ICF Convention Float, Oakland, 1948
The Italian Catholic Federation has a long and proud tradition. It offers it members a chance to share their heritage and faith in a friendly and supportive atmosphere. Always a family organization, many members come from families that have been active in the federation for several generations. It is a vital force in many parishes and dioceses, offering support to local pastors and bishops. Aware that knowledge of the past is essential to understanding the present, members of the ICF celebrate its history and learn from the history of immigration in the United States.
In the early 20th century, after years of immigration and assimilation in the United States, Italian immigrants were beginning to lose their culture and faith. Church attendance and Catholic observances slowly declined among the immigrants, as did their pride in being Italian. Their rich Italian Catholic heritage was at risk of being lost.
In 1924 the concept of a lay apostolate organization, to unite Italian Catholics in their Faith, community, and pride in shared heritage, was formulated in San Francisco by two remarkable men. It would be called the Italian Catholic Federation, and the men who envisioned it were ICF co-founders Luigi Providenza and Father Albert Bandini.
Luigi Providenza, born in Genoa, was a radical idealist who rose to the position of Chairman of Italy’s Popular Party. At 26, following three Communist attempts on his life, he emigrated to America and settled in San Francisco where he got a job with the weekly Italian paper, L’Unione. Calling upon Italian families, he was appalled to find that many of them had lost their Faith. He decided that something had to be done, and, after much prayer and soul-searching, he formulated a plan for a kind of fraternal/apostolate organization. But when he proposed it to influential Italians he knew through his union and publishing contacts, he was disappointed to receive little encouragement. So the resourceful and stubborn Providenza took his idea to local priests, and found the ears, the enthusiasm, and the evangelical spirit he sought. The concept took force, yet Luigi Providenza was a visionary and a promoter, not a writer, a businessman, or a planner, and how to structure this organization eluded him. He was to later say, “I had the idea of the ICF, but another man gave it form and a program which gave me something concrete around which I could organize people—plain, everyday people.” That other man was Reverend Albert R. Bandini.
Reverend Albert R. Bandini
Bandini, son of an influential Florentine family, was a scholar, a poet, and an attorney. He came to California to help his beloved Italians at a time when American bishops were calling for the services of Italian speaking priests. Teaching in New York, he came under the eye of Theology Professor Reverend Edward J. Hanna, who would later become the Archbishop of San Francisco. Rev. Bandini followed the Professor to San Francisco in 1915 and began doing pastoral work. He too was chagrined at the spiritual state of many Italians he ministered to. Inevitably, Rev. Bandini’s path crossed that of Luigi Providenza and the two men, the practical Genovese and the intellectual Florentine, found themselves of one mind about founding an organization for local Italian-Americans. They were remarkably well suited to succeed in such an undertaking, as Providenza was a vigorous populist, with an immediate connection with the minds of the immigrants, and Bandini’s formal education, legal mind and literary skills would serve the Federation well.
Providenza and Rev. Bandini set themselves to work in 1924, assisted by enthusiastic and dedicated people — laymen, laywomen, and priests. Bandini began roughing out an organizational structure, and Luigi began gathering people together. On June 15th the first organizational meeting took place at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, deep in San Francisco’s Mission District. Present were: John Musso, chairman, Nicola Pagliettini, Carmela Bedolla, Katie Musante, Guilio Marchetti, Pasquale Magliori, Leonard Ventimiglia, Amadeo Sola, Camillo Savarese, Serafina Canessa, Luigi Providenza, Rev. Antonio Durantini O. F. M., and Rev. Albert Bandini. The group, awaiting the results of discussions with Archbishop Edward J. Hanna concerning his approval of an ICF, first termed themselves a “parochial society” within the parish. Rev. Durantini, Pastor, deserves much credit for hosting the meeting before receiving formal approval from the Bishop.
Bishop Hanna’s approval was given in October, 1924, and soon afterwards the Italian Catholic Federation was duly incorporated. Branch #1 at Immaculate Conception Church was formed on December 7th, with 300 members signing up.
The original Central Council consisted of the Founding Members: Rev. Antonio Durantini, John Musso, Nicola Pagliettini, Katie Musante, Guilio Marchetti, Pasquale Magliori, Leonard Ventimiglia, Amadeo Sola, Camillo Savarese, Luigi Providenza, and Rev. Albert Bandini.
The Italian Catholic Federation logo consists of four letters positioned around a cross. They are the initials of these words: Faith, Patria (or Fatherland), Italy, and America. Below the cross is the Latin phrase IGNEM VENI MITTERE. The English translation of this phrase is I CAME TO LIGHT A FIRE, which is the motto of the Federation.
As branches began rapidly to open in the coming years, a pattern emerged which involved a large installation celebration some time following the formation meeting, which typically coincided with the giving of a mission by an ICF Missionary Priest. Installations would begin with a morning Mass, followed by a civic ceremony and/or luncheon, a parade through the streets of the city, drill team and drum corps competitions, the selection of a queen and her court, and, finally the banquet.
In organizing the founding group and seeing the opening of the first ICF branch, Providenza and Bandini saw the initial realization of their goal to “awaken a more intense Christian life among the Italian population in California.” The organization which became the Italian Catholic Federation was envisioned to be “primarily a parochial society upon which the local pastor could rely on for his work.” But it was to become something much more than that. It would encompass a spirit and vitality that decades later would grow, at its peak, to 30,000 members in 225 branches in five states, and whose charitable works within and beyond parish boundaries would assist, elevate, enrich, and invigorate the lives of countless numbers of people.