Missions to the Italians in New York (1905)

St. Ambrose’s Italian Mission, New York.

New York is the second largest Italian city in the world, being exceeded only by Naples. It has an Italian population of over 400,000, more than the city of Rome, and this population is rapidly growing. Last year 170,000 Italians landed at this port, and while many of them simply passed through, on their way to homes in other sections of the United States, a very large number stayed here. The Church has long been alive to the necessity of opening her doors to these Italians, and the San Salvatore Mission was started about twenty-five years ago by the Rev. Constantine Stauder. Services were first held in a store room; then quarters were secured on Mulberry street, and these in turn were given up when the property was affected by the widening of Elm street, and a fine church building was erected on Broome street near Elizabeth. There is a large Italian population in the neighborhood, and the Church is doing, under the leadership of the Rev. Edward M. H. Knapp, an excellent work among them. Mr. Knapp does not speak Italian, and he has for assistant the Rev. Abraham Cincotti, who is a former Roman priest and was received some months ago by Bishop Potter.

Another important work among Italians is done at Grace Chapel, on East Fourteenth street. It is under charge of the Rev. M. K. Bailey, and was started in the fall of 1903. Mr. Bailey estimates that there are within the parish lines fully 25,000. Many of them are Roman Catholics, and here, as at other centres of Italian work, no attempt is made to get these to change their Church allegiance. But there are thousands who have no interest in any Church, the young men especially being supremely indifferent. Among others there is a strong Protestant sentiment, and these quickly respond to the efforts made to reach them. In Grace Chapel there has been organized the Benvenuti Club, an Italian men’s club. It has a large number of members, and is as active and strong as the average parish men’s club. The club has a fine Italian circulating library, the books for which were imported from Messina.

Out of this work at Grace Chapel has come the Italo-American Educational League, the aim of which is to get the interest of educated Italians and Americans into plans for the increase of culture and education among the Italian residents of this city. It gives lectures on hygiene, civics, and kindred topics, and has already gained the coöperation of a number of leading Italians, including Dr. Antonio Stella of New York Hospital, Dr. Luigi Roversi of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dr. J. T. de Laugieres, the Rev. M. A. Mangano, and Cav. J. M. Francolini. The meetings are held at Grace House. In the chapel there is an Italian service at four Sunday afternoons, with music by a choir of Italian girls. The Rev. Mr. Bailey is assisted by Mr. E. J. Ferrara, a native Italian who is a lay reader in preparation for holy orders.

A few years ago an Italian work was started in connection with St. Ambrose’s Church, on the lower west side of the city. There was a large Italian settlement in the vicinity, but it was found that the large majority of the people were Roman Catholics in more or less regular attendance at the service of that communion, and as there was neither desire nor intention of proselytizing, the work was given up.

Archdeacon Nelson, formerly superintendent of the City Mission Society, has long been recognized as the man at the head of Church effort among Italians in New York. In an interview a few days ago, speaking about the new St. Ambrose Mission, he said that two classes of Italian people are reached by the Church. Those who have drifted away from the Roman Church because of politics form one class. They are Garibaldian by instinct and are more deeply interested in their home nation than in the Church. The second class is made up of those naturally indifferent to the Church. They may be nominally Romanist, but virtually they are, religiously, nothing. The Roman priests seem not to reach them. The Church opens her doors for both classes, and the success that has attended the efforts show that it is appreciated. The field is enormous, and some parts of it, notably that in the Bronx Italian colonies, have not been touched. The archdeacon tells of the purpose to establish a mission in one of these Bronx centres as soon as funds can be secured for the purpose.

The Church Standard, July 17, 1905

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