Constant faith and devotion since the beginning on the history of the LDS Church in Italy.
by Maraly Ledezma
Brother Leopoldo Larcher.
I had the opportunity of being hosted with the Italian pioneer family, the Larcher family, during my Individual Field Studies in Italy for spring and summer of 2000, while a student of BYU. I spent a weekend with them researching about their pioneer story. All the information of this report is as narrated by Brother Larcher unless otherwise indicated. The original recordings of the interviews are in Italian and are currently in my possession.
Monica and Corrado Botalla, their daughter and son-in-law currently serving as district President in Torino, welcomed me to Italy as my first host family and encouraged me during my trip. They were the first of the Larcher family I met.
I feel it a blessing to have been able to get to know this splendid family on a personal basis. It was a testimony-strengthening experience to see for myself that what makes the difference for happiness in our lives is our attitude. The Larchers conduct a simple life of respect, care, and love, both for each other and for the Church. They are patient, loving, and not easy to anger.
When I asked Brother Larcher what callings he had at the moment, he showed me a list of 14 current callings, of which the first and most important, he tells me, is being a father, a husband and a Family Home teacher of 13 families. As always, the Larcher family lives the gospel humbly, obediently and happily, and thus, has been able to be a tool in the hands of God when He has needed them.Conversion Story - Among the First Italian Converts
Brother Leopoldo Larcher tells us that his life had nothing particularly interesting before knowing the church. His family lived in Brescia, in the Lombardia region, in northern Italy. He and his wife had been married for two years, enjoying their five-month-old daughter, Stefania. They were a good, more-or-less active Catholic family. They were essentially happy, living a peaceful life without any problems, economic or otherwise. As the summer of 1964 approached, so did the expected August vacation, which the family was to spend on the Adriatic Sea coast, as 90 percent of Brescians did at the time. It was when they were leaving on vacation that the missionaries knocked on their door.
Now, it is necessary for us to go back in time about 7 months, to January, 1964. During this time, the family started receiving some letters from Antonio Larcher, Leopoldo's brother, who was at the time living in southern Germany. During this time there were no working possibilities in Italy, and so, Antonio left for Germany to look for work. These letters were "really strange." They talked of "an illumination," of "something fantastic," of "knowing the gospel," of the "true church," and of changing religions to the "true truth." At this time, the Larcher family was living in a difficult situation, because this brother was considered to be the "strangest" one, the "most liberal and crazy." When the family received these letters, including their mother, they thought he had gone completely mad and there was nothing that could be done to help it. Their mother cried much. She was not very Catholic, meaning she was like the 90 percent of Italian Catholics who go to church every once in a while-for weddings, communions or burials. It was her culture and tradition; even though she was not really religious, she wanted her children to be good Christians. But she thought he had become mad and that there was no hope for him. The family was somehow preoccupied, but Leopoldo not that much. Even though he was somehow religious, he used to take religion in his own way. He believed in God, but he did not believe in any religion.
In a successive letter, Antonio declared that he desired to go back to Italy because of his religious euphoria to bring the truth to his family. He had been very insistent with church leaders in Germany for months, to persuade them to send some missionaries to Italy. There had been no proselyting in Italy since 1861 when the mission was closed, more than 100 years before. At the time Antonio wrote the letter, in 1964, Elder Benson was responsible for the European Mission, and after Antonio had worked hard and extensively on translating the hymns of the church, manuals, pamphlets, and other materials to Italian, he was able to "convince" Elder Benson to authorize two missionaries from the South Germany mission to go to Italy. Two elders, Lorin F. Busselberg and David E. Castle, who had been working with Italians in Germany and spoke Italian well, were sent during the last two months of their missions to proselyte in the Italian territory. On August of 1964, for the first time in 103 years, missionaries entered the Italian territory to investigate what the reaction of the Italian people would be.
According to Antonio Larcher, the missionaries came because there was a hope of converting his parents. He had understood in the letters that his mother was ready to receive the gospel, more than anyone else. Leopoldo Larcher was surely too materialist, and it was absolutely impossible for him to be converted.
