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The importance of religion to Italians is an issue that is outside the scope of this short section of the Celebrating Alberta's Italian Community website.  Other Italian community historians have written about whether Italian immigrants were wedded to religion or not.  Their observations are not about the spiritual life but, rather, about the power of the Italian church in Italy and opposition to that power, which made some Italians anti-clericalist.  Having said this, the Roman Catholic Church is the established church of Italy and its history is intertwined with the history of Italy.  It's central role in not only the spiritual life of Italians but also their customs and traditions is unquestionable.  This is what immigrants from Italy brought to Alberta.

Santa Maria Goretti Church, Edmonton.  Photo is copyright of Adriana Albi Davies and the Heritage Community Foundation, 2002.Italian culture values religion-or generally a spiritual and moral outlook on life.  The church blesses all rites of passage in life-marriage, birth, death, and feast days give shape to the seasons and  feast days, Christmas and Easter.  All hold great both religious and secular significance. 

Religion The traditional image of the Blessed Virgin has around it the factories, constructions sites and other places of work of the immigrants in the new land, as well as the beautiful countryside they left behind.  The painting is reproduced in Vangelisti, Gli Italiani in Canada. and the church have had particular importance in immigrant communities.  At the end of the 19th century, the Scalabrini order, a missionary group, was set up to tend to the spiritual and community needs of Italian immigrants abroad.  In Alberta, the order is important because its priests set up the Italian parishes in both Edmonton and Calgary. The priests tended not only to the spiritual needs of the immigrants, but also helped people find work, translated for those who did not understand English, and generally acted as social workers.

In Edmonton, Italians worshipped in the basement of Sacred Heart Parish and also the chapel at the General Hospital (celebrated by a Father Luigi of the Salesian order) but, as their numbers increased, a need was expressed for a church as a community gathering place.  Priests who spoke the Italian language had sometimes been available to officiate, for example, Oblates of Mary Immaculate but, now, the community looked to an order that had been established in northern Italy in the 19th century to care for the needs of immigrants to North America.  The Scalibrini Fathers were approached as community members including Angelo Biasutto, Enrico Butti and Pat Giannone discussed the establishment of church in the mid-1950s. 

Interestingly enough, the original meeting had to do with the establishment of the Cristoforo Colombo Soccer Club and building a facility for them.  When it was discovered that up to $35,000 was required, it was decided that better use could be made of the funds and the piece of land that had been given to the Club in trust by the City to establish a church.  That explains why the Italian church was built next door to Clarke StadiumSports and religion have always been close in the hearts of Italian men!  In December 1957, Father Giovanni Bonelli and Father Rino Ziliotto, Missionaries of St. Charles (Scalabrini Fathers), arrived in Edmonton.  They stayed at the Archbishop's residence and with a committee of layman began planning Santa Maria Goretti Church.  Construction was begun on September 8th, 1958 and the Church dedicated on December 21. The priests, experienced in not only tending to the spiritual life of their parishioners, but also promoting the preservation of the Italian language and traditions promoted the development of a range of social, educational and recreational societies.


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