James A. Toronto, Eric R Dursteler, and Michael W. Homer, "Introduction," in Mormons in the Piazza: History of the Latter-Day Saints in Italy, James A. Toronto, Eric R Dursteler, and Michael W. Homer (Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2017), vii-xvi.

From its founding in 1830, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has vigorously pursued a worldwide program of missionary outreach. Latter-day Saints view proselytizing as a fundamental duty of Christian discipleship deriving from Jesus’ injunction that his disciples go to all the world and teach the gospel to every nation and creature (see Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15). The “Great Mandate,” according to LDS theology, is rooted in the doctrine that human salvation lies in embracing God’s message of universal redeeming grace that is found in its fullness only in Christ and his church, which for Latter-day Saints means the church restored by Joseph Smith in 1830. This mandate has given rise to a strong missionary ethos among church members that emphasizes the benefits to be gained by both missionaries and converts and the urgency of sharing the message worldwide before the imminent return of Christ (see Doctrine and Covenants 4:1–4).

This emphasis on evangelization has produced steady church growth, from six members present at the organizational meeting on 6 April 1830 to a worldwide membership of over fifteen million, located in nearly two hundred countries, and a missionary force of approximately 74,000 serving in 418 missions. The number of church members outside North America (Canada, U.S., and Mexico) recently passed the 50 percent mark and is climbing, most notably in Central and South America, Africa, and the Philippines.[1] The bulk of this growth stems from recruitment rather than fertility: there were about four converts per child baptism in the 1990s with the ratio declining to 2.4 converts per child baptism by 2003.[2]

The church’s international growth has attracted the attention of scholars and journalists who see in Mormonism an informative case for understanding issues in human religious experience such as evangelism, conversion, and the cross-cultural movement of new belief systems. Nearly a century ago, German historian Eduard Meyer, who had an academic interest in the growth of religious movements, asserted that “Mormonism is one of the most instructive examples in the history of religion; it is strange that students of religion often turn to remote and unintelligible sects of past or primitive races for enlightenment, having disdained or ignored the rich source of information which Mormonism offers, with its manifold parallels in other fields of historical research.”[3] More recently, scholars have observed that “LDS growth has attracted the attention of religious leaders, politicians, journalists, and scholars alike who have begun to contemplate the emerging portents of a ‘new religious tradition.’”[4] In addition, sociologist Rodney Stark suggested that examining the growth of Mormonism can shed light on why some religious movements succeed while others fail.[5]

The early evangelization strategy of the church envisioned Italy, the home of the Catholic Church, as a focal point for declaring the message of Mormonism in Europe and, from there, expanding to the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. In 1849, Lorenzo Snow of the Quorum of the Twelve and Joseph Toronto, an Italian convert, were called by Brigham Young to go to the Italian peninsula and there begin to establish a foothold for the church. They arrived in Italy in 1850 and, concluding that the major cities promised few prospects because of Catholic influence, began their missionary labors among the Protestant Waldensian people of northwestern Piedmont. Their efforts set in motion a series of events that provided the momentum for early church growth and the immigration of Italian converts to Utah before the mission was closed in 1867 and subsequently reopened in 1966. In the past half century since then, the Mormons have gradually established a small but enduring presence in the Italian piazza—the public square found in cities throughout Italy that lies, literally and figuratively, at the center of civic life.

A comprehensive account and thorough analysis of the people, events, and issues related to this important chapter in church history have never been published. Our research seeks to fill this gap in the literature by presenting historical information and analysis concerning the growth of Mormonism in Italy, issues surrounding the internationalization of the church, the emergence of new religious movements in Europe’s evolving religious marketplace, and conversion and retention in faith communities that aggressively pursue missionary outreach.

The aim of this study is twofold: to tell the story of the rise of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Italy in order to shed light on the doctrines, strategies, methods, and challenges associated with its mission; and to understand more clearly the formation, consolidation, and expansion of new religious movements. The following are among the questions we explore: How is it that a religion born in the Protestant frontiers of nineteenth-century America is transplanted and takes root in the Catholic soil of modern Italy? What are the social, political, economic, and religious factors that have facilitated or inhibited the growth of the church in Italy? Why have Italian converts both embraced and struggled to adjust to a Mormon way of life, and how has the church adapted to suit the Italian context? In what ways has Mormon missionary work evolved over time in response to the circumstances of a world in constant flux?