When the elders arrived, they went directly to the house of Leopoldo Larcher. The Larcher family was leaving on their summer vacation and told the missionaries that they were sorry but they had to go to the beach. The missionaries said "ah , va bene, non fa niente, forse anche noi veniamo gił" (Oh! That's all right, maybe we will also come down there). Leopoldo, his wife, and his daughter, left for the ocean in their car. Subsequently, the two missionaries arrived by train to the sea with Antonio, who had come down from Germany. "Interestingly - said Leopoldo - they were able to find a room in a short time, which was seemingly impossible because all the Italians go to the beach in August, and only the lucky ones are able to make reservations in the few hotels that were there."
Once at the beach, the missionaries started to teach them the gospel and presented the Book of Mormon, the only translated work. They were on the coast for 15 days and received a discussion daily. What the missionaries taught them seemed logical and right, and everything proceeded well. During the first Sunday, the family watched the sacrament ceremony with curiosity and thought it was interesting. The following week they were taught the fifth discussion, that of sacrifice and tithing, but Brother Larcher didn't accept it "very well." They had touched a sensitive spot, the hardest thing for Brother Larcher to accept. He had believed that all religions were seeking to gain money ultimately, and after all, the Mormon Church was also all about money. He was really against this, because as Antonio had said, he was very attached to money. However, the missionaries approached them carefully and encouraged them to ask the Lord in prayer.
In one of the last nights of their stay, Brother and Sister Larcher decided to ask the Lord in prayer. They had a strong desire of progress for good. They wanted to know more, but tithing was an obstacle in their understanding. They prayed intensely, and received a powerful answer: their hearts were softened and they began crying. They received, each one, the clear testimony that it was right, and truth and just because of their desire. The next morning, they went to the missionaries and decided to get baptized. One afternoon in August, 1964, the first Italian converts to the church were baptized in the Adriatic Sea, in swimming suits. Sister Larcher had a black bikini, and the missionaries wore jeans.
The second Sunday they were participants in Sacrament meeting. Shortly after, vacation was over and everyone went back home. The missionaries stayed for one more month in Brescia. Although they talked to some other people (the parents of the Larchers, and other neighbors), no one else accepted the gospel. Brother Leopoldo had the missionaries write down on the first page of the Book of Mormon what a Mormon does every day of the week before the missionaries went back home. They also wrote the address of the Swiss Mission, to which the Larchers were referred to pay tithing.
Living the Gospel-The Church Expands
At the end of September, the missionaries went back home to America and so did Antonio to Germany. The Larcher couple and the babe were left alone, only with an Italian copy of the Book of Mormon, all the rules, and much faith. However, they faithfully met each Sunday to read the scriptures and the pamphlets. Because the church was not established and Brother Larcher did not have the priesthood, they could not take the sacrament. But they genuinely tried to keep the rules. One of these rules loyally kept was that, monthly, without a miss, they sent their full tithing to the Swiss mission by mail. Up to this day, Brother Larcher knows by memory the address: Swiss Mission, Pilatus Strasse #11, Zurigo, Svizzera
On a dark, cold night of February of 1965, they heard a shout with a strange accent from downstairs saying, "Siamo i missionari della Chiesa di Gesł Cristo dei Santi degli Ultimi Giorni" (We are the missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), to which the family responded with joy, welcomed them, and celebrated with a great party. They had been alone for about 6 months, but now the newly arrived missionary couples, under the Swiss Mission, were to expand the gospel. Shortly after, other couples arrived in the largest cities-Turin, Genoa, Milan, and Rome where they were to open the area. The only Mormon meetings were held by American military at Livorno, Aviano, and Naples, where American Latter-day Saints Servicemen were workin for NATO ; other few native Italians attended. One of those native Italian members was Vincenzo di Francesca, a pastor for a protestant church that was converted to the gospel by reading the Book of Mormon in 1910 in New York City.[Vincenzo Di Francesca was baptized on January 18th,1951 at Termini Imerese (Palermo, Sicily)]
The Sunday meetings began to be held in the Larcher family's home. One of the two rooms of the home became the church. Now, the missionaries started to preach the gospel. A missionary from Argentina came later and gave Brother Larcher a Spanish Priesthood manual. He read it without previous knowledge of Spanish and, with the aid of the Holy Ghost, started to teach the Priesthood class from it.
