Churches, Communities and Children: Italian Immigrants in the Archdiocese of New York, 1880-1945

Article excerpt

Churches, Communities and Children: Italian Immigrants in the Archdio cese of New York, 1880-1945. By Mary Elizabeth Brown. (Staten Island, New York: Center for Migration Studies. 1995. Pp. vi, 219. Paperback.)

Italian mass migration to the United States began in earnest during the decade following the Risorgimento and the political unification of the Italian Peninsula. General political confusion, plummeting economy, increased taxation, a burgeoning military establishment and extended mandatory service, as well as a government that encouraged and, in some instances, forced emigration, all contributed to the massive movement of the poor from the various provinces, cities, and towns of Italy to the Americas from the 1880's to the first decades of the present century.

New York City, even then the symbol of American economic and political prosperity, became the goal and dreamed-for haven for millions of the dispossessed, especially after the opening of Ellis Island. The largest single religious group represented during these years among the arriving immigrants was Roman Catholic, at least in name; the largest single national group among these was the Italian. They were also the neediest, "the most pitiable," as Archbishop Corrigan once described them, with no single language, only various dialects, no national identity, only loyalty to the local town or province of birth, and a strong mutual disdain between those hailing from Northern and Southern Italy. Many were mere slave labor, indentured to "padroni" who had paid their passage to America in return for years of servitude.

The Archdiocese of New York found itself host to hundreds of thousands of newly arrived Roman Catholics, among whom were the Italians, most in need of every imaginable form of assistance, not least of which was the spiritual guidance and comfort of their Church. Mary Elizabeth Brown's book describes the Church's response and pastoral plan for the Italians living within the Archdiocese of New York from 1880 until the eve of Vatican Council II.

Beginning with the administration of John Cardinal McCloskey, during which time the number of Italian immigrants arriving in New York began to rise, Brown continues in detail her study through 1945, during the rule of Francis Cardinal Spellman. She then paints a general view of the Italians up until the council. She traces the life of Italian Catholics in New York and the Church's response to them and their needs throughout these years. …

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