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Priest, Parish, and People

Priest, Parish, and People

Saving the Faith in Philadelphia's "Little Italy"

Richard N. Juliani

From the perspective of historical sociology, Richard N. Juliani traces the role of religion in the lives and communities of Italian immigrants in Philadelphia from the 1850s to the early 1930s. By the end of the nineteenth century, Philadelphia had one of the largest Italian populations in the country. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia eventually established twenty-three parishes for the exclusive use of Italians. Juliani describes the role these parishes played in developing and anchoring an ethnic community and in shaping its members’ new identity as Italian Americans during the years of mass migration from Italy to America.

Priest, Parish, and People blends the history of Monsignor Antonio Isoleri—pastor from 1870 to 1926 of St. Mary Magdalen dePazzi, the first Italian parish founded in the country—with that of the Italian immigrant community in Philadelphia. Relying on parish and archdiocesan records, secular and church newspapers, archives of religious orders, and Father Isoleri’s personal papers, Juliani chronicles the history of St. Mary Magdalen dePazzi as it grew from immigrant refuge to a large, stable, ethnic community that anchored “Little Italy” in South Philadelphia. In charting that growth, Juliani also examines conflicts between laity and clergy and between clergy and church hierarchy, as well as the remarkable fifty-six-year career of Isoleri as a spiritual and secular leader. Priest, Parish, and People provides both the details of parish history in Philadelphia and the larger context of Italian-American Catholic history.

“While Priest, Parish, and People is in itself a rich ethnographic story about a most unusual priest, a particular Philadelphia parish, and the growth of parishes to meet the needs of a rapidly growing immigrant population, it is also an important story of the struggle between Irish and Italian cultures in the assimilation process, and an interesting insight into church politics and the workings of the Roman Catholic Church.” —William V. D’Antonio, Catholic University of America

“This is a well-written, in-depth study of Philadelphia’s Italian Catholic community. Focusing on a parish and its remarkable pastor, it chronicles the progress of an Italian immigrant parish from its earliest days in the mid-nineteenth century to its emergence as the social and religious center for the Italian community in the early twentieth century. For the author, writing this history was clearly a labor of love. He has provided all of us with a chapter in the history of Philadelphia Catholicism that was long overdue.” —Jay P. Dolan, author of In Search of an American Catholicism: A History of Religion and Culture in Tension

“Rich in detail and culled from an array of primary sources, including the extensive writings of the second pastor of St. Mary Magdalen dePazzi, Richard Juliani weaves a masterful story. By tracing the nuanced interconnections between this first Italian national parish in the United States, its formidable pastor, and the growing immigrant community in South Philadelphia, this book provides new insights about Americanization and the formation of ethnic identity. Priest, Parish, and People is essential reading for scholars of American religion, immigration and urban history, and for anyone wanting to understand the Italian American experience.” — Joan Saverino, Ph.D., The Historical Society of Pennsylvania

“With this illuminating study of the religious experience of Italian immigrants in Philadelphia, Richard N. Juliani delves deeply and productively into the seriously neglected Italian chapter of American Catholic history. The author skillfully weaves a tapestry whose components include the biography of a remarkable pastor, the history of the first ethnic parish established for Italian Catholics in the United States, the encounter between the parish’s mission and the religious faith of its members, and the sociology of the parish as a key institution in the immigrant community of 19th and 20th Century urban America. Exhaustively researched, thoroughly detailed, and highly incisive in its analysis, Juliani’s book represents the benchmark study of the Italian immigrant parish, if not of the Italians’ encounter with American Catholicism in general. It will become recognized as a unique and valuable contribution to the historiography of immigrant life, and will surely challenge scholars in religious studies, immigrant and ethnic history, and community research to examine and re-think the complex issues and arguments raised by the author.” —Nunzio Pernicone, Drexel University

ISBN: 978-0-268-03265-4
424 pages
Publication Year: 2007

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Richard N. Juliani is professor of sociology at Villanova University.