The members in the American military bases and in the other areas newly opened by the missionaries were not yet officially organized into a district. Once every six months, they attended conferences held in one of these places, ranging all over Italy. The members saw these meetings as a party, because they were able to see other members and rejoice. During one of them, Brother Larcher received the Aaronic priesthood.
They continued pushing forth, attending American branches every once in a while, growing in the priesthood, and doing missionary work. Brother Larcher said he used to go out to proselyte with the missionaries, knock door by door, receive bad words, and have the satisfaction of knowing they were doing something good. He was called as the first branch president in Italy, in Brescia, on March 20 1966, over 15 members.
The Italian Mission
In 1966, the Church organized the first Italian mission with headquarters at Florence. On 10 November 1966, President Ezra Taft Benson rededicated the land on Monte Vandalino ( near Torre Pellice, Province of Torino) for missionary work, 116 years after Elder Lorenzo Snow had first dedicated it, on the same mount. Elder Benson called President John Duns, Jr. as the mission President. At age 25, Brother Larcher served as his second counselor, traveling every month for five hours to Florence. Brother Leavitt Christensen was called as first counselor. Later, Brother Dan C. Jorgensen, an American saint that was working in Milan in the First National Bank, was called as the first counselor replacing Brother Leavitt Christensen.
At their first meeting, President Duns asked Brother Larcher to take his wife and daughter with him. With the Duns family there was another American family, the Benson family. Brother Larcher later learned that he was the apostle Ezra Taft Benson who was responsible for the European Mission. Brother Larcher remembers that they were trying to overcome the language barrier in this meeting; the mission President didn't speak Italian, and Brother Larcher didn't speak English. But they understood each other somehow. President Duns interviewed Brother Larcher, in English, to be the mission's second counselor. Brother Larcher would answer in Italian. But the somehow in the middle, that Brother Larcher believes was the Spirit, did all the work. That evening, before even knowing about the meeting, the Larcher couple had decided to fast, without knowing why. Brother Larcher said he will never understand how these kinds of things come about. The Duns family and Benson couple were eating while the Larchers waited in the living room. After Brother Benson had finished dinner, he came to the living room and knelt down to play with Stefania, the Larchers' one-year-old daughter. Leopoldo commented that for them he looked like a grandfather playing with a babe, because they did not know at the moment that he was an apostle, or even what an apostle was. In this occasion Elder Benson set apart Brother Larcher as second counselor for the newly opened Italian Mission.
Brother Larcher encouraged and sustained the members, driving constantly throughout Italy in his small car to visit the small branches that were springing forth. Little by little, the branches grew and it was necessary to create another mission. So the leaders decided to dissolve the Italian Mission and divide the area into the Milan Mission, with Dan C. Jorgensen as President, and the Rome Mission, with Leavitt Christensen as President. Brother Larcher was called as first counselor for the Milan Mission. The Apennines Mountains marked the division between the missions.
New branches continued to spring across Italy and districts were formed. A constant growth continued, with an average of 60-65 new converts per month in each mission. In 1975 elder Larcher was called as mission President at Rome.
1975 A Particular Year - Called to be Mission President in Rome
By 1975, Brother Larcher had already changed work twice. "How could I help that?" Brother Larcher asked. "Better opportunities came because God continued to bless us! Even if you don't look for them, the blessings come. If you work for the Lord, the Lord takes you by the hand and helps you in everything." Brother Larcher is grateful for the caring of the Lord. They never had health or economic difficulties; on the contrary, he was very appreciated in his work. He attributes this appreciation to the sense the principles of the gospel that he lived and taught made. The owners of the large laundry company for which he worked were very touched by his righteous example.
With this attitude, he advanced from a peon to be the general technical director for the company-the right hand of the owner. He said that each time that the family grew, their needs were covered without even asking. He knew God was taking care of them, blessing after blessing.
During all the time he was mission counselor he had never asked himself how it was that the mission President supported himself. He knew his responsibilities, but administratively, he didn't know much. When Brother Larcher was called as the Rome Mission President, he thought he would have to support himself, like he had done all his life. With the only difference that he wouldn't be working and getting paid. When he was called, he and Sister Larcher immediately accepted, but they were very worried. They had calculated that they could survive for two years with their savings, but they could not make it for the third year. So he went to talk with the mission President of Milan. He told him the situation, and the President busted out laughing. He told him not to worry, because the church would take care of those matters; he didn't explain any further. So Brother Larcher walked out, with his pockets filled of faith. He thought, "Well, I guess the Lord will multiply my money, or something like that..."
