Community and Church: the Italian “problem” in Australia during the inter-war years.
The mass migration of Italians to Anglo-Saxon countries, such as the USA and Australia, caused a great amount of discontent in religious circles, so much so that Italian migrants have been considered a religious “problem”. One of the greatest contributors to the Italian “problem” was the folk religion of the new arrivals. They had very little or no instruction in the doctrines of the Catholic Church and their folk religion was considered a “syncretic melding of ancient pagan beliefs, magical practices and Christian liturgy”.1 This paper will examine the Italian “problem” in Australia. It will establish that the “problem” did exist in Australia before the Second World War, a period that has been considered by scholars to be a period of non-activity and has consequently been neglected. Quite often it is believed that, due to small numbers and remote settlement patterns, Italian migrants did not pose a “real challenge” to the Catholic Church in Australia before the Second World War.2 This paper will look at the attitudes of the Australian Catholic hierarchy to Italian migrants in Australia during the inter-war years and how the Australian bishops attempted to care for Italian migrants by providing them with Italian-speaking Irish priests who, in some cases, sufficed, but were not a complete answer to the “problem”. The Italian priests who worked among Italian migrants in Australia during the 1920s were Fr Vincenzo de Francesco, Fr Severino Mambrini and Bishop Coppo. This paper will examine the methods used by these priests to bring Italian migrants back to the Church.