Padre Agostino Gemelli and the crusade to rechristianize Italy, 1878–1959: Part one

J. Casey Hammond, University of Pennsylvania


Padre Agostino Gemelli (1878-1959) was an outstanding figure in Catholic culture and a shrewd operator on many levels in Italy, especially during the Fascist period. Yet he remains little examined or understood. Scholars tend to judge him solely in light of the Fascist regime and mark him as the archetypical clerical fascist. Gemelli founded the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan in 1921, the year before Mussolini came to power, in order to form a new leadership class for a future Catholic state. This religiously motivated political goal was intended to supersede the anticlerical Liberal state established by the unifiers of modern Italy in 1860. After Mussolini signed the Lateran Pacts with the Vatican in 1929, Catholicism became the official religion of Italy and Gemelli’s university, under the patronage of Pope Pius XI (1922-1939), became a laboratory for Catholic social policies by means of which the church might bring the Fascist state in line with canon law and papal teachings. Despite Gemelli’s accommodations to the state, he maintained relative autonomy for his university. This allowed the leftwing of postwar Christian Democracy to form at the Università Cattolica during Mussolini’s peak years. Thus, the story of Gemelli is more complex than previous scholars have appreciated. My work attempts to give it the meaningful approximation it deserves. By examining Gemelli’s ties to the Risorgimento, the Italian Catholic movement, and the culture and society of his native Milan, I reveal him as a man of consequence even before the onset of Fascism. I also lay out conditions of possibility for his ascendancy among Catholics after Mussolini came to power. Reducing the complexity of Gemelli’s activity to a manifestation of clerical fascism obscures the fact that he, like many Italian Catholics who formed a consensus of sorts with the Fascist state, retained a cultural, social, and political vision that looked beyond Fascism. The story of Padre Gemelli sheds light on the totalizing worldview of Catholicism that predates political totalitarianism and made it difficult to separate religion entirely from politics in Fascist Italy.

Subject Area

Biographies|Religious history|Religious history|European history|Political science

Recommended Citation

Hammond, J. Casey, "Padre Agostino Gemelli and the crusade to rechristianize Italy, 1878–1959: Part one" (2010). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3447482.