From the perspective of historical sociology, Richard N. Juliani traces the role of religion in the lives and communities of Italian immigrants in Philadelphia from the 1850s to the early 1930s. By the end of the nineteenth century, Philadelphia had one of the largest Italian populations in the country. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia eventually established twenty-three parishes for the exclusive use of Italians. Juliani describes the role these parishes played in developing and anchoring an ethnic community and in shaping its members' new identity as Italian Americans during the years of mass migration from Italy to America.
Priest, Parish, and People blends the history of Monsignor Antonio Isoleri—pastor from 1870 to 1926 of St. Mary Magdalen dePazzi, the first Italian parish founded in the country—with that of the Italian immigrant community in Philadelphia. Relying on parish and archdiocesan records, secular and church newspapers, archives of religious orders, and Father Isoleri's personal papers, Juliani chronicles the history of St. Mary Magdalen dePazzi as it grew from immigrant refuge to a large, stable, ethnic community that anchored "Little Italy" in South Philadelphia. In charting that growth, Juliani also examines conflicts between laity and clergy and between clergy and church hierarchy, as well as the remarkable fifty-six-year career of Isoleri as a spiritual and secular leader. Priest, Parish, and People provides both the details of parish history in Philadelphia and the larger context of Italian-American Catholic history.
"While Priest, Parish, and People is in itself a rich ethnographic story about a most unusual priest, a particular Philadelphia parish, and the growth of parishes to meet the needs of a rapidly growing immigrant population, it is also an important story of the struggle between Irish and Italian cultures in the assimilation process, and an interesting insight into church politics and the workings of the Roman Catholic Church." —William V. D'Antonio, Catholic University of America
"This is a well-written, in-depth study of Philadelphia's Italian Catholic community. Focusing on a parish and its remarkable pastor, it chronicles the progress of an Italian immigrant parish from its earliest days in the mid-nineteenth century to its emergence as the social and religious center for the Italian community in the early twentieth century. For the author, writing this history was clearly a labor of love. He has provided all of us with a chapter in the history of Philadelphia Catholicism that was long overdue." —Jay P. Dolan, author of In Search of an American Catholicism: A History of Religion and Culture in Tension