It was a real trial of faith for the Larcher family. The owner (and President) of the company where Brother Larcher worked had decided to expand his company following a program that he had started with Brother Larcher. He had invested thousands of dollars in the new machinery and the future of the company seemed bright, but full of hard work. He needed Brother Larcher, who had designed the plan. When Brother Larcher was asked to be mission President, and chose the church before his work, and abandoned his own project, the owner got really upset. He told Larcher that he would increase his salary, but he didn't accept. Brother Larcher told him that if he wanted to accept him when he finished his mission, he would gladly come back to work for him, but the President didn't take it that well. He said he had many projects to carry out, and a lot of money invested. He said, "If you leave, I will not ever accept you back. If you leave you're gone." When Brother Larcher saw this reaction, he thought "Oh well, patience please! ...I put myself in the hands of my Lord." Without further questioning the ways of the Lord, they left to Salt Lake for their training. Brother Leopoldo Larcher was the first Italian brother to be called as an Italian mission President.
A welcome dinner was held for the new mission Presidents on the top floor of the administrative building of the church with the general authorities. So many years after the first and last encounter with President Benson, when he was set apart as mission counselor, President Larcher saw Elder Benson again, and decided to come to his table to greet him and his wife.
He made his way through, and timidly came and greeted him saying "Uh Elder, I am Brother Larcher, you might not remember me . we met a long time ago in Florence..." Right then President Benson stopped him, and asked for the attention of all the people present. He then asked them, "Do you know who this man is? He was a very young man when he was called as counselor for the newly opened Italian Mission; he and his wife fasted while the rest of us had dinner!" Brother Larcher was very amazed that he remembered him, and moreover to remember (he had himself almost forgotten) that he had fasted when they were called.
Once again, after so many years, Brother and Sister Larcher had obeyed the call of the Lord with much faith. It was during this training that Brother Larcher learned that the mission President's expenses would be fully covered by the Church, and that they would not need to worry. By then, the family already had three children: Stefania, Monica, and Daniele.
President Larcher served faithfully in the Rome mission for two years, receiving the visits of apostles and general authorities that came for conferences. During the last year of their mission, President Larcher was called to open the mission in Catania. Today there is a committee that arranges the offices, the housing, and everything necessary for the mission. But this was not the case in Catania at the time. Brother Larcher lived for two weeks in a hotel while he arranged everything necessary for the mission. He and his assistants had to "learn the 'Sicilian method,' which brings success to the Sicilian people in their affairs" in order to organize the mission in the bureaucratic island of Catania.
Legal processes regularly take several months. After having rented an apartment for the mission home, Brother Larcher had to arrange for the installation of light, telephone, water, and other utilities. So, he decided to go to the electricity office. As he and his two assistants walked in, they saw it full of people in line after line. He knew that it would take days to get electricity. It occurred to him to ask for the manager, and so he did. He introduced himself as " President Larcher," and his two, tall, blond, and handsome missionaries as "the American assistants." He introduced himself as the representative of the Church and explained its purposes, saying he thoroughly trusted in the ability of the manager to help the cause of the Lord. The manager was impressed, and courteous. The day after they had light. He proceeded and did the same with all the other utilities. By following this system he was able to establish relationships with some leaders, to make the arrival of the Church known, and to give the missionaries opportunities to explain the purposes of the Church and get appointments.
President Spencer W. Kimball came to Italy when President Larcher was the Mission President of the Catania mission. He had been touring the world, held a conference at Rome and decided to come to the Catania Mission to have a conference with them. A special meeting was organized in less than 70 hours to meet with President Kimball. Phone calls and visits were made to inform all the members, and the theater was successfully filled. It was a wonderful experience! The two missionary assistants he had sent to guard the Kimball couple during the night reported an interesting anecdote to President Larcher.
