SION/ Logo - General History

Rebirth of the Church in Italy
By Paul H. Kelly

Claude Burtenshaw
Italian front: Claude Burtenshaw (in the oval) and friends stand next to the "Deseret" Jeep.

Claude Burtenshaw

Claude Burtenshaw was a Chaplain's Assistant in Italy. Claude probably touched the lives of more soldiers for good than any man I know of who was not a General Authority. For eleven months in 1944, he wrote and distributed a newsletter to over 2,000 LDS men and women in Italy. From the one dated 4 July 1944: "In spite of war, our missionary work goes on. Four men of this theater have accepted the gospel and entered in at the gate. To those men we extend a welcoming hand and accept them as brothers in the gospel."
"Courage In A Season of War," page 41

Pietro and Felicita
Snaidero and Luigi Pittino
Comerzo (Como): Pietro and Felicita Snaidero and Luigi Pittino
Italy, 1963

I finished Officer's Training School and was commissioned a second lieutenant, United States Air Force on 5 February 1963. My first duty assignment---Aviano Air Base, Italy.

     When Deanne and I arrived at Aviano there was no Church unit there. While clearing onto the base, the Chaplain's office gave me a list of all those who indicated LDS as their religious preference. I contacted each of them and found about a dozen who wanted to meet with us.

     I wrote President John M Russon, of the Swiss Mission and told him of our arrival. He immediately wrote back inviting all our members to a District Conference at the Vicenza Army Post.
President John Duns Jr.
President John Duns Jr.
On that Sunday President Russon and Johns Duns, Jr., set me apart as the group leader at Aviano. That same day we traveled with President and Sister Russon and Sister Roma Bartotto, the first native Italian to serve a mission in the 20th Century, to find Pietro and Felicita Snaidero and Luigi Pittino in the little town of Comerzo, Udine. Although it was late when we arrived at the Snaidero's home they were still waiting for us in the room they had set aside for their Sunday meetings. Sister Bartotto, fluent in Italian, English, French and German, was our interpreter. Thus began our association with some of the first Italian Saints in our time.

    My wife, then just 20 years old, did a wonderful job of organizing and leading our Relief Society. We had many wonderful experiences.

     For more than two years I served as branch president and as a counselor in the Italy District Presidency. We traveled the length and breadth of Italy numerous times. We knew Don Vincent Di Francesca, whose story is so powerfully told in the film "How Rare A Posession". Following a visit to Italy by Elder Ezra Taft Benson in November, missionaries arrived in Italy of 27 February 1965. Together with President Rendell Mabey we organized a unit of the Church on Sicily, and the established the first branch presided over by an Italian, Leopoldo Larcher.
"BYU Saints at War Conference - Nov. 8th, 2003, Provo, UT"

LDS Church News,
Saturday, December 16, 1995

As Tender a Display as I Ever Witnessed

By Paul H. Kelly

Apostle comforts "fellow servant" touched by hymn. From time to time the Church News receives correspondence that is suitable for publication in the writer's own words. The following was written by Paul H. Kelly of the Woodruff 2nd Ward, Idaho Falls Idaho Ammon West Stake.

In 1964, Italy was under the jurisdiction of the Swiss Mission. The newly established Italy District presidency, of which I was a member, was to go to Naples with John M. Russon, Swiss Mission president, for a conference.

Elder Ezra Taft Benson, then of the Quorum of the Twelve and president of the European Mission, advised us that he would come to Italy in late November with his wife, Flora. We would travel with them. Following our meeting in Naples, Elder Benson and Pres. Russon had appointments in Rome to meet with officials of the Italian government to obtain permission for missionary work to begin in that land after more than 100 years.

   We met at Elder and Sister Benson's hotel on the morning after we had held a conference at Vicenza. As we drove along the Autostrada in the mission Volksbus toward Milano the fog became so thick that it made driving difficult and dangerous. Inside the bus, our concern for the situation was eased as we listened to Elder and Sister Benson relate some of their experiences. They spoke of their family and of how they loved to sing together.

This prompted Pres. Russon to say, "Brother Kelly sings."

Elder Benson said, "You do? Sing for us. Sing "I Stand All Amazed.' "

So I did. I mean - what can you do? I can never hear that hymn but that I remember the mood and the tender, comforting accompanying sweet spirit that singing it produced.

"I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me. Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me. I tremble to know that for me he was crucified. That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died. I marvel that he would descend from his throne divine to rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine." (Hymns, #193.)

  It was an extraordinary experience to do this before such an elect and captive audience as we rode through the dense fog.

After a day of delays due to the murky conditions, we finally arrived in Naples for the second part of our conference. We met in the U.S. Naval Dependent School with a group of members delighted to see the Bensons. During the meeting, Pres. Russon related some of our travel adventures, told of the privilege of being with one of the Twelve that day, of visiting the church in Milano where DaVinci's famous painting, "The Last Supper," adorns a wall.

Pres. Russon talked of our ride through the fog and mentioned that I had been asked to sing. He began to quote the words of the hymn: "I think of his hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt! Such mercy, such love and devotion can I forget? 0h, it is wonderful . . . " As he spoke he began to weep and could not continue. Then in as tender a display as I have ever witnessed, Elder Benson arose, took John Russon in his arms and held him gently as John sought to regain his composure.

At some time we will pass through the veil of death. Then perhaps we may have that soul-melting experience of having the Savior greet, embrace and reassure us. I picture that scene to be similar to what we witnessed on that November evening in Naples, as one of the Lord's anointed comforted a fellow servant.

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© 1995 LDS Church News and Deseret News Publishing Co.

Paul H. KellyBook CoverPAUL H. KELLY was born and raised in Southeastern Idaho. After serving a mission to the Northern States, he graduated from Brigham Young University in 1962. He served as a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force in California, South Dakota, Italy and the Philippiines. Paul has been an agent with the MONY Group, previously The Mutual Life Insurance Company of New Yourk, since 1978.
    He and his wife, Deanne Packer, live in Idaho Falls, Idaho. They are parents of six children and fifteen grandchildren.

     PAUL H. KELLY and LIN H. JOHNSON are the authors of the book "COURAGE IN A SEASON OF WAR - Latter-day Saints experience World War II"
     This beautiful 552 page hardcover book can be ordered by clicking here

© 2000 - 2004, Paul H. Kelly. Used with permission.
Photographs kindly provided by the author.
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