How the Italians became Irish

12 07 2008

On Immigration, Folk Beliefs, and the Rationalization of American Catholicism

“Pagan! Heathen! Idolator!” These were among the epithets hurled at the Italian immigrants around the turn of the century. In addition to being viewed as potential mafiosi or anarchists, the sons of Italy had the further onus of being regarded as the bearers of anti-Christian beliefs and practices. The “Italian Problem” in its religious manifestation had been discovered by American churchmen, both Catholic and Protestant, well before 1900. In the following decades much energy, money, and ink were expended in efforts to find solutions to this “problem.” What exactly was the nature of the Italian Problem? With few exceptions, American Protestants and Catholics agreed that the Italian immigrants were characterized by ignorance of Christian doctrine, image worship, and superstitious emotionalism. In short, they were not true Christians.
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