“Richard Juliani has written a history of Saint Mary Magdalen de Pazzi parish . . . A reference work for students of American Catholicism, Italian Americans, the Order of Saint Augustine, or Philadelphia, a thought-provoking read for scholars of biography and urban community, and a model for graduate students.” — American Catholic Studies

“Juliani . . . offers a detailed portrait of the history of St. Mary Magdalen dePazzi, the first church created to serve the particular needs of the residents of Philadelphia’s Little Italy . . . The book offers a rich descriptive account.” — Choice

“As Richard N. Juliani discovered, it was impossible to separate Isoleri’s personal history from that of the institution to which he devoted his life. The expanded focus also permitted Juliani to examine the social and religious experience of Isoleri’s Italian parishioners. What was the nature of their encounter with Catholicism in the American context? What role did religion play in the creation of the ethnic community? Questions like these are hardly new, but since the literature on Italian American religion is still relatively thin, they are well worth asking in this context.” — American Historical Review

“Written by a professor of sociology, Priest, Parish, and People studies the historical development and complex communal relationships that marked parish life in Philadelphia’s ‘Little Italy’ from incipient Italian immigration through the early 1930s . . . The author provides a significant micro-study not only of the cultural transformation of an important urban Italian community but also of its interaction with the political and religious fortunes of Catholicism in Italy and the United States.” — Church History

“Richard N. Juliani made an inspired choice in placing Father Antonio Isoleri—who served as pastor from 1870 to 1926 of the nation’s first dedicated Italian parish—at the center of an historical monograph. . . . Scholars of immigration and ethnicity will find that the book touches on many significant topics.” — Journal of American Ethnic History

“The story of this priest, his parish, and his people provides an intimate window into the development of one city’s Italian-American community and holds broader implications for the study of immigration and Catholicism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. . . This richly detailed study will be of great interest to scholars of Catholic and immigration history.” — The Journal of American History

“… Priest, Parish, and People studies the historical development and complex communal relationships that marked parish life in Philadelphia’s ‘Little Italy’ from incipient Italian immigration through the early 1930s. . . The author provides a significant micro-study not only of the cultural transformation of an important urban Italian community but also of its interaction with the political and religious fortunes of Catholicism in Italy and the United States.” — Church History

“Juliani tells us convincingly that, to fully understand the phenomenon, on which is, above all else, the central experience of America—immigration/assimilation—we cannot, and should not, separate biographical, institutional, and sociocultural realities. These realities he illustrates for us in the Little Italy section of Philadelphia by interweaving the histories of a priest, a parish, and a people.” — The Catholic Historical Review

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Priest, Parish, and People

Saving the Faith in Philadelphia's "Little Italy"

Richard N. Juliani

 Priest, Parish, and People: Saving the Faith in Philadelphia's "Little Italy"
Paper Edition

From the perspective of historical sociology, Richard N. Juliani traces the role of religion in the lives and communities of Italian immigrants in Philadelphia from the 1850s to the early 1930s. By the end of the nineteenth century, Philadelphia had one of the largest Italian populations in the country. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia eventually established twenty-three parishes for the exclusive use of Italians. Juliani describes the role these parishes played in developing and anchoring an ethnic community and in shaping its members’ new identity as Italian Americans during the years of mass migration from Italy to America.

Priest, Parish, and People blends the history of Monsignor Antonio Isoleri—pastor from 1870 to 1926 of St. Mary Magdalen dePazzi, the first Italian parish founded in the country—with that of the Italian immigrant community in Philadelphia. Relying on parish and archdiocesan records, secular and church newspapers, archives of religious orders, and Father Isoleri’s personal papers, Juliani chronicles the history of St. Mary Magdalen dePazzi as it grew from immigrant refuge to a large, stable, ethnic community that anchored “Little Italy” in South Philadelphia. In charting that growth, Juliani also examines conflicts between laity and clergy and between clergy and church hierarchy, as well as the remarkable fifty-six-year career of Isoleri as a spiritual and secular leader. Priest, Parish, and People provides both the details of parish history in Philadelphia and the larger context of Italian-American Catholic history.

“While Priest, Parish, and People is in itself a rich ethnographic story about a most unusual priest, a particular Philadelphia parish, and the growth of parishes to meet the needs of a rapidly growing immigrant population, it is also an important story of the struggle between Irish and Italian cultures in the assimilation process, and an interesting insight into church politics and the workings of the Roman Catholic Church.” —William V. D’Antonio, Catholic University of America

“This is a well-written, in-depth study of Philadelphia’s Italian Catholic community. Focusing on a parish and its remarkable pastor, it chronicles the progress of an Italian immigrant parish from its earliest days in the mid-nineteenth century to its emergence as the social and religious center for the Italian community in the early twentieth century. For the author, writing this history was clearly a labor of love. He has provided all of us with a chapter in the history of Philadelphia Catholicism that was long overdue.” —Jay P. Dolan, author of In Search of an American Catholicism: A History of Religion and Culture in Tension

