In The Footsteps of St. Francis
By: Tom Frascella November 2014
By the mid to late 1850’s conditions in central Lucania had deteriorated to a point that population displacement into many parts of Italy and beyond began. Some of these displaced persons, under very unfortunate circumstances, became the first of the area to ”immigrate” to the U.S. starting in the late 1850’s.
At about the same time, for reasons unrelated to the conditions and circumstances of southern Italy the immigration a small number of primarily northern Italian clerics to the U.S. also started. I have in earlier writings introduced some of the more important figure in the story of these clerics in this religious immigration, Pamphilus Magliano dei Marsi, Pietro Jachetti, Giovanni Scalabrini, Pope Leo XIII and Francesca Cabrini. A few other names that will come up are Diomede Falconio, Sabastiano Martinelli and Francesco Satolli. Together, the religious work of these individuals would have a great impact on the development of Catholicism in the United States especially as it ministered to newly arriving immigrants. As such their story is very much a part of our ancestors’ immigration story as they run parallel.
Although I have written about Father Pamphilus before I would like to take this time to discuss his early life and that of Father Falconio as well. Both men were extraordinary in many ways and have been under appreciated for their place in the American Italian immigrant story.
Father Pamphilus (1824-1875)
John Paul Pierbattista was born on August 22, 1824 in Magliano dei Marsi. At the age of 16 he became a Franciscan monk and was given the name Pamphilus Magliano dei Marsi. He was recognized as an extraordinarily gifted student and was awarded the title Lector Generalis (professor) by the age 18. He began his teaching and instructional career in his native Franciscan Provence in Northern Italy. Early on Friar Pamphilus had expressed a desire to do missionary work in the United States and had undertaken the study of English toward preparing to that end should the opportunity present itself. His superiors recognized this desire toward ministry in the young monk and at twenty-eight he was summoned by the Order’s General Minister to Rome where he was appointed a professor of theology and philosophy at the Collegio S. Isodoro in 1852.
A short history on San Isodoro Collegio in Rome is appropriate. For hundreds of years the Catholic Church in Ireland was suppressed. In addition, Irish nationalism was also suppressed. As a result, many Catholic Irish insurgents periodically sought sanctuary in foreign countries and the support of the Pope. Saint Isodore College was established in the early seventeenth century as a seminary college in Rome headed by the Franciscan Order and dedicated to the training and missionary endeavors of the order especially in Ireland. Over time it became the principal English speaking seminary college in Rome. When Fr. Pamphilus was appointed to the college it therefore presented him an opportunity to work with and develop his English speaking skills.
In 1853-1854 a number of Bishops and Cardinals gathered in Rome for what became known as the Declaration of the Immaculate Conception. Among those who gathered at that time in Rome was Bishop John Timon of Buffalo who had journeyed to Rome with a wealthy Catholic benefactor by the name of John Devereux. Newly appointed Bishop John Neumann of Philadelphia also attended this conference and stayed at St. Isodore. It was of course natural for these men to gravitate toward St. Isodore College while in Rome. In fact Bishop Timon and Mr. Devereux specifically sought out the college’s rector in hope of encouraging Franciscan Irish monks to immigrate to the Diocese of Buffalo.
The Diocese of Buffalo had experienced a dramatic increase in the number of German and Irish Catholics entering into the area. Many of these immigrants were initially laborers on the Erie Canal and later the Erie Railroad. Of course from the American perspective the U.S. had experienced an unprecedented influx of over one million immigrants from those two countries alone many of whom were Catholic. There simply was not enough home grown Catholic Clergy to minister to the needs of these newly arrived immigrants. However, while very sympathetic to the needs of the American Church the rector at St. Isodore did not have the resources to help. The rector’s efforts instead were being focused on the conditions, starvation, poverty and political suppression in Ireland that were giving rise to the unprecedented Irish immigration.
Undeterred Bishop Timon gained an appointment with the Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor the Most Reverend Venantius of Celano. The Minister General saw the great need that was presented. He determined that the need presented an opportunity for the Order to establish a Custody or new Provence in the United States to further its missionary work. A contract between the Order and the Bishop of Buffalo was agreed to and signed in Rome in 1855.
The Minister General knew that the establishment of the new Custody with so great a need and so limited resources was not going to be easy. He determined that only the finest young monks of his order should be selected for the task. In so reasoning he looked to his home Provence which includes the town of Assisi and is considered the central Provence of the Order.
It is no small compliment that the Minister General selected Fr. Pamphilus Superior of the Mission along with three other monks Sixtus a Gagliano a Professor of Theology, Samuel a Prezza also a professor Theology and a lay brother Salvatore a Genoa. The four arrived in the United States on June 20, 1855. Over time they would be joined by a number of other brothers from their home Provence but this marked the beginning of their missionary efforts.
Fr. Pamphilus would remain in charge of the Custody’s effort from 1855-1867. At this juncture in our history I am focusing only on the 1850’s or in terms of the formation of the custody the initial four years. In this regard it is illustrative to account for some of the accomplishments of Fr. Pamphilus in those first four years.
To begin with almost upon arrival the monks took up residence and pastoral duties in a small residence connected to St Philip Neri Church in Ellicottville N.Y. From there they began to make plans to build a monastery, and college in Allegany. In 1856 the property for the monastery and college were deeded over as a gift from the Devereux family. In that first year the monks also established a parish in Humphreys and began ministering in the villages of Olean, Randolph, South Valley, Cuba, Allegany, Chapelsburg and Chipmunk. The cornerstone for the monastery/college was laid in August 1856 and was completed in 1858. The College would come to known as St. Bonaventure. At the time of its opening the monks of the Custody were Fr. Pamphilus, Sixtus a Gagliano, Samuel da Prezza, Emiliano d’Azzano, Augustine da San Dimiano d’Asti, Valerian da Ormea, Felix da Cannobio and Celsus da Chieri.