In Catania, the temperature in the summertime is very high and humid. The place is very poor, and there were not hotels or places to be rented in Catania to host the president. However, they found a hotel, the best one, outside Catania. It did not have air-conditioning. At night, the two missionaries rested outside the door room of the hotel to guard them. They commented that they could hear President and Sister Kimball laugh and joke all night through. The next morning, the missionaries commented, "It seems like you had a good time last night." They answered, "Yes, indeed! The room was filled with mosquitoes and it was very funny to see how they wanted to drink our blood!" There he was, a prophet, the president of the Church, coming to a lost little town in the middle of nowhere, finding a way to laugh about the mosquitoes that didn't let him sleep.
After the meeting, he came to the eighth floor of a building where the mission home was. President Kimball came in, saw their piano, and went straight to it to play "The Boogie-Woogie" which he loved to play when he was young. They had a lot of fun.
Brother Larcher was a regional representative of the church from 1978 to 1982. He trained leaders, performed interviews, and reported to the general authorities. Twice a year the Larcher couple came to Utah for the general conferences, where he received instruction and reported to the authorities on the status of Italy. President Benson came to Italy during this time to organize the first stake in Italy, at Milano. Brother Larcher collaborated with him to interview the high council and all the branch presidents to find the new stake president. Brother Larcher was the translator (he said he can't really point to a time when he learned or studied English, he learned just little by little during interviews with the missionaries; he was blessed and learned English). After all the interviews were done, he asked to be alone to be able to pray and receive an answer. Four minutes after he returned with the choice of the stake President, and a patriarch. The members of the church thought that his choices had been directed.
Brother Larcher has served in many positions as a leader of the priesthood. He has served as ward president, district president, counselor of the mission president, Elders Quorum president, mission President, regional representative, and Stake high council member. The only calling he hasn't had, he says, is stake president. In the auxiliary organizations he has served as Stake Sunday school president. He is also a temple sealer, set apart by president Kimball.
Furthermore, he participated in the translation of the texts of the temple from English to Italian. There have been two translations. For the first one, he and his brother went to England in the 80's for two weeks. When they read the already translated text, they found some declarations that they believed lead to lips syncronization problem. The 12 brethren there together could not come to an agreement, and so a phone call was made to the Church head quarters in Salt Lake City, to receive permission to revise the text. The answer was clear: "If the two Larcher brothers are present, listen to them and do as they direct." The brothers spent the whole night awake doing the translation. The second time, in 1995, Brother Larcher flew to Salt Lake City to revise the translation. These translations have been used in the Swiss temple, where the Italian members currently attend to make their temple covenants and vicarious work.
Brother and Sister Larcher now have three daughters and one son. The two older daughters, Stefania and Monica, and the son Daniele, looked for their eternal companions outside of the church, who later converted and were sealed by Brother Larcher. Today they are all active members of the church. Brother and Sister Larcher today have four grand children and Monica is waiting for the fifth. His son in law, Corrado Botalla is the district president of Turin. His son Daniele was stake president of Milan. Today Emily is serving a mission in New York Rochester, Church historical site.
Brother Larcher believes that his permanent missionary call is to make the church known to the people. He has been the "public relations man" for the church for several years. He talks often in radio, TV, and appears in newspapers.
In addition, he takes care of the chapel in Brescia, mows the lawn, opens the gates on Sundays and welcomes the members. He currently has 14 official church callings, and the 15th is self-appointed: to take care of the elderly mother of sister Larcher, physically and emotionally.
The lives of the Larcher family have, since the beginning, been distinguished by faith and obedience, characteristics that have drawn them nearer to their God and made them able to push forth His kingdom on Earth at the same time that they were blessed. They are a humble example of love, and a true example of Christianity.
A member of the Church from Mexico City, Maraly Ledezma attended BYU through merit-based university academic scholarships, which are funded by the BYU Annual Fund. She studied international law and diplomacy and European studies. In 2003, she graduated with honors, with a 3.9 GPA, having learned English, Italian, and Portuguese. After graduation, sister Ledezma served in the Washington D.C. North Mission.
An article about the conversion of Maraly Ledezma's grandmother ( after 45 years of rejecting the gospel) appears on BYU News Net
| © 2005 BELLA SION, Inc. - Original text courtesy of Leopoldo Larcher. |
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