“Rich in detail and culled from an array of primary sources, including the extensive writings of the second pastor of St. Mary Magdalen dePazzi, Richard Juliani weaves a masterful story. By tracing the nuanced interconnections between this first Italian national parish in the United States, its formidable pastor, and the growing immigrant community in South Philadelphia, this book provides new insights about Americanization and the formation of ethnic identity. Priest, Parish, and People is essential reading for scholars of American religion, immigration and urban history, and for anyone wanting to understand the Italian American experience.” — Joan Saverino, Ph.D., The Historical Society of Pennsylvania

“With this illuminating study of the religious experience of Italian immigrants in Philadelphia, Richard N. Juliani delves deeply and productively into the seriously neglected Italian chapter of American Catholic history. The author skillfully weaves a tapestry whose components include the biography of a remarkable pastor, the history of the first ethnic parish established for Italian Catholics in the United States, the encounter between the parish’s mission and the religious faith of its members, and the sociology of the parish as a key institution in the immigrant community of 19th and 20th Century urban America. Exhaustively researched, thoroughly detailed, and highly incisive in its analysis, Juliani’s book represents the benchmark study of the Italian immigrant parish, if not of the Italians’ encounter with American Catholicism in general. It will become recognized as a unique and valuable contribution to the historiography of immigrant life, and will surely challenge scholars in religious studies, immigrant and ethnic history, and community research to examine and re-think the complex issues and arguments raised by the author.” —Nunzio Pernicone, Drexel University

ISBN: 978-0-268-03265-4

424 pages

“Richard Juliani has written a history of Saint Mary Magdalen de Pazzi parish . . . A reference work for students of American Catholicism, Italian Americans, the Order of Saint Augustine, or Philadelphia, a thought-provoking read for scholars of biography and urban community, and a model for graduate students.” — American Catholic Studies

“Juliani . . . offers a detailed portrait of the history of St. Mary Magdalen dePazzi, the first church created to serve the particular needs of the residents of Philadelphia’s Little Italy . . . The book offers a rich descriptive account.” — Choice

“As Richard N. Juliani discovered, it was impossible to separate Isoleri’s personal history from that of the institution to which he devoted his life. The expanded focus also permitted Juliani to examine the social and religious experience of Isoleri’s Italian parishioners. What was the nature of their encounter with Catholicism in the American context? What role did religion play in the creation of the ethnic community? Questions like these are hardly new, but since the literature on Italian American religion is still relatively thin, they are well worth asking in this context.” — American Historical Review

“Written by a professor of sociology, Priest, Parish, and People studies the historical development and complex communal relationships that marked parish life in Philadelphia’s ‘Little Italy’ from incipient Italian immigration through the early 1930s . . . The author provides a significant micro-study not only of the cultural transformation of an important urban Italian community but also of its interaction with the political and religious fortunes of Catholicism in Italy and the United States.” — Church History

“Richard N. Juliani made an inspired choice in placing Father Antonio Isoleri—who served as pastor from 1870 to 1926 of the nation’s first dedicated Italian parish—at the center of an historical monograph. . . . Scholars of immigration and ethnicity will find that the book touches on many significant topics.” — Journal of American Ethnic History

“The story of this priest, his parish, and his people provides an intimate window into the development of one city’s Italian-American community and holds broader implications for the study of immigration and Catholicism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. . . This richly detailed study will be of great interest to scholars of Catholic and immigration history.” — The Journal of American History

“… Priest, Parish, and People studies the historical development and complex communal relationships that marked parish life in Philadelphia’s ‘Little Italy’ from incipient Italian immigration through the early 1930s. . . The author provides a significant micro-study not only of the cultural transformation of an important urban Italian community but also of its interaction with the political and religious fortunes of Catholicism in Italy and the United States.” — Church History

“Juliani tells us convincingly that, to fully understand the phenomenon, on which is, above all else, the central experience of America—immigration/assimilation—we cannot, and should not, separate biographical, institutional, and sociocultural realities. These realities he illustrates for us in the Little Italy section of Philadelphia by interweaving the histories of a priest, a parish, and a people.” — The Catholic Historical Review