In 1856 the monks were also given charge of St. Patrick’s parish in Buffalo and in 1859 took charge of parishes in Towanda and Dushore, both in the Diocese of Philadelphia. Fr. Pamphilus also oversaw the building of a new church in Olean.
Fr. Pamphilus was also able to establish a group of Sisters known as the Third order of St. Francis of Allegany in order to conduct classes for a school for girls.
What is clear is that this small group of Italian missionary teachers had in just three years been able to lay down the foundation of a Catholic College and a primary education system as well as ministering to the needs of a growing catholic presence in western New York. In all Fr. Pamphilus would remain in the U.S. a total of only twelve years, not his choosing, but his accomplishments, the effects of his insights, guidance and direction on American Catholic development are quite impressive. Unfortunately and sadly so too was his treatment by his American peers.
Fr. Diomede Falconio
I am now going to profile the early life of a second member of the Franciscan Order who like Fr. Pamphilus would find himself a missionary priest in the Diocese of Buffalo arriving in the U.S. in 1865. His initial assignment was as an instructor at St. Bonaventure College under the direction of Fr. Pamphilus. When Fr. Pamphilus was recalled to Rome it was Fr. Falconio who was elected as his replacement. As the Franciscan mission in Buffalo continued to grow in both responsibilities and numbers of arrivals we have to appreciate that a steady stream of very gifted Franciscan clerics from Italy were being dispatched to the Diocese of Buffalo. I think it important to stress that these men were the very brightest that the Order had available and as a group they are very impressive for their religious piety, devotion and intellectual abilities.
Portrait of Fr. Diomede Falconio
Fr. Falconio was born in September 1842 with the first name Angelo in Pescocostanzo Italy. He entered the Franciscan order at the age of eighteen in 1860 and took the religious name Diomede de Pescocostanzo. Like Fr. Pamphilus, Fr. Diomede was also a gifted student progressing to the status of professor of Philosophy and Theology even as he was taking his final vows with the Order in 1864. In 1865 he was sent by the Order to the Diocese of Buffalo where he served as a Professor of Philosophy from 1865-1871.
Interestingly, when Fr. Diomede arrived in the U.S. although a fully vested Franciscan monk he was not an ordained priest. Shortly after his arrival in 1866 he was ordained a priest by Bishop Timon in Buffalo. He as did many of the Franciscan priests sent to the U.S. multi-tasked his religious duties. Fr. Diomede served as a professor at the college and a spiritual pastor in Terra Nova, N.Y. One of the things I find remarkable in studying the works of these men is the degree to which they got around considering that it is the mid nineteenth century.
One of the interesting things in Fr. Diomede’s early resume that also appears in a number of other immigrant clerics’ resumes is the commitment that they are making to their American mission. In 1867 Fr. Diomede applied for and became an American citizen.
When Fr. Pamphilus was recalled to Rome in 1868, Fr. Diomede was selected as President of St. Bonaventure College and served in that capacity for two years. He was also elected as Secretary of the American Franciscan Provence and served in that capacity from 1868-1871.
In 1871 Fr. Diomede was sent to Newfoundland Canada where he served as administrator, chancellor and vicar general of the Harbor Grace Diocese from 1871-1882. In 1882 Fr. Diomede was proposed as the new Bishop to the area however the majority of Catholics and non- Catholics in the area objected to the appointment of an Italian as Bishop. Bowing to the pressure the then Bishop of Buffalo recalled Fr. Diomede and shortly thereafter Fr. Diomede like Fr. Pamphilus was recalled to Rome.
I have already written about some of the activities of another of these initial Italian Franciscan missionaries Fr. Pietro Jachetti who came to the Diocese of New Jersey from Buffalo in 1869 and who eventually ran into the same sort of bigotry. In all there was a pattern established 1855-1880 of bigotry that became obvious to the Vatican. That patterned demonstrated that very gifted, hardworking, pious and brilliant Italian clerics were meeting extreme prejudice from within the American Catholic Church while trying to fulfill their duties.
The Vatican also began to become aware that Italian immigrants to the U.S., although small in numbers to this point were also having trouble having their traditions and customs accepted. Part of the story of our ancestors’ struggles with acceptance and assimilation tie into the circumstances mentioned above. Although Italian immigration was light at first it was growing. Statistics on the early part of Italian mass immigration to the U.S. record 10,000 arriving in the 1850’s, 20,000 arriving in the 1860’s, 45,000 arriving in the 1870’s and 175,000 arriving in the 1880’s.
By the 1880’s it was clear to everyone in the Vatican that mass immigration from Italy to the U.S. was only going to accelerate and that the needs of these hundreds of thousands of Italians needed to be addressed and addressed properly within the American Catholic Church. Although we see Popes trying to address the issues with Catholic Bishops diplomatically especially in the 1870’s and early 1880’s it became clear to Pope Leo XIII that a more direct intervention needed to occur by the 1880’s. That action in part lead to the creation of the Scalabrini religious tasked with ministering to those immigrants and the appointment of an Apostolic Delegate to the U.S.
© San Felese Society of New Jersey
Contact Us Home