Although there has been much written about LDS missiology, this volume seeks to contribute to the literature on Mormonism by addressing a number of issues: (1) In Italy, serious academic study on the topic of Mormonism is scarce, even though there is a rich literature about the Italian religious economy. (2) Mission histories often focus on the perspective of American missionaries while treating lightly the local setting and the insights to be gained by examining the personal experience of the converts themselves. (3) There is a dearth of research about the strategies, methods, and challenges of missions since the mid-twentieth century. (4) Only a small number of studies have provided a comprehensive historical perspective, examining issues such as organization, policies, immigration, and conversion/retention over an extensive time period in order to understand how Mormon evangelization has changed and evolved.[6] (5) Finally, few histories place the growth of the church in a broader context of missiology and new religious movements, trying to shed added light on the process of conflict, change, and accommodation that characterizes the establishment of fledgling belief systems and leads to the rise of new world religions.

To these ends, all information and analysis presented is grounded in primary source material: original documents, journals, diaries, autobiographies, correspondence, interviews, newspapers articles, and mission reports. We have relied heavily on material that reflects the perspectives, attitudes, insights, and ideas of Italian church members, scholars, and informed observers in order to illuminate what the church experience has been for the Italians and to understand local conditions that shape those experiences for members, leaders, and missionaries. Archival and Italian language materials thus form a major component of the data gathered and analyzed. The result is a familiar story seen from a very different perspective.

This volume highlights the human drama associated with the encounters between foreign missionaries and local spiritual seekers, discussing the tensions and adjustments that result at both the individual and institutional levels and exploring the implications of religious growth across obstacles of faith, geography, and culture. Our overall argument is that Mormonism’s trajectory of change from an obscure spiritual movement into an international faith community—like that of other new religions—has emerged from a complex interplay of historical forces, political imperatives, socioeconomic conditions, intrinsic spiritual appeal, capacity for redefinition and renewal, and religious proclivities of church members and potential converts.

Chapters 1 through 4 recount the story of the opening of the Italian Mission in 1850 through its close in 1867. Chapter 5 discusses how Italian converts emigrated to Mormon settlements during the nineteenth century and integrated into a new society. Chapters 6 and 7 survey the periodic presence of Mormons in Italy after 1867 and the events leading up to the re-opening of a new Italian Mission almost one hundred years later. Chapters 8 through 14 examine the history of the new twentieth-century mission even as Mormonism in Italy marched into the twenty-first century.


The impetus for this research project grew out of our service as missionaries in Italy and our desire to deepen our understanding of LDS missiology. Beyond the mission experience, each of us has Italian family roots and/or personal experience living and working professionally in Italy. Our research has spanned more than fifteen years and benefited from the contributions of many individuals and institutions to whom we express our deepest appreciation.

In Italy, Flora Ferrero of Pomaretto provided us with many original documents and shared her time and expertise in helping us understand nineteenth-century Waldensian/Mormon life and emigration to Utah. She also reviewed the manuscript and offered many valuable comments and insights. Stefano Sappè of San Germano guided us through Waldensian historical sites with expert commentary. The staff of the Waldensian cultural center, library, and archives in Torre Pellice were unfailingly patient and helpful, including Pastor Giorgio Tourn, past president; Drssa. Donatella Sommani, director; Drssa. Gabriella Ballesio, archivist; and Drssa. Mariella Tagliero, librarian. Dr. Massimo Introvigne, director of CESNUR (Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni) in Turin, wrote a helpful critique of an early draft of the book, and his colleagues, Dr. PierLuigi Zoccatelli and Luca Ciotta, offered expert advice and ready access to the library’s extensive holdings on new religions. Ms. Francesca Rocci of the Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento, Turin, provided invaluable assistance in locating nineteenth-century newspaper sources. Personnel at the Gioelle Solari Library, University of Turin, helped locate secondary historical and sociological sources, including Franca Zeppegno, Gabriella Nanni, Mara Cusano, Danilo Celentano, Stella Patrizi, David Panin, and Elda Delpiano. Dssa. Daniella Santus, Geography Department, University of Turin, provided helpful guidance and data. Maurizio and Antonella Bellomo helped with logistical support and surveys of Italian missionaries who served in Italy, and their colleagues Luigi DeMatteis, Giovanni Ascione, Salvatore Caruso, and Felice Lotito in the Church Educational System assisted in gathering historical materials and administering the Italian returned missionary survey. Dr. Ugo Perego, also a Church Educational System supervisor, read and made helpful comments on the draft manuscript. Giuseppe Pasta, head of public affairs in Italy, shared much insight and data about the church’s efforts to achieve an Intesa and to build a more positive image in Italy. Employees at the church’s administrative offices (Centro Servizi) in Milan—Angela Taranto, Roberto Cremonesi, Michele Di Cataldo, and Angela Carattoni Noda—responded willingly to our queries about the legal, historical, and statistical aspects of church growth. Senator Lucio Malan and Dottoressa Anna Nardini of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers graciously granted interviews and offered insider perspective about church-state relations in Italy and the status of religious minorities.

