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Documents concerning the Activity

of the Italian Bishop Paolo Sardi in Moldavia



Rafael-Dorian Chelaru,

National Archives of Romania,



The Italian Paolo Sardi who activated as a Visitor General (Visitator Generalis) of the apostolic mission from Moldavia (established by the Sacred Congregation Propaganda Fide after 1622) between 1843 and 1848 represented one of the leading figures of the Catholic missionarism in 19th century Moldavia. His activity was very little studied in the relevant historiography dealing with the history of the Catholicism in Moldavia. One can trace here only one exception: Petru Tocãnel, a Romanian Franciscan monk who dealt with the history of the Franciscan missionarism in Moldavia, can be considered as the most important secondary source for this issue[1]. Petru Tocanel’s work on Paolo Sardi (one must understand here especially the chapter VIII entitled Soluzione della questione ungherese, p. 327-392, from Storia della chiesa cattolica in Romania) is to be regarded until nowadays as the most exhaustive and comprehensive. Therefore, it is by no means our intention to recall all the details concerning the activity of Paolo Sardi. On the contrary, the main goal of this article is to provide some of the main documents concerning Sardi’s activity in general and these documents – that are presented in extenso - are intended to “speak” by themselves. Some short considerations on Sardi’s activity and its reception in the historiography, however, are needed to be presented here.

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The main initiatives of bishop Paolo Sardi in order to make the Catholic missionarism in Moldavia efficient can be traced as five. The first initiative is represented by his attempt to replace all the Hungarian missionaries from Moldavia with Italians, starting from the fact that, according to Sardi, almost all Hungarian missionaries proved to have had a “nationalistic” attitude and, moreover, an immoral behaviour. Secondly, Sardi’s efforts were focused on solving the difficult problem of providing sufficient number of priests for the new Catholic parishes emerging throughout the Moldavian territory. Within this, it is worth to be mentioned his continuous preoccupations in ensuring the Catholic parishes with new churches (preferably stone built edifices)[2]. The third initiative was to create a local (indigenous) Catholic clerical structure able not only to replace the foreign missionaries sent from Rome or Constantinople, but also presumably to put the basis for a future local and autonomous Catholic Church. The fourth direction followed by Sardi was to ensure the strict observation of the monastic rule of the Franciscan order of the Conventuals. This was regarded as the most appropriate solution for solving the delicate problem of immorality witnessed in the behaviour of many missionaries. The last – but not the least – was to contribute to the smooth integration of the catholic clerical and lay structures in the Moldavian society mainly by maintaining privileged good relations with the Moldavian authorities e.g. the ruling prince Mihail Sturdza and prince Alexandru Ghica, but also with the clerical orthodox structures (the metropolitan and the bishops).

To our opinion, unlike Tocanel’s approach, Paolo Sardi was less preoccupied by the problem of the Hungarian missionaries, although it appeared as the most spectacular aspect of his activity within the Moldavian catholic mission as Sardi was the first Catholic missionary who clearly expressed his intention to expel all the Hungarians from the mission – some of his letters sent to the Sacred Congregation in 1843 and 1844 witness a rare violent and sarcastic tone against the morality of most Hungarian missionaries activating in Moldavia in the 1840s. His main efforts, however, were to be focused in the direction of establishing a local clerical hierarchy. This fact can be demonstrated in the light of the documents enclosed here. One reason is that from the very beginning of his administration Sardi had to face the problem of lacking missionaries able to serve the Hungarian speaking Catholics from some areas from Western Moldavia (the areas inhabited by the Csàngos). Despite his efforts, it was obvious since the beginning that replacing all the Hungarian Franciscan missionaries who left Moldavia with Italians was truly impossible at least for the next decades. Thus, he had to accept other Hungarian missionaries to be sent by the Provincial of the Hungarian Franciscan Province of the Conventuals, Romàn Szabo (the convention established in 1825 between the Franciscan Province of Hungary and the apostolic mission from Moldavia and harshly rejected at the beginning by Sardi was to be abolished only in 1851 by the Provincial of Hungary due to the fact that Sardi’s successor, Antonio de Stefano, simply ceased to pay the due money for the Hungarian

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missionaries sent in Moldavia[3]). Sardi himself seems to have realized the importance of establishing an indigenous Catholic clergy as the best long term solution in order to ensure a real “autonomy” of the Moldavian Catholic church in relation not only with the Franciscan Provinces from Hungary or Poland or Constantinople but also with the Sacred Congregation. As early as June 1843 he wrote to the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation about his intention to build three more rooms at his residence from Iaºi, which were intended to serve as school and dormitory for three Italians who had to learn Hungarian in order to replace the Hungarian missionaries[4]. Two years later, he managed to found a Catholic seminary in Iaºi (in 1845) – the first Catholic seminary at that time in Moldavia – where six young pupils were studying in the first year (1846) under the guidance of a Polish missionary, Dionisie Zachaczewski[5]. In 1846 their number doubled and Sardi selected two of the alumni who were sent to Rome, at the St. Anton College (which was under the patronage of the Sacred Congregation). Only one alumnus returned in Moldavia as priest, George Bauer[6].

Sardi’s initiative to found a Catholic seminary for the formation of the local Catholic clergy was not just the result of his personal views and considerations. The Saint Siege itself was convinced about the necessity of such enterprise meant to ensure the stabilization of the Catholicism in the non-Catholic countries. On November the 23rd 1845, pope Gregory XVI confirmed a general instruction addressed to all superiors of the Catholic missions in the areas dominated by non-Catholic majorities in which it was stipulated the necessity of establishing a local clergy able to replace the missionary structure[7].

In our opinion, the aspect of controlling the observance of the monastic rule was to be the corner stone of Sardi’s policy in the Moldavian Catholic mission. His real “obsession“ concerning the morality of many of his missionaries can be noticed in his letters. This is in fact the reason of his impetuous animosity towards the Hungarian missionaries, and not the problem of language. Sardi himself was aware of the fact that the Hungarian language was needed by all means in several parishes from Moldavia (at a certain moment speaking about the replacing of a Hungarian missionary from Focºani, he exclaimed: “ma che sostituire a suo luogo?[8]). His first thought was to oblige three Italians to learn Hungarian in order to keep the Holy Mass and to sermon for the Hungarian-speaking parishioners and thusa grado a

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grado ci disfaremo degli ungari con loro sequele”.[9] Within this context Sardi also tried to determine the Sacred Congregation to abolish the convention from 1825, but with no success. Although the Sacred Congregation (and also Giacinto Gualerni, the Procurator general of the Franciscan missions) agreed with Sardi’s appreciations concerning the immorality of most of the missionaries sent by the Franciscan Province of Hungary, it was simply not possible at that moment to find a suitable solution to get Hungarian speaking missionaries from elsewhere but not from Hungary or Transylvania[10]. It is a fact that Sardi persistently invoked in his argumentation also the “chauvinist” and “nationalistic” attitudes of some Hungarian missionaries, attitudes that allegedly determined hostility from the Orthodox majority and created “great scandals” within the Catholic communities. Regardless the veracity of Sardi’s information concerning these issues, it is more important to be stressed the real stake of such accusations. At the beginning of the 19th century the Sacred Congregation passed the responsibility of protection of the Catholic missionaries and communities from Moldavia to the Imperial Court of Vienna[11]. Therefore, the Austrian diplomats from Iaºi were acquired a position in many respects almost equal to the visitor general of the mission as they are allowed to interfere in problems such as the personnel of the mission. For example, in 1845 the Austrian diplomatic agent, Eisenbach, decisively contributed in the expulsion from Moldavia of the Franciscan monk Könya.[12] In 1843 when Sardi proposed to the papal nuncio from Vienna to abolish the convention from 1825 the Austrian secretary of state, Attemfals, supported him, as Vienna did not have the slightest intention to encourage or simply to tolerate the development of any manifestation of Hungarian nationalism, even when the Hungarian speaking Catholics from Moldavia were involved[13]. Thus, Sardi’s accusations were sufficient arguments for Vienna to agree with the expulsion of all Hungarian missionaries from Moldavia. Only the conscience of the common confessional affiliation could prevent Sardi and Eisenbach from adopting radical measures[14].

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In this context, several of Petru Tocanel’s considerations and appreciations on the real motivations of some of Sardi’s initiatives concerning the problem of the Hungarian missionaries in Moldavia, however, lack scientific approach and witness an obvious “nationalistic” type of discourse. In the light of Tocanel’s evaluation, Sardi should be regarded as the bishop who managed to put an end to the Hungarian attempts to turn all the Romanian Catholics from Moldavia into Hungarians through the language argument. Moreover, Sardi would have decisively contributed to the domination of the Romanian language not only in the mission but also within the Catholic communities, no matter what was their ethnic background. Tocanel stressed and overestimated Sardi’s affirmations concerning the predominance of the Romanian speaking Catholics, without taking into account the importance of the Hungarian speaking communities, which seem to “have been lost on the road”. Moreover, Tocanel did not seem to be interested in the accounts of Hungarian scholars concerning the problem of the Moldavian Csángos: he simply did not recall any of them[15]. Moreover, although Sardi’s activity was not focused mainly on the so-called Hungarian problem (la questione ungherese according to Tocanel), but rather on the improving of the efficiency in the missionary activity from Moldavia stressing the importance of preserving the morality, Tocanel, however, consistently underlined Sardi’s hostility towards the Hungarian missionaries and made a curious separation between Sardi’s efforts to replace the Hungarian monks with Italians or indigenous missionaries and the rest of his activity. In fact, the whole chapter dedicated to Paolo Sardi’s activity is entitled La soluzione della questione ungherese as if Sardi’s importance within the general history of the Catholicism in Moldavia lays only in this aspect

Tocanel’s interpretation concerning Paolo Sardi’s activity is similar to Iosif M. Pal’s opinion related to Sardi. In his book, Originea catolicilor din Moldova ºi franciscanii pastorii lor de veacuri, Pal dedicated only one phrase to Sardi’s activity in the Apostolic Vicariate of Moldavia: “He protected the Romanian language against the Hungarian priests, who were planning to Magyarize even more the Catholic villages.”[16]

The documents presented in the annex try to shed a different light on Sardi’s activity. Tocanel quoted most of them indirectly in his work. All documents are unpublished and were selected from the microfilms brought from Vatican to the Romanian National Archives. They were arranged chronologically. The square brakes

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and the question marks are conventional meant to indicate either uncertain lectures or missing words or word parts.


See Appendix



For this material, permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use.

Whether you intend to utilize it in scientific purposes, indicate the source: either this web address or the Annuario. Istituto Romeno di cultura e ricerca umanistica 5 (2003), edited by ªerban Marin, Rudolf Dinu, Ion Bulei and Cristian Luca, Bucharest, 2004

No permission is granted for commercial use.


© ªerban Marin, March 2004, Bucharest, Romania


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[1] There are very few articles and studies concerning the activity of Paolo Sardi (officially he was appointed as bishop of Verea by the pope Gregory XVI). These articles refer shortly on Sardi’s activity in Moldavia, sometimes mentioning only some of his initiatives. Among these historical works the most important are N. Iorga, Studii ºi documente privitoare la istoria românilor II. Acte relative la istoria cultului catolic în Principate, Bucharest: I. V. Socec, 1901: 219-225 (here are published partially some of the documents concerning Sardi’s activity in Moldavia. These documents were to be found in the archive of the Catholic bishopric of Iaºi); Guilielmus Schmidt, Romano-catholici per Moldaviam episcopatus er rei romano-catholicae res gestae, Budapest, 1887: 149-150; Bonaventura Morariu, Series chronologica episcoporum ac praefectorum apostolicorum missionis fratrum minorum conventualium in Moldavia (Romania) durante saeculo