I wrote this bio in honor of the legacy of my paternal great-grandmother, Caterina Gardella. She was a church founder, the first Secretary-Treasurer of the Christian Church of North America, and a gifted pianist. We named our little “Kat” (twin A) after her. The piece was originally published on the website, Explorations in Italian Protestantism, edited by noted historian Mark P. Hutchinson (Alphacrucis College).
Caterina (Kathryn) Gardella was born in New York City on 24 February 1885, the second oldest of ten children born to Paolo Carlo Gardella (b. 1856, Favale di Malvaro, Genova; d. 1952, Chiavari) and Rosa Anna Lidia Cereghino (b. 1859, Favale di Malvaro, Genova; d. 1922, at sea). Of Waldensian background, shortly after her parents immigrated in 1880 the family joined the First Italian Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Gardella was trained under the able ministry of the evangelist Michele Nardi and Waldensian pastor Filippo Grill. Due to differences over the Presbyterian mode of baptism (by sprinkling) and membership requirements, the Gardellas seceded from the Presbyterian church and joined an independent Italian evangelical congregation meeting at 1139 W. Grand Avenue. Gardella was baptized in Lake Michigan along with eighteen others by the evangelist Giuseppe Beretta, on Labor Day, 1903.
In the summer of 1907, together with Rosina Balzano (wife of Luigi Francescon), Gardella was reportedly among the first Italian Americans baptized in the Spirit (through ties with the Chicago Pentecostal revival centred on William H. Durham’s North Avenue Mission). The Gardellas stood alongside the Francescons as founding members of the first Italian American Pentecostal congregation (which later moved to 943 W. North Avenue), adopting the name the Assemblea Cristiana.
Gardella married mosaicist and church founder Michele Palma, on 19 November 1910. In 1920, she left with her husband and five children to found a church and begin outreach work in Syracuse, NY. Gardella was a gifted pianist. Her abilities were welcomed among the congregation of about thirty Italian worshippers. This congregation later purchased the vacant West End Presbyterian Church building, and proceeded to found the First Christian Assembly (the church remains at the same location today at 705 Hamilton St.). Gardella was fluent in both English and Italian, serving through her knowledge of the languages as a counsellor and advisor for new believers. She organized the church Sunday School and youth programs. In 1928, Gardella was elected as the first Secretary-Treasurer of the flagship Italian Pentecostal denomination, the Christian Church of North America, a position she held for fifteen years.
Together with Pentecostal pioneer Massimiliano Tosetto and her husband, Michele, Gardella compiled the final edition (1959) of the Italian Pentecostal hymnal, Nuovo libro d’inni e salmi spirituali. She served First Christian faithfully until her passing on 8 March 1958. Of the legacy she left behind, her son, Alfred (who succeeded his father to the pastorate), reminisced “She was always loved by those who knew her for her untiring spirit and unfaltering Christian testimony. The people in Syracuse and elsewhere knew her as being true to the Lord and established in God’s way” (in Galvano, 25).
Gardella and her husband had eight children—Leah Lydia, Alfred, Edward, Eugene, Leonard, Lydia, Paul, and Helen—several of whom went on to have a distinguished impact on the transatlantic Italian Pentecostal movement.
Gardella was buried in White Chapel Memory Gardens Cemetery in DeWitt, New York.
Paul J. Palma
Corsini, Richard L., “Kathryn Palma promossa alla gloria eterna,” Il Faro, April 1958, 1.
Francescon, Luigi, Faithful Testimony, 2nd ed., Oak Park, IL: privately printed, 1952.
Galvano, Stephen, ed., Fiftieth Anniversary of the Christian Church of North America, Sharon, PA: CCNA, 1977.
Palma, Michele, “Breve storia della chiesa e del mio ministerio: 1920-1945,” in the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Ministry of Pastor and Mrs. Michael Palma, Assemblea Cristiana, Syracuse, NY, 1945.
Palma, Paul J., Italian American Pentecostalism and the Struggle for Religious Identity, London: Routledge, 2020.