In 1850, three years after the Mormon pioneers arrived in Utah, Jean Antoine Bosc became the first member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Italy. Since that time, Church members have waited for the day when they would have a Latter-day Saint temple on Italian soil. That dream came closer to reality when Church President Thomas S. Monson announced plans for a temple in Rome on 4 October 2008.
Latter-day Saints have a rich history in Italy. The first Latter-day Saint missionaries in Italy left their homes in the United States and arrived in Genova on 25 June 1850. Elders Lorenzo Snow, who later became the Church’s fifth president, Thomas B.H. Stenhouse and Joseph Toronto, a native of Sicily, began their missionary work in the mountainous Piedmont region near Torino. Religious freedom had just been granted in that area by the King of Sardinia a year earlier.
Over the next three years, between 1850 and 1854, a total of 221 people were baptized and organized into three branches of the Church in Angrogne, St. Germain and St. Bartholomew. During that time a missionary tract, The Voice of Joseph, and the Book of Mormon were both published in Italian.
Most proselytizing in Italy ceased in the early 1860’s because of local opposition and a request from Church leaders for Italian members to immigrate to Utah in the United States. The Italian mission was officially closed in 1862. An attempt was made in 1900 to re-open the mission, but legal permission was refused. It would be another 40 years before the Church would have a formal presence in Italy when foreign servicemen were stationed in the country.
The Church was established again among the people of Italy when Vincenzo di Francesca joined the Church in 1951. His conversion resulted from his chance finding of a burned copy of the Book of Mormon whose cover and title page were missing. During this period, Italians joined the Church in other countries, bringing their new faith back to Italy with them. They began attending Church services with LDS servicemen stationed in the country which resulted in the establishment of several new branches (An LDS branch is similar in size to a Catholic parish.) The first of these was in Naples, organized on 28 April 1963. In 1964 the Church republished the Book of Mormon in Italian and by year end Church records showed 229 Church members living in Italy.
That year Elder Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who would later become the Church’s 13th president, petitioned the Italian government for permission to resume missionary work in the country. Permission was granted and 20 Italian-speaking missionaries entered the country on 27 January 1965 to begin working in Turin, Milan, Brescia, Verona, Vicenza, Pordenone, Como and Varese.
Membership growth was slow but steady throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s with new missions created in Rome, Padova and Catania. By 1978, Church membership in Italy passed 7,000. By 1990 it was 14,000.
To accommodate Church growth, stakes (similar in concept to a diocese) were organized in Milan (1981), Venice (1985), Puglia (1997), Rome (2005), Alessandria (2007) and Verona (2008). Today Church membership in Italy exceeds 22,600 in 102 congregations, with many Church members being second and third generation Latter-day Saints.