Elsewhere in Europe, Wilfried Decoo (University of Antwerp) reviewed early drafts and the final draft and offered detailed suggestions to help us refine our narrative and analysis. Bernadette Rigal-Cellard (University of Bordeaux) reviewed an early manuscript and made constructive criticisms that we found beneficial.

At Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, Rodney Boynton collaborated closely during the early phase of the project in locating sources, taking notes on archival sources, and conducting interviews with church members and leaders in Italy. Steve Bule made available his research on pre-1965 converts in Italy. Richard Neitzel Holzapfel assisted us in obtaining photos about the rededication of Italy in 1966. Mauro Properzi critiqued an early draft of the book, and Valeriano Ugolini helped in translating interview material. The College of Humanities, Religious Studies Center, Joseph Fielding Smith Institute, and David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies provided generous funding and logistical support. In particular, we express gratitude to Thomas A. Wayment, Joany O. Pinegar, Brent R. Nordgren, and Devan Jensen of the BYU Religious Studies Center, including the editors (Austin Ballard, Rebecca Bird, Rachel Gessel, Hadley Griggs, Shanna Clayton, and Rebekah Weaver) and the designers (Carmen Cole, Madison Swapp, and Alex Masterson). Our research assistants—Jason Hayward, David Charles, Celina Charles, Eric Hazen, Ryan Thomas, Daniel Daynes, Laura White, Daniel Doxey, Collins Carrington, and Jordana Cashman—spent long hours laboring in library stacks and archival reading rooms to ferret out sources for this project.

The staff of the Church History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City—including Steve Sorenson, Bill Slaughter, Ron Watts, and Jay Burrup—provided expert and patient guidance over the years. Sal Velluto, webmaster of the Bella Sion website, provided access to his research on Mormon presence in Italy, especially during World War II.

Finally, we are indebted to the hundreds of members and missionaries whose experiences form the basis of this Italian story. Their willingness to record their memories and perspectives in personal histories, journals, correspondence, interviews, surveys, photos, and e-mails has yielded the raw materials out of which history is written and human experience is preserved, contemplated, and transmitted from generation to generation.


[1] The data cited are from the Church’s annual statistical report, “Worldwide Statistics,” Mormon Newsroom,

[2] Gary Shepherd and Gordon Shepherd, Mormon Passage: A Missionary Chronicle (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998), section on “Sources of Mormon Growth,” 3–5; and F. Michael Watson, “Statistical Report, 2003,” Ensign, May 2004, 26.

[3] Eduard Meyer, The Origin and History of the Mormons: With Reflections on the Beginnings of Islam and Christianity, trans. Heinz F. Rahde and Eugene Seaich (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1961), i. [Ursprung und Geschichte der Mormonen: mit Exkursen über die Anfänge des Islâms un des Christemtums (Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1912)]. See the assessment of Meyer’s historical methods in Arnold H. Green, “Mormonism and Islam: From Polemics to Mutual Respect and Cooperation,” and James K. Lyon, “Mormonism and Islam through the Eyes of a ‘Universal Historian,’” BYU Studies 40, no. 4 (2001).

[4] Gary Shepherd and Gordon Shepherd, Mormon Passage: A Missionary Chronicle (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998): 1.

[5] Rodney Stark, “Preface,” and “The Basis of Mormon Success,” in The Rise of Mormonism, ed. Reid L. Neilson (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), ix, 114–38; and Stark, “The Rise of a New World Faith,” Review of Religious Research 26, no. 1 (September 1984): 18, 25–26. For a critique of Stark’s controversial growth projections, see Lowell C. Bennion and Lawrence A. Young, “The Uncertain Dynamics of LDS Expansion, 1950–2020,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 29, no. 1 (Spring 1996): 8–32, and Stark’s article affirming his original thesis, “Modernization and Mormon Growth: The Secularization Thesis Revisited,” in Contemporary Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives, ed. Marie Cornwall, Tim B. Heaton, and Lawrence A. Young (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994): 13–23.

[6] Some previous comprehensive studies include F. LaMond Tullis, Mormons in Mexico: The Dynamics of Faith and Culture (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1987); Marjorie Newton, Southern Cross Saints: The Mormons in Australia, Mormons in the Pacific Series (Laie, Hawaii: Institute for Polynesian Studies, Brigham Young University-Hawaii, 1991); Rodolfo Acevedo A., Los Mormones en Chile (Santiago, Chile: Impresos y Publicaciones Cumora, 1991); R. Lanier Britsch, From the East: The History of the Latter-day Saints in Asia,1851-1996 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1998); and Christian Euvrard, Socio-Histoire du Mormonisme en France. Thèse de doctorat (Paris: École Pratique des Hautes Etudes, 2008).