The Italian Conference, by Thomas Burgess (1919)

For the first time—September ninth, tenth and eleventh—our Italian missionaries have met and prayed and eaten and hobnobbed and planned together. Called by our new Americanization department (“foreign missions at home”), to New York from Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and places between, they came, seventeen of our twenty-two Italian clergy in active service. Four others have not yet returned from war service, and only one other could not come.

“Why, I know you, quoth the priest from Gary, Indiana, to the curate of Calvary, New York, “you used to go to school to me in Italy. That was nine years back. This was said on the close of the General Theological Seminary on the first afternoon of the conference, as they were coming in to find the rooms assigned in Dodge Hall.

For three days the seminary was taken charge of by the conference. The dean had kindly invited us and placed at our disposal a dormitory, a lecture room and the chapel. Between sessions and services and late into the nights on the close or gathered on chairs and desks in the dismantled rooms the welkin rang with vociferous Italian and English.

If nothing more had been accomplished than the mere get together, the time and money was most well spent.

But much more was accomplished, which bids fair to be a great new beginning of the grasping of our opportunity to minister to the nearly three millions out of four utterly unchurched men, women and children of our neighbors from sunny Italy. These are a mighty means for the upbuilding of our country, if given a helping hand; or a mighty menace, if let alone to lapse still further into neglected atheism and the prey of the forces of discontent. It depends on the Nation-Wide Campaign what our answer shall be.

The conference began with a session in the Italian language.

At four o’clock Father Huntington, O. H. C., gave the first of the two meditations in the chapel, which were to set the spiritual tone of the conference and crystallize its aim, “The Glory of God, the saving of the lost, the sanctification of the faithful.” Such are the essential roots of true Americanization. Evening Prayer was said in Italian, with English hymns.

The next morning we gathered at the Altar, making our special intention the work in hand.

At ten o’clock came the morning’s session of the conference, held in the Church Mission House. At this were not only the Italian clergy but a goodly number of native-born Americans who have been most active in our Italian mission field at home, coming from Erie, Boston, Philadelphia and nearer places and New York, a bishop, priests and laymen and women. Here are the subjects discussed, each discussion led by a ten-minute paper prepared beforehand:

An Italian Periodical, the Reverend Nicola Accomando; The Second Generation, the Reverend F. I. Urbano; Training of the Clergy, the Reverend T. E. Della-Cioppa; Unification, the Reverend Siste Noce (who came all the way from North Carolina, where he is trying to recover from a breakdown from years of overwork): Social Service, Deaconess Gardner: Neighbors, Miss Skinner; Spread of the Work, the Reverend Oreste Salcini.

The discussions were exceedingly lively at times à la Italienne—not the easiest matter in the world for the presiding officer—and “change of name” and “ceremonial extremities” crept in out of order and had to be referred back to the General Convention.

Nevertheless the spirit was fine and the papers and talk thoroughly worth while. On the stroke of twelve we all went downstairs to the chapel for the usual noonday prayers.

Next, the conference walked way over to the Grace Chapel Settlement House for luncheon, presided over by Dr. Slattery, and served in the building where for many years Italian work has been done with the full equipment it ought to have everywhere. There 1,000 Italians have been confirmed and nearly 20,000 visits a year are received from Italians seeking advice on American life. After the luncheon the conference continued.

That evening was the great service in the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. To be sure the congregation was not as large as hoped for, for all New York had turned out that day to greet General Pershing and had watched for hours the parade of the famous First Division. You could not blame the people for being tired. But the choir was nearly full with some one hundred and fifty choristers, the combined Italian choirs of the city, lifting to God their glorious Italian voices, and the Italian clergy and a number of other clergy.

The service was sung in Italian, except America and The Star Spangled Banner, different Italian priests taking part and Canon Nelson, who has done so much for Italian work, reading the lesson. Addresses were made by Bishop Burch, Mr. Fred C. Butler, Federal Director of Americanization, representing Secretary Lane, of the Department of the Interior: and the senior Italian priest present, the Reverend Carmelo DiSano. This last spoke in Italian, gesticulated dramatically and drew forth and waved at the right place a small silk American flag. Of course our flag and that of Italy were carried in procession and also a beautiful banner of one of our Italian Church societies. It was an inspiring service.

At the seminary dormitory that night we sat around and discussed theology and kindred topics till after midnight.

Next morning, after the Holy Eucharist and breakfast in the little restaurant where we ate together, came the final session. There we summed up the results of our discussions and parted with mutual congratulations.

Here are the resolutions adopted by the final session:

General Missionaries: That two missionaries be appointed by the General Board of Missions for itinerant work among Italian missions, and to survey and establish new missions.

Uniform Control: It is the opinion of this conference that the Italian work and missionaries should be taken under the authority of the General Board, and the salaries paid by the same.

Hymnal: It is the opinion of this conference that, although it is advisable to use the English Hymnal, an Italian Hymnal is necessary. That the Hymnal prepared by the Reverend Della Cioppa be published.

Prayer Book: That this conference of Italian clergymen recommends to the Commission on the Italian Prayer Book, that a new translation be made instead of correcting the old one.

Periodical: This conference commends that an Italian periodical be published for use by all Italians in this country for their Americanization and religious instruction. That it be published by the Department of Christian Americanization, with the co-operation of a committee of Italian priests, selected by the secretary of said department.

Bi-lingual Publications: It is the desire of this conference that the publication of condensed service books or pamphlets be made in Italian-English in parallel columns.

English Language: Although in many cases the use of the Italian language is absolutely
necessary, this conference commends the wide-spread practice of using the English language as much as possible in the services and instructions.

Thanks: Vote of thanks to the Secretary.

The Spirit of Missions (New York), October, 1919, Vol. LXXXIV, No. 10, pp. 661-662.

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Filed under Book of Common Prayer, Episcopal Church history, Genealogy, Liturgy, Personal

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