Luigi Sturzo

Luigi Sturzo was born in Caltagirone (Catania) on November 26, 1871, into an aristocratic farming family. He was educated at the seminaries of Acireale and then Noto.

The publication of Rerum novarum (1891), the first encyclical on the condition of the working classes, and the mass protests of peasants and Sicilian sulphur miners, known as the “Fasci”, led Sturzo to make social commitment a guiding theme of his philosophical studies.

While studying at the Gregorian University in Rome, he became caught up in the cultural fervour of young Catholics of the time, who were attracted by the neo-Thomist tendencies of the forerunners of Democrazia Cristiana (Italy’s Christian Democrats party). The young Sturzo was an enthusiastic supporter of Pope Leo XIII, author of Rerum novarum. At the same time, he became a strong critic of the liberal state, of its centralism, and of the practice of “trasformismo” (whereby political opponents were transformed into allies in order to obtain a parliamentary majority); he also condemned the absence of a policy for the South of Italy.

In 1895 Sturzo founded the first parish committee and workers’ section within the parish of San Giorgio; in Caltagirone, he also created the first rural banks and cooperatives. In the ambit of the Catholic organisation Opera dei Congressi, he supported the non expedit policy (which forbade Catholics from taking part in elections, as candidates or voters), regarding it, however, as a phase of transition towards political engagement, i.e. "abstaining in order to prepare". Sturzo regarded the fight for autonomous municipalities as an ideal “school” in which to gain political training.

After graduating from the Gregorian University in 1898, Sturzo devoted himself entirely to political-organisational activities. With the events of May 1898, the brutal repression of a popular uprising by general Bava Beccaris, the major cities in a state of siege, and the trial of Davide Albertario, it began to be clear that the coexistence of conservatives and democratic Christians within the Opera dei Congressi had become impossible. It was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the unity of Catholics that was so strongly desired by Leo XIII. Sturzo, by this time a priest, tried in vain to encourage, within the Opera dei Congressi, reflection on the problems of the South of Italy, with which he had become deeply acquainted through his direct contact with the peasant classes during the years of the agricultural crisis.

As pointed out by Gabriele De Rosa, few people had Sturzo’s specific knowledge of Sicily’s agricultural and artisan reality and his ability to analyse the negative effects of the process of expansion of industrial capitalism on the fragile markets of the South and on the farmers and craftsmen of the area’s petty and middle bourgeoisie, who were crumbling under the pressure of impossible competition. Among the factors responsible for the disintegration of various artisan classes in Sicily, Sturzo highlighted the 'strong competition from large raw material factories, both at home and abroad', the 'ruinous' infighting among local craftsmen, a shortage of capital, indebtedness, and the impoverishment of rural areas as a result of the agricultural crisis (De Rosa 1982, p. 616).

In 1900, Sturzo gave a series of lectures at the seminary in Caltagirone based on Principi di economia politica (Principles of Economic Policy) by Matteo Liberatore, a Jesuit who was one of the editors of Rerum novarum. In these lectures, Sturzo expressed his strong belief that a more widespread presence of "a large number of worker-owners" would be a factor contributing to greater social stability, as they would be more stable and “less anarchic to society”. Sturzo also taught the philosophy of Rosmini, even though Le cinque piaghe della Chiesa (The Five Wounds of the Holy Church), the main work of this son of the town of Rovereto, was banned by the Church.

In the first years of the new century, Sturzo wrote for the Palermo-based Catholic daily newspaper "Il Sole del Mezzogiorno" and emerged as one of the most ardent pro-southerners, alongside Salvemini and Nitti.

Sturzo’s ideas tended towards administrative and financial decentralisation at regional level and a federation of regions; another idea that featured strongly was that of social struggle, meaning the organisation of peasant resistance and of agricultural credit through the creation of rural banks and cooperatives with a view to promoting an increase in small- and medium-scale agricultural property ownership, a trend that, he felt, should be accompanied by the development of small- and mediumsized industries. Sturzo regarded the municipality as the true basis of civil life. Free from state interference, it should not be a bureaucratised body with delegated powers, but rather the master and manager of its own economic activities, starting with public services. In short, he saw the municipality as the authentic expression of local administrative government.

