Bishop Scalabrini discusses plight of immigrants with President Theodore Roosevelt

Giovanni Baptista Scalabrini created religious order that ministered to Italian immigrants.

Giovanni Baptista Scalabrini (1839-1905) played a vital, even indispensable role in nurturing the religion of masses of Catholic Italian immigrants to the United States. Born in Como, Italy, he was ordained a priest in 1863, taught for several years in a minor seminary and was consecrated bishop of Piacenza in 1870. An indefatigable pastor, he labored steadfastly to reform the local church. Personally visiting towns and countryside, he was aware of the heavy exodus of tens of thousands of Italians who left for the New World, unaccompanied by Italian speaking clergy and ill-prepared to deal with the strange and sometimes hostile environment. They also were confronted by unfamiliar Catholic Church practices in the new countries.

Earnestly concerned with the spiritual welfare of the sojourners, Bishop Scalabrini convened a diocesan synod to consider the matter. He wrote and lectured extensively on the plight of the emigrants. He was instrumental in organizing the St. Raphael Society that labored to assist them and founded the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Charles, popularly known as Scalabrinians, who made it their task to assist the immigrants in religious and social ways. With papal approval Bishop Scalabrini set up an Apostolic College in Piacenza to train priests for overseas work and the first of his missionaries were sent to New York charged with aiding Italians preserve their language and their culture as a way of preserving their faith. Hundreds of Scalabrinian missionaries have served in this role by establishing immigrant receiving societies and sites, parishes, seminaries, retreat houses, ethnic newspapers, and senior citizen housing. In 1901 and 1904 Scalabrini made two memorable trips to the United States where he witnessed first hand the work of the missionaries. He also met with President Theodore Roosevelt to discuss the plight of immigrant people. Bishop Scalabrini was also instrumental in convincing Mother Francesca Xavier Cabrini to assist Italian immigrants in the United States.

The Scalabrini legacy is impressive and continuous as the religious order ministers to newer Catholic immigrant groups from other countries and otherwise champions the immigrants' cause. The cause for Bishop Scalabrini's sainthood received a boost in 1997 when the Catholic Church declared him venerable -the last stage before sainthood.

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