Puzzle pieces come together in ‘Italian Project’

by Becky GINOS


BOUNTIFUL—In 1850, Elder Lorenzo Snow started missionary work in Italy. Now in conjunction with the dedication of the Italian Temple slated for March 2019, a history of the church from then to now is being collected to make up the “Italian Project.”

“We were asked to find a copy of the Book of Mormon in Italian,” said Elder Lorenzo Henry Semadeni who serves as a senior missionary with his wife Virginia at the Church History Library. “They want it for the temple visitors center and there were not many printed. Elder Snow said if they don’t have it in their own language they won’t read it.”

So began the Italian Project. The Semadenis are gathering the history of the church in Italy as a country profile to be used by church leaders as the new temple is completed.

“We’re using reverse genealogy by working with those who are still alive,” he said. “We’ve been looking for missionaries, mission presidents and members to gather the history. It’s kind of like hunting for antiques.”

Through a series of small miracles, the Semadeni’s research led them to Loriano Tolaini who was one of the first members of the church in Pisa, Italy.

Tolaini and his family came to the United States some 20 years ago and he owns a small leather shop in Bountiful.

“His wife was the first to join,” said daughter-in-law Mariangela Tolaini who translated for the Tolainis. “The missionaries had a referral for the person who previously lived in their home. They went to see them but found her instead.”

After a month or two with the missionaries, she decided to be baptized, said Mariangela. “They didn’t have a chapel or anything. She got baptized in a public pool in a nearby town. He (Loriano) joined about eight months later and her mother got baptized too.”

It proved to be a difficult transition, however. “Friends and relatives were not happy about the decision,” she said. “His coworkers made fun of him. There were a lot of misconceptions about the church. He told them, ‘talk to me about work don’t talk to me about the church.’”

There were very few members at that time so the Tolainis had to attend church at an Air Force Base and other places. “It (church) grew over the decades,” said Mariangela. “Pisa got its first chapel and when they left there was about 70 active members in the branch.”

Tolaini served as a Branch President in Pisa and was also instrumental in getting the site where the chapel was built.

Losing relationships was probably the hardest thing, Mariangela said of the Tolainis joining the church. “Especially Italy in the 60s. Back then you became ‘green’ all of a sudden. Some moms didn’t want (their son) Massimo to play with their kids anymore. Massimo wanted to volunteer to drive the ambulance but he was turned down because of his religion.”

It was very different when they came to the U.S., she said. “They didn’t feel different anymore.”

The Tolainis and Semadenis have become good friends and believe their coming together was not by chance. In the meantime, the Semadenis continue to look for others who can add to their Italian Project.

If anyone has information about missionary work in Italy contact the Semadenis at lsemadeni@ldschurch.org.


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