In 1902 the Catholics of Caltagirone, led by Sturzo, emerged as a centrist party within the local administrative government.

In 1905 Sturzo was appointed a provincial councillor; from 1905 to 1920 he also served as a deputy mayor.

During these years in Sicily, Sturzo also wrote poetry and drama reflecting the idea of “art for life” that was dear to the Catholics of the time, from Giuseppe Sacchetti to Filippo Meda.

Sturzo’s speech on the problems faced by Catholics in national life, given in Caltagirone on 24 December 1905, marked a watershed between the traditional position of the militant pro-papal Catholics in the Opera dei Congressi, who obeyed the non expedit rule, and the new historical phase, which was to lead to the formation of a secular, democratic and constitutional party of Christian inspiration. In this speech, Sturzo in fact outlined the characteristics of a future Catholic party, whose goals were, in 1919, better specified in his appeal “to all free and strong men” and in the manifesto of the newly-founded Italian People’s Party (Partito Popolare Italiano): complete independence from ecclesiastical authorities and avoidance, in the choice of party name, of the label Catholic, so as to set the Italian People’s Party, alongside the other parties, firmly in the ambit of civil life.

In 1915 Sturzo was elected vice-president of National Association of Italian Municipalities.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Sturzo was in favour of Italian intervention. The months leading up to the end of war saw him preparing to establish a national party; in November 1918 he met with a group of friends at the headquarters of the Unione Romana association to lay the foundations of this new party.

His appeal to all free and strong men, which marked the birth of the PPI, was issued on 18 January 1919. At the first party congress (Bologna, 1919), Sturzo reiterated the secular and non-denominational nature of the party and its concept of the state, which differed from those of the other Italian political movements, including Fascism; "we have risen up — he said — to fight the secular state as well as the pantheistic state of liberalism and democracy; we are also opposed to the state as the first ethical principle and to the absolute concept of the pantheistic or deified nation, which is the same thing". At the PPI congress in Venice, Sturzo outlined the concepts for a regionalist reform of the state.

Sturzo’s most important speech on the Italy’s Southern Question (Questione Meridionale), delivered in Naples on 18 January 1923, came between Mussolini’s first government and the Turin congress of the PPI (1923). In it, Sturzo argued that the Mediterranean region represented the natural setting for the growth of the economy of the South. After the Turin congress, Sturzo opposed the Acerbo Law (designed to guarantee Mussolini a majority in Parliament), which unleashed a Fascist backlash against him and made him the target of a vicious press campaign. The Pope’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Gasparri, invited him to resign as leader of the PPI; the parliamentary group voted in favour of the law, in contrast of the group’s original decision for abstention. During the election campaign of 1924, Sturzo still worked actively as a member of the PPI’s executive board; the party, which emerged as the strongest in terms of number of votes, joined the opposition.

After the murder of Giacomo Matteotti, Sturzo supported the views of Alcide De Gasperi, the secretary of the PPI, with regard to the possibility of collaborating with the socialists. However, with the Fascists making very real threats on his life, Sturzo was urged by Cardinal Gasparri to leave Italy. Thus, on 25 October 1924, he left for London.

What was meant to be a stay in London turned out be exile; on 30 March 1925, Sturzo gave a speech that marked the start of a new political phase that was to see him focusing more on the safeguarding of principles than on political formulas. He interpreted Fascism as the "most serious" aspect of unrest and conflict between reaction and democracy that was involving the whole of Europe. During his years in London, Sturzo waged his battle against Fascism in the pages of "People and Freedom" and “L’Aube"; he condemned Mussolini's war on Ethiopia. "He realised – writes De Rosa – that had the French and British not firmly put a stop to Mussolini’s campaign against Ethiopia, it would have been a 'disaster for Italy and for Europe' " (De Rosa 1982, pp. 620-621). In addition, he spoke out against the generals in the Spanish Civil War, warned of the threat posed by Nazism to European civilisation and world peace, condemned the weakness of the democracies in the face of Hitler's aggression, heard the rumblings of war at the Munich Conference, and tried to press the Holy See into taking a stand against the imminent conflict. He supported Roosevelt’s policy of joining forces with the Soviet Union to take on Hitler.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, Sturzo was forced to leave London for New York, where he arrived on 3 October 1940. His exile in the United States lasted six years, during which he founded American People and Freedom, an association of Catholic democrats, and fostered ties with exiles belonging to the Mazzini Society – including Gaetano Salvemini and Lionello Venturi – and with the U.S. academic world. The task that engaged him the most, also on De Gasperi’s prompting, was that of ensuring that the Americans were able to distinguish between Fascism and the Italian people and worked for a treaty that would spare post-war Italy "humiliation and oppression".

On his return to Italy in 1946, Sturzo did not join Democrazia Cristiana, even though he maintained relationships (not always easy ones) with its leading members. He devoted himself to a period of intense journalistic activity, writing in Italy’s main national newspapers in a bid to promote the reconstruction and strengthening of the democratic state.

On 17 December 1952 Sturzo was proclaimed a life senator of the Italian republic by the Italian President Luigi Einaudi, and joined the Mixed Group at the Senate. He died in Rome on 8 August 1959.

Note

For a summary of the Sicilian priest’s life and intellectual journey, see G. De Rosa, L. Sturzo, in Dizionario storico del movimento cattolico italiano 1860-1980, edited by F. Traniello and G. Campanini, vol. II I protagonisti, Casale Monferrato, Marietti, 1982, pp. 614-24. Another essential source is the now classic work by G. De Rosa, Sturzo, Turin, Utet, 1977 (which provides extensive bibliographic references on pages 483-505). Studies of Luigi Sturzo’s thought and work are now too numerous to be listed here. As part of the Opera Omnia of Luigi Sturzo, it is worth noting the publication by, Gangemi Editore, of Bibliografia degli scritti di e su Luigi Sturzo edited by Gennaro Cassiani, Vittorio De Marco and Giampaolo Malgeri.

PERSONAL ARCHIVE

Comprising over 1500 envelopes of documents spanning a great many years (from 1885 to 1959), Luigi Sturzo’s personal archive is the oldest and most substantial collection of records kept by Istituto Luigi Sturzo, to which it was donated by Sturzo himself as a bequest.

This is what he wrote in a letter to Giuseppe Palladino dated 2 October 1958: “It is my express wish that this Institute conserve my manuscripts, a number of copies of my publications, and my collections of articles together with relative material – comments, illustrations, details of dates and other similar circumstances –, and that these be kept in separate rooms using a careful inventory, analytical lists and classification systems to ensure that each file and document is readily retrievable. To achieve this, I wish that the collaboration of Prof. Gabriele De Rosa be sought” (Istituto Luigi Sturzo, Historical Archive, Luigi Sturzo archive, b. 800).

Given the historical importance of this documentation, much of which relates to the crisis of the liberal state, the rise of Fascism, Sturzo’s years of exile and the problems of post-war reconstruction, on 10 June 1966 the archive was declared to be of great historical interest by the Soprintendenza archivistica per il Lazio (Ministry of Culture).

The archive is divided into three main sections:

Corrispondenza (Correspondence)

This section contains documents, in particular correspondence and records, bearing witness to Sturzo’s life’s work, and it is divided chronologically into the following four parts:

  • Part I 1891-1924: 25,000 documents catalogued analytically on paper inventory
  • Part II 1924-1940: 25,000 documents catalogued analytically on paper inventory
  • Part III 1940-1946: 25,000 documents catalogued analytically on paper inventory
  • Part IV 1946-1959: 840 envelopes of documents currently being catalogued and entered into digitalised analytical inventory

Scritti (Writings)

This section contains Sturzo’s short writings, in particular his journalistic output, in their various versions. It comprises:

  • "Early writings 1885-1924": 800 analytically catalogued documents. Paper and digitalised inventory being completed
  • "London writings 1924-1940": 468 analytically catalogued documents. Paper and digitalised inventory
  • "American writings 1940-1946": 449 analytically catalogued documents. Paper and digitalised inventory
  • "Later writings 1946-1959" around 1000 documents awaiting cataloguing.

Opere (Works)

These documents in this section, not yet catalogued, are mainly monographs, i.e. the many essays and works written by Sturzo during his life.