Passionists in the United States in 1852: Arrival in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and First Impressions of the United States Culture

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Who were the first Passionist missionaries that came to the United States from Italy without any intense preparation in the language or culture of the United States? The Chronicles of St. Paul Monastery Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1852-1920 located in the Passionist Historical Archives in Union City, NJ offers an insight to these first four men and their impression of their new missionary venture.

On Sunday, November 14, 1852 the first four Passionists arrived by boat in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with Bishop Michael O’Connor of Pittsburgh. They went ashore on November 15 and were provided hospitality by the Vincentian priests who taught at the St. Charles Seminary of Philadelphia. Saint John Neuman was the Bishop of Philadelphia.

After a short rest the group split up. By the end of the week Passionist Father Anthony Calandri and Brother di Giacomo continued on to Pittsburgh. They resided with Bishop O’Connor, and began to survey the apostolic possibilities in the area. Meanwhile, Fathers Albinus Magno and Stanislaus Parczyk remained at the seminary in Philadelphia for about five weeks.

During that time Father Parczyk was asked by the Bishop Neuman “to assist a poor unhappy Polish man,” who had been found guilty of murder condemned to death at the public gallows. Parczyk showed “great zeal for the spiritual welfare” of the criminal as he visited him daily, prior to his execution. On that day Parczyk accompanied the man to scaffold and prayed allowed publicly for the criminal before the execution was carried out. Parczyk also preached on Sunday at a German Catholic Church in Philadelphia. At the same time, Father Magno knew that his success as an effective preacher required he learn English. Immediately he began a course of study. In early December both Passionists arrived in Pittsburgh and joined their fellow Passionists at Bishop O’Connor’s residence.

Father Anthony Calandri was a 35 year old, tall and thin Italian. He possessed a congenial disposition. While he appears to have studied some English, he was not proficient. Calandri’s “simplicity,” “shrewdness” and desire of purpose served him well. He was able to gain respect of the people. He was especially sought out by those who desired him to heal them with the relic of Passionist founder Paul of the Cross. As a missioner Calandri was “very moving.” Penitents found him a good confessor. As a superior he was “zealous, firm, kind, and affectionate.”

Brother Lawrence di Gi Giacomo was the smallest member of the four. He was 26 years old. He had training as a tailor, a trade which he learned with the Passionists in Rome. He also had a basic training in medicine. He possessed a “quick active disposition.” He was a fervent man. This was obvious through his presence at the Passionist regular observance of prayer. In addition, he was quite active in his begging of funds to support the Passionist venture that was just beginning in the United States.

Father Albinus Magno was a 36 year old Italian. He was full sized with a “rudy and healthy complexion.” Intelligent and studious, he also had a good sense for business which went well with his apostolic zeal. His first goal was to learn English and he was considered a fine assistant superior.

Father Stanislaus Parczyk was 37 years old of Polish descent. He was middle sized and was respected for his ability to keep the Passionist religious observance. Because of his knowledge of German, Bishop O’Connor quickly began to utilize Parczyk’s skills to minister to Pittsburgh German Catholics in the South-side Birmingham area of Pittsburgh.

A thirteen-page handwritten summary of observations was written in 1857. It serves as an introduction to the Pittsburgh Chronicles. While it merits greater study, it is appropriate to highlight some key observations which the first group of Passionists had of the United States.

It describes how Bishop O’Connor of Pittsburgh went to Rome. He sought out the Passionists and requested that they come to Pittsburgh. It goes on to describe some first impressions of the United States. The first Passionists found the United States had formed the impression that each immigrant had come to the United States “to better his condition.” Immigrants had a strong desire to attain money and wealth. Farmers found more land, laborers found an abundance of work, the skilled machinist had the possibility of success. The Passionist commentator writes that “Every man is working. Every person is busy….Money must be made, wealth must be acquired. Mammon,” that is monetary prosperity, “is the god of universal worship”in the United States.

The first Passionists considered this quest for prosperity to be a moral dilemma for United States Christians. At the same time, these European missionaries were impressed with the moral principles of the American republic which accentuated citizenship, civil and military service. Such aspects, however, were a fact true in other great commonwealths as well. Unlike Europe, the Passionists noticed the United States’ great mineral wealth, transportation and commerce especially as seen in the expansive roadway, railways, and rivers. The “Democratic nature of its laws” help favor “popular ambition.” Journals and books abound.

Other observations concerned racial makeup of their new mission field. The first Passionists noticed the diversity of people from various nations. They mentioned the “aborigines or American Indians.” They recalled the early Spanish, English, French, and German and African-American influences. In the opinion of the Passionist writer, the English social and political influence had left the strongest cultural impact by in 1852.

Nevertheless, the Passionist knew that preaching the gospel and living their vows were to be a challenge. They knew that the solitude which they hoped to establish at their new Pittsburgh location conflicted with the lack of solitude among the life of everyday people. Passionist evangelical poverty contrasted with love of riches and wealth in the United States. Moreover, a Passionist opposes worldliness with “silent eloquence or by example.” Furthermore, “the Congregation of the Passion is not merely contemplative, but a missionary institution” which has the responsibility to preach the gospel.

It is worthwhile to reflect on the process of inculturation as we celebrate one hundred and fifty years in the United States and the Americas. One of the first Passionist ministries was to witness an execution. We still have the death penalty with us today. In addition, as time progressed, first impressions gave way to greater organization. This required continual adjustment. Four Passionists took the risk to preach the gospel in a new land. As we prepare to celebrate our Passionist experience let us call to mind their efforts in order to understand our own situation today.

Fr. Rob Carbonneau, C.P.
Historian and Director of The Passionist Historical Archives.
June 17, 2001

Please contact me at [email protected] if you have any comments.

Copyright Passionist Historical Archives 2001. All rights reserved. Permission of Archives needed for publication.