Demo, 16 Apr. but no year, Box 3, Folder 33. For Old Home Week, see Simkhovitch to Demo, 13 May 1926, Box 5, Folder 35. For pageant, see Simkhovitch to Demo, 11 May 1916, Box 2, Folder 17.

56. For music school, see Margaret W. Camman to Demo, 1 Dec. 1923, Box 4, Folder 30. For slide lantern, see Lillian Front to Demo, 27 Nov. 1929, Box 6, Folder 39.

57. For more on the fire, see Stein, Leon, The Triangle Fire (Philadelphia, 1962).

58. New York Times 28 and 29 Mar. 1911, p. 2, col. 4–7 and p. 4, col. 4, respectively, and Box 46, book labeled Messe 4.

59. Invitation, ca. 26 Apr. 1911, Box 1, Folder 12.

60. 194 W. 4th Street to Demo, 25 Apr. 1911, Box 1, Folder 12.

61. New York Times, 27 Apr. 1911, p. 6, col. 3.

62. Joseph J. Mooney, circular letter, 1 Aug. 1914, Box 8, Folder 89.

63. Circular letter, Dec. 1915, Center for Migration Studies, Italian-Americans and Religion Collection, Series I, Box 3, Archives of the Diocese of Brooklyn Miscellaneous Folder.

64. Program, 7–8 Feb. 1916, Box 12, Folder 144.

65. Via Gran S. Bernado #1 Milan to Demo, 7 Sept. 1916, Box 2, Folder 18.

66. John Cardinal Farley, circular letter, 14 Dec. 1915, Box 8, Folder 90.

67. For Peace Sunday, see Hamilton Holt to Demo, 10 May 1916, Box 2, Folder 17. For anti-German protest, see William H. Owen, Jr., circular letter, 22 Jan. 1917, Box 3, Folder 19. For Bryan meeting, see Frederick Lynch, circular letter, 26 Jan. 1917, Box 3, Folder 19.

68. Eduardo Marcuzzi, circular letter, 29 June 1918, Box 3, Folder 22.

69. Undated draft, Box 3, Folder 22.

70. Sunday announcements, 14 July 1918, Box 29, Folder 316.

71. List dated 29 Sept. 1918, Box 16, Folder 195.

72. JohnJ. Dunn, circular letter, 26 Sept. 1920, Box 8, Folder 95.

73. Leroy Peterson, circular letter, 14 May 1917, Box 8, Folder 95.

74. John F. X. O'Connor to Demo, 12 June 1917, Box 3, Folder 20.

75. James J. Dover to Demo, 23 Sept. 1918, Box 3, Folder 22.

76. Herbert Hoover, circular letter, Washington, D.C., 18 June 1917, Box 3, Folder 20.

77. Charles S. Wilson, circular letter, 27 June 1917, Box 3, Folder 20.

78. F. E. Breithut to Lavelle, 17 Jan. 1918, Box 3, Folder 21; Lavelle, circular letter, 18 Jan. 1918, Box 3, Folder 21.

79. Mabel F. Spinney to Demo, 11 Apr. 1918, Box 3, Folder 21.

80. Gherardo Ferrante to Demo, 15 June 1918, Box 3, Folder 22.

81. Sunday announcements, 16 June 1918, Box 29, Folder 316.

82. For Liberty Loan bonds, see Ernest Iselin to Demo, 10 and 18 Oct. 1918, Box 3, Folder 22. For savings stamps, see Milton W. Lipper to Demo, Washington, D.C., 14 Feb. 1918, Box 3, Folder 21.

83. Kauffman, Christopher J., Faith and Fraternalism: the History of the Knights of Columbus, 1881–1982 (New York, 1982), pp. 192224.

84. Edward A. Arnold to Demo, 24 July 1917, Box 3, Folder 20.

85. William P. Larkin to Demo, 14 Aug. 1917, Box 3, Folder 20.

86. Most of Demo's World War One memorabilia is in Box 14, Folder 168.

87. John J. Dunn to Demo, 21 Feb. 1918, Box 14, Folder 168.

88. New York American Sun, 31 Mar. 1918.

89. Program, 28–29 Jan. 1919, Box 12, Folder 144.

90. Ferrante to Demo, 19 Dec. 1918, Box 3, Folder 22.

91. Il Carroccio 13 (1921): 635–636.

92. Hayes, Patrick J., “The Unification of Catholic Charities,” Catholic World 117 (1923): 145153.

93. John J. Dunn, circular letter, 8 Mar. 1920, Box 8, Folder 95.

94. Demo to Catholic Charities, 19 Sept. 1929, Box 6, Folder 39.

95. Demo to Catholic Charities, 23 July 1926, Box 5, Folder 36.

96. John Philip Bramer to Demo, 14 Dec. 1925, Box 5, Folder 34.

97. Catherine Hart to Demo, 18 June 1932, Box 6, Folder 42.

98. John Philip Bramer to Demo, 28 Jan. 1926, Box 5, Folder 35.

99. Alice B. Claus to Demo, 22 Oct. 1930, Box 6, Folder 40.

100. Minnie Costello to Demo, Yonkers, 22 May 1925, Box 5, Folder 33.

101. M. H. Lagrille to Demo, 1 June 1926, Box 5, Folder 35; Mary Rea to Demo, 13 Mar. 1930, Box 6, Folder 40.

102. Ware, Caroline, Greenwich Village, 1920–1930: A Comment on American Civilization in the Post-War Years (New York, 1935; reprint New York, 1965), p. 312.

103. Arthur Little to Demo, 16 Oct. 1929, Box 5, Folder 39.

104. Dolan, Jay P., The Immigrant Church: New York's Irish and German Catholics, 1815–1865 (Baltimore, 1975).

105. Bukowczyk, John J., And My Children did Not Know Me: A History of Polish-Americans (Bloomington, Ind., 1987).

106. Kuropas, Myron B., The Ukrainian Americans: Roots and Aspirations, 1884–1954 (Toronto, 1991).

107. Shaw, Stephen J., The Catholic Parish as a Way-Station of Ethnicity and Americanization: Chicago's Germans and Italians, 1903–1939 (New York, 1991).

108. Tentler Woodcock, Leslie, Seasons of Grace: A History of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit (Detroit, 1990).

109. Tracy Ellis, John and Trisco, Robert, A Guide to American Catholic History, second ed. (Santa Barbara, Calif., 1982) is ten years out of date.

110. One person who matched Demo in trying to use public institutions to serve Catholic needs was John Bernard Fitzpatrick, bishop of Boston from 1846 to 1866. Rather than build parochial schools to rival public ones, Fitzpatrick took the position that public schools should be accessible to all citizens, and he tried, unsuccessfully as it turned out, to make Boston's public schools more accommodating for the Catholic who should have been attending them. O'Connor, Thomas, Fitzpatrick's Boston, 1846–1866: John Bernard Fitzpatrick, Third Bishop of Boston (Boston, 1984).

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Church History
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