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italian baptists?
by Jill Terry
(return to Molise)

more molise....
* Italian Baptists?
* Rock of Ages
* Molise Cuisine
* What do you know about Molise?
* Molise region
* More Italian regions...
J John Conti left his hometown of Carovilli in what was then the Abruzzi region (now Molise) in 1898. He eventually settled in Providence, Rhode Island, where he worked as a stonecutter, a trade that he had learned in Italy. He and his friends from the Campobasso province, the Triangolos, became even friendlier once he met their pretty sister, Elena. As gregarious as he was reserved, their union seemed an ideal balance of temperaments.

In fact, all of the Triangolos had a certain gift for extemporizing - they all spoke well and possessed a charming ingenuousness that many people found irresistible. But times were hard in the first decade of the 20th century and like most Italians, the Triangolos and John Conti expected that their church would come to their aid, providing necessities such medical help and language instruction. Even the Triangolo charm, however, could not induce the local Catholic church to provide this type of assistance. Furthermore, the church warned its parishioners to stay clear of the Protestant missions in the area - sacrilege was implied.

But John Conti and the Triangolos didn't come to America to exercise their compliance. And as they looked around at their community in Providence, they saw that members of the Catholic church, members who supported their church weekly with whatever little money they could spare, received virtually no help in return. Hospitals were too expensive and there weren't enough clinics to treat Providence's growing population.

Off to the Protestant mission they went, partly out of curiosity, partly out of hope. What they found was the assistance they sought from their own church but never received. Medical care was accessible and often free. English lessons could be had by anybody with an interest to learn. Elena availed herself of this opportunity immediately and within months, took a job as an interpreter for the local immigrants. The mission was supported by the nearby First Baptist Church and soon, John and the Triangolos were regular attendees at Sunday services. Within months, John and Elena were married in the First Baptist Church.

Friends and neighbors began to look askance at the Triangolos, leery of Italians who would eschew Catholicism. As the family's devotion to their new faith grew, so did their determination to spread the word about the benefits of Protestantism. His brother-in-law, Carl, learned the language by reading the classics (Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, and earlier English classics). The better the brothers' English, the more they proselytized on street corners, often on the receiving end of flying objects from their audiences. Elena, once a woman welcome in everyone's home, became known, derisively, in the community as the Protestante. Only John, quiet and reserved, taught himself English and opted not to act as disciple for the Baptists. This lack of preaching was not a reflection of his faith, but his childhood in Carovilli had taught him to keep him emotions to himself and he could not change now, not even for his wife or her family.

Not that they minded or even needed his help. By the 1920's, the Triangolos and the Contis established the First Italian Baptist Church, a place not only for worship but where immigrants could find the help they needed to settle into their new country. The medical clinic they established helped hundreds during its operation and within a few years, membership in their church had grown to a point where they needed a bigger building. That new building, now known as Emmanuel Baptist Church on Charles Street in Providence, still stands today, testament to the fierce dedication of a small group of Italian immigrants.


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