I am happy to share this brief bio written in honor of the legacy of Giuseppina Zollo, a revered Italian American church founder, evangelist, and missionary. Giuseppina was among the beloved founders of our family denomination, the Christian Church of North America. Today known as the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies, the denomination has more than 4000 congregations reaching a global audience accross each inhabitable continent. This piece was originally featured on the site, Explorations in Italian Protestantism, edited by noted intellectual historian, Mark P. Hutchinson (Alphacrucis College).
Giuseppina Sirianni was born in the town of Catanzaro, Calabria on 15 February 1865. In 1890, she married Carmine Zollo, a law enforcement officer. In 1895, Carmine preceded the family by migrating to New York on the SS Spartan Prince, settling in Brooklyn and working as a tailor. In 1897, Giuseppina and her son Corrado, emigrated from Naples aboard the SS Sicilian Prince. Within a few years of life in America, possibly on account of sickness contracted during their passage, Zollo became quite ill. She later claimed that she was miraculously healed upon a divine revelation (Paolicelli).
In 1912, after visiting an Italian congregation east of New York City, Zollo had an instantaneous conversion. After this dramatic experience, she became an avid Christian worker, bringing news of her newfound faith to her family, each of whom were reportedly converted. She and her husband started an outreach among their ‘connazionali‘ and began holding worship services in their home. Within a year, they outgrew the space afforded by their home and rented a storefront at the corner of Gunther Place and Herkimer St. in Brooklyn. The congregation blossomed into a thriving church, the Italian Church of God of East New York (more commonly known among congregants as the “Herkimer Street” church). This congregation would become the mother church of the Pentecostal work in the Eastern United States. In 1959, the congregation moved to Queens: over the years it grew into a multi-ethnic, non-denominational church known as the Queens Tabernacle (Palma, 94-5). Outgrowths of the Queens’ Tabernacle work among Italians included neighbouring churches pastored by Carmine Saginario (Menahan Street), Joseph Greco (Coney Island), and Joseph Rubbo (Belmont) (Galvano, 257).
Within months of opening the storefront church, Zollo made a return visit to southern Italy with her daughter Adelina, founding a church in Matera among her kin. Her work was focused by an invitation issued by Antonio Plasmati, a materano who had been converted at the Assemblea Cristiana in Chicago. During her stay, Zollo conducted outreach work among Waldensian communities in Matera and subsequently Ginosa, building on the earlier work of the Baptist evangelist, Luigi Loperfido (‘il monaco bianco’). “Many souls were baptized in the Holy Spirit in this glorious work” (“Biography,” DeGregorio). Zollo also evangelized the neighboring towns. Among those baptized in the Spirit in Matera was Angela Chitera, the mother of Thomas Paolicelli. When Paolicelli’s family arrived in America in 1915, it was Zollo’s Brooklyn outreach which sponsored them. Paolicelli married Assunta, Carmine Zollo’s neice (see Paolicelli). When she was about to return to the USA, she was disturbed that there was no-one there to continue the teaching, and so she wrote to Ottolini (then working in the valleys of Piemonte). He spent several weeks with her, and saw ‘with my own eyes’ some of the ‘powerful works’ which followed her ministry. A reputed healer, God “continued to manifest His power with signs and wonders” through Zollo’s ministry (Ottolini, 17). The congregations she helped form met first in local churches — such as that formed by the Baptists at Ginosa. The local churches differed markedly in doctrine, however, and forced these new congregations to find other locations. In Ginosa, they met first in a bar-trattoria (Albergo Lo Monaco), where Zollo had been staying. They then moved to the private dwelling of Angela Carone (who had migrated to America) on Via Muro in “Sasso Caveoso”. It was in these communities that Ottolini and Lombardi later worked to help grow the work.
As was typical among the band of mobile southern Italian migrants in the early twentieth century, Zollo journeyed back to America after only a year. She continued to build the Christian Assembly in Brooklyn, in addition to outreach efforts among compatriots in Gary (IN), Memphis (TN), San Francisco (CA), Pittsburgh (PA), and Rochester (NY). The Brooklyn church continues to the time of writing under the name ‘The Journey Church’.
In addition to Corrado (known as Charles, d. 1967), Giuseppina and Carmine had one more son, Armando (1897-1986; m. Mary Edna Wittenborn), and four daughters: Florence, Adelina (b. 1906, Brooklyn), Elda (b. 1907), and Melinde (m. Fedele ‘Fred’ Soviero). Zollo returned to Italy at least once more in 1916, accompanied by Adelina and Elda, with “missionary work” listed as the object of the visit on her passport application.
Paul J. Palma
“Biography of Josephine Zollo,” Papers of Anthony DeGregorio 5.28., Fuller Theological Seminary.
Galvano, Stephen, ed., Fiftieth Anniversary of the Christian Church of North America, Sharon, PA: CCNA, 1977.
Maragno, Gianni, L’anarchia estetica. Il Monaco Bianco, EditricErmes, 2011.
Palma, Paul J., Italian American Pentecostalism and the Struggle for Religious Identity, London: Routledge, 2020.
Paolicelli, Thomas. “Letter to Anthony DeGregorio,” September 21, 1983. Papers of Anthony DeGregorio 5.28, Fuller Theological Seminary.
Ottolini, Pietro, The Life and Mission of Peter Ottolini, St. Louis, MO: privately printed, 1962.