- The Jesuits in the United States: The Italian Heritage
In his second volume of Italian-American History, entitled The Italian Contribution to the Catholic Church (1949), Giovanni E. Schiavo provided an encyclopedic [End Page 573] list of Italian male and female religious in the Catholic Church in America, as well as a brief history of every extant Italian national parish. Vincent Lapomarda claims he does not wish to profile every Jesuit with an Italian surname, which "would become more a directory of names than a story of what happened in the past and why it happened" (p. 2). But a series of profiles of Italian immigrant and Italian American Jesuits is exactly what this slim volume offers, with no narrative line, no analysis, and no substantive historiographical discussion. Chapters more or less serve up one-paragraph summaries of the life of an Italian or Italian American Jesuit—date and place of birth, Jesuit province, date of ordination, apostolic activity, date of death.
Unlike many religious congregations of men whose Italian clergy created a separate juridical structure that segregated them from their confreres of other nationalities in the United States (such as the Servants of Mary, the Augustinians, the Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood, the Franciscans Minor, the Capuchins), Italian Jesuits from several Italian provinces and nations worked along- side one another. So why a separate volume on Jesuits of Italian descent? The only rationale Lapomarda offers is ethnocentric and resurrects an ethnic essentialism from an earlier generation: "American Catholic owes a significant debt to Jesuits of Italian background precisely because there was a uniqueness in the Italian character." Italian Jesuits "had lived in a cultural and religious mileu [sic] saturated by the humanitarian spirit of Italian Catholicism rather than by the religious Jansenism of Irish-American Catholicism which haunted the Catholic Church in the United States down to the Second Vatican Council" (p. 4). Lapomarda seems to think that Italian Jesuits more effectively embodied the authentic Ignatian spirituality, although he offers no evidence for this claim. Lapomarda presents Italian national identity as a static variable from the sixteenth to the twentieth century.
In straining to find "Italian" contributions Lapomarda cites outdated Catholic claims from earlier in the century that Roberto Bellarmino—an "Italian"—shaped Thomas Jefferson's ideas about church and state. Lost in a filiopietistic work like this are the supranational ideals and commitments, and the cosmopolitan corporate character of Jesuits, that make the Society of Jesus so fascinating.