Presbyterian church, kindergarten, free health clinic, recreation center – the Italian Mission in Old Northeast was many things. As a recent donation of artifacts to the Missouri Valley Special Collections shows, the Mission was a Kansas City cultural hub for the better part of a century.
The Italian Mission was established in 1908 under the sponsorship of the Central Presbyterian Church by Dr. J. B. Bisceglia . First located at 505 Forest with a Central Chapel and Settlement House, its purpose was to spread the beliefs of the Presbyterian Church to the Italians of Kansas City and also provide a community center for Italian families in need.
The Mission was unique in that it was sponsored by the Presbyterian Church and not the Catholic Church, which so many Italian immigrants were members of when arriving in Kansas City.
To help the community, Dr. Bisceglia began a kindergarten, free nursery school for working mothers, a free clinic, adult education programs, and sports teams, to name a few of his programs. Dr. Bisceglia also brought together the Italian immigrants in Kansas City by publishing Il Messagero, which was a newspaper primarily in Italian that included news of the Italian community, literary pieces, poetry, and Italian and American history.
The materials that were donated to the Missouri Valley Special Collections encompass the entire history of the Italian mission and Dr. Bisceglia's life. Some of the materials include photographs, glass slides, sermons, personal papers, church registers and correspondence. The photos, such as these (of the health clinic, the daycare program, and a wedding) showcase the daily lives of neighborhood Italians and their interactions with the Mission.
To schedule an appointment to view the Italian Mission collection, call the Missouri Valley Room at 816-701-3427.
In 1941 the Northeast Community Center was built at Independence Avenue and Wabash Boulevard, and the Central Presbyterian Church moved next door in 1946.
John B. Bisceglia died December 1, 1988, at the age of 97. In 1996 The Bisceglia Cultural Center, in the Northeast Community Center, was opened to carry on his mission of bringing Italian language and culture to the Kansas City community.
Today, the charter school Scuola Vita Nova occupies the Northeast Community Center and is a lasting tribute to Dr. Bisceglia.
– Lucinda Adams