Alfredo Del Rosso, founder of the Nazarene church in Italy

An Italian captivated by a vision

First impressions of the first leader of the Church of the Nazarene in Italy

Before I met Alfredo Del Rosso, I had formed a mental picture of him that was completely wrong. We had been appointed as missionaries to Italy in February of 1974. That summer, during the last weekend I spent at my parents' home before leaving for Italy, I spent a morning in the library of what is now Southern Nazarene University. On that summer morning of 1974, I browsed through back issues of the Other Sheep, a monthly world missions magazine once published by the Church of the Nazarene. I was looking for and reading anything and everything about the work of the Church of the Nazarene in Italy.

I found quite a bit of stuff written by Alfredo Del Rosso. Then, in an old bound volume from 1948, I came across an interview of Del Rosso complete with his picture. The photo was only a mug shot, so I had let my imagination put a body under that head. I imagined him to be a tall, impressive person physically. So, you can imagine my shock when I first met Alfredo Del Rosso at a pastors' meeting in Rome just after we arrived in Italy as Nazarene missionaries. There, in the small sanctuary of our Rome church, I found myself looking down at Alfredo Del Rosso -- and I'm only 5' 7" tall myself!

"Holiness makes sense to an Italian's way of thinking"

After recovering the shock of how much my mental picture differed from the reality, I discovered that Alfredo Del Rosso was an impressive person, regardless of his physical stature. Through the previous 75 years, he was propelled by a single-mindedness to the proclamation of the message of second-blessing holiness. In fact, one of my most vivid memories of him is an incident on the front steps of our half-basement chapel in Rome. Barbara and I were still struggling through language school, and Del Rosso had come to Rome for a special service. Afterward, we stood out front talking. I heard him saying,

"Holiness makes sense to the Italian's way of thinking. All his life, the Italian has searched for release from sin, for a feeling of purity within. The biblical doctrine of entire sanctification is exactly what he's been looking for all along."

The idea to write the life story of this intriguing man was born partially out of my desire to reconcile two conflicting assessments I kept hearing of his life and ministry. Alfredo Del Rosso wasn't one to be ignored by either Italian or American colleagues. He also lived in an era when some ethnocentrism and cultural insensitivity exited unnoticed among church leaders. Because Alfredo Del Rosso was a strong personality, he came to be either revered or scorned. So it was partially out of a curiosity to discover who this man really was that gave birth to extensive research into his life. It turned out to be a delightful study.

While Alfredo Del Rosso is no superhuman, he was a man who had been captivated by a dream of participating in a flourishing holiness movement in Italy. To Del Rosso's credit must be added the fact that (as Nazarene missiologist Paul Orjala pointed out) he is about the only leader of an independent work in one of the world mission areas who merged an existing work into the Church of the Nazarene and then stayed around and became a loyal Nazarene himself. Most other independent leaders who merged works into the Church of the Nazarene found it too difficult to give up the top spot and work within the lower ranks of the hierarchy of a larger organization. That Alfredo Del Rosso is a significant figure in Nazarene church history can be seen by the fact that he up being mentioned in the brief official denominational history at the beginning of the Nazarene Manual.

I need to thank a host of people on both sides of the Atlantic who let me read letters, recounted stories to me and scoured their memories and files to provide necessary bits of insight and information. I'll refrain from making a listing of these dear people -- American, Italian, and Swiss -- who patiently answered my questions and told me what they knew of Alfredo Del Rosso. Such a list would be long and still I'd undoubtedly forget someone. At any rate, a word of special thanks does go to Nazarene General Superintendent Edward Lawlor who, at the very beginning stages of this project, encouraged me to follow through on it. I'm also indebted to my wife and two kids who allowed me to spend most of one vacation pulling together all of my notes into the first drafts of this manuscript. . . . [ more ]

  Chapter:  2: If this  be Pentecostalism  |    3: Out under the stars   |    4: The Nazarenes have landed and the  situation is well in hand  |    5: Superintendent Del Rosso, anItalian captivated by a vision   |    6: Retirement? Not quite    |    7: Retirement? Finally  |    Next→ 

If this be Pentecostalism

Next chapterTo be sent to that Protestant private school was startling to Alfredo. He had always thought of himself as a Catholic. So he asked his mother why he was being sent to the Protestant school. "It's cheaper, son," she replied simply. . . . [ more ]

    -- Howard Culbertson,

Note: Material for this biography was gathered in Italy in the late 1970s from letters, books, magazine articles, and interviews with many of the principal characters including several missionaries to Italy, Alfredo Del Rosso himself (1890-1985), and members of his family. Most of those interviewed for this biography have since died.

Printed resources include In Their Steps by D. I. Vanderpool (Beacon Hill Press, 1956) and They of Italy Salute You by Earl Morgan (Nazarene Publishing House, 1958)

The manuscript of this book is in the Wesleyan Holiness Digital Library

Complete text of book in PDF format:    Del Rosso's biography in English    Del Rosso's biography in Italian

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