Italy was one of the first non-English-speaking countries opened to missionary work (1850), and despite political, economic, and sectarian challenges during the past 150 years, the Church has gradually established a solid presence there.
Italy attracted the attention of early Church leaders because of its prominent role in religious and cultural history and its strategic geographical location in the Mediterranean world. During the October 1849 general conference, President Brigham Young called the first missionaries to begin preaching the gospel on the continent of Europe. Among these were Lorenzo Snow, an apostle, and Joseph Toronto, an Italian convert, who were assigned to open missionary work in Italy. While in England, en route to Italy, Elder Snow called Elder Thomas (T. B. H.) Stenhouse and Elder Jabez Woodard to serve in the new mission. Having arrived in Genoa on 25 June and assessed conditions and prospects, Elder Snow decided to begin proselyting among the Waldensians, a small Protestant community in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. On 19 September 1850, Elders Snow, Stenhouse, and Woodard (Toronto had left to teach his family in Sicily) ascended a prominent mountain peak near the city of La Tour (Torre Pellice). Elder Snow offered a prayer dedicating Italy to the preaching of the gospel and organized the Italian Mission. The missionaries immediately began to teach the gospel openly, and a few weeks later, on 27 October Elder Snow baptized the first convert, Jean Bose. The first Italian edition of the Book of Mormon was published in London in 1852 under the supervision of Lorenzo Snow.
During the next 15 years, missionary work was hindered by opposition from ministers, anti-Mormon literature, deeply rooted religious and political traditions, and the poverty of the people. By the time the mission closed in 1867, about 180 persons had been baptized: approximately 70 of these immigrated to Utah, and the remainder either apostatized or were excommunicated. Many prominent Latter-day Saint familiesâ€”Beus, Cardon, Malan, Bertoch, Pons, and Chatelainâ€”are descendants of these original Waldensian converts.
Intermittent efforts to preach the gospel in Italy were carried out over the next century. In the late nineteenth century, a few missionaries, including some of Waldensian descent (for example, Jacob Rivoir, James Bertoch, and Paul Cardon), renewed proselyting efforts in northern Italy. In 1933 Elder Riccardo Robezzoli of the Swiss-German Mission worked briefly among relatives in the Trento region of Italy, but Italian officials stopped him. Some Italians were converted before World War II by reading Latter-day Saint publications. The most prominent example is that of Vincenzo di Francesca, whose conversion story was told in a 1988 Church film, How Rare a Possession. During World War II, Latter-day Saint servicemen’s branches were established in several locations in Italy, but no formal proselyting efforts were undertaken. During the 1950s and early 1960s a number of Italians (including Pietro and FelicitÃƒ Snaidero, Santo Beltrame, Luigi Pittini, Giovanni Morandini, and Adelia Lucchi) were baptized through informal Latter-day Saint contacts in Italy. In April 1963 the first member conferences were held in Vicenza, and in March 1964 a new Italian translation of the Book of Mormon was published. Elder Ezra Taft Benson went to Rome in November 1964 to discuss with Italian government officials the prospects for reopening missionary work in Italy, and later that month he organized the Italian District of the Swiss Mission. By February 1965, 22 elders from the Swiss Mission were assigned to preach the gospel in seven cities in Italy.
On 2 August 1966 Elder Benson reestablished the Italian Mission in Florence with John Duns Jr. as president, and in November 1966 he rededicated Italy for the preaching of the gospel at Torre Pellice, near the site of Elder Snow’s 1850 dedicatory prayer. The Italian Church periodical La Stella (The Star) commenced circulation in June 1967 and was thus published until its title, along with those of all other Church international magazines, was changed to Liahona in January 2000. By June 1971 Church growth necessitated the formation of two missions, and by 1977 four missions had been organized: Italy Rome, Italy Catania, Italy Milan, and Italy Padova. A major historical event was the first visit of a Church president to Italyâ€”President Spencer W. Kimball arrived in August 1977. After years of groundwork, a milestone was achieved on 22 February 1993 when Italian president Oscar Luigi Scalfaro signed papers granting formal legal status to the Church. A total of three stakes exist in Italy: the first was established in Milan (June 1981), the second in Venice (September 1985), and the third in Puglia (March 1997). The Church Educational System, which has operated in Italy since 1975, includes five full-time supervisors, 220 teachers, and about 1,500 students enrolled in seminary and institute classes.
Despite continuing challenges of secularism and materialism and the ongoing problems of economic stagnation and out-migration in southern Italy, the Church continued to grow and consolidate its presence in Italy. At the beginning of the year 2000, total membership reached 18,599, organized into 3 stakes and 15 districts with 133 wards and branches.
[Year-end 2005: Est. population, 58,103,000; Members, 21,791; Stakes, 4; Wards 26; Branches, 86; Missions, 3; Districts, 12; Percent LDS, .037, or one in 2,712; Source 2007 Church Almanac.]
Bennett, Archibald F. “The Vaudois of the Alpine Valleys and Their Contribution to Utah and Latter-day Saint History.” Manuscript. LDS Church Historical Library, Salt Lake City. 1960.
Homer, Michael W. “The Church’s Image in Italy from the 1840s to 1946: A Bibliographic Essay.” BYU Studies 31 (1991): 2.
â€”â€”â€”. “‘For the Strength of the Hills We Bless Thee’: Italian Mormons Come to Utah.” Manuscript. LDS Church Historical Library, Salt Lake City.
â€”â€”â€”. “The Italian Mission: 1850-1867.” Sunstone 7 (May-June 1982): 16-21.
Jacobs, L. R. “Mormon Non-English Scriptures, Hymnals, & Periodicals, 1830-1986: A Descriptive Bibliography.” Ithaca, N.Y.: L. R. Jacobs, 1986.
“Manuscript History of the Italian Mission.” Church Historical Department Archives, Salt Lake City.
Snow, Lorenzo. The Italian Mission. London: W. Aubrey, 1851.
Toronto, James A. “Giuseppe Efisio Taranto: Odyssey from Sicily to Salt Lake City.” Pioneers in Every Land: Inspirational Stories of International Pioneers Past and Present. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997.
JAMES A. TORONTO
From Arnold K. Garr, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard O. Cowan, eds., Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 556-58. Used with the permission of the Deseret Book Company. Copies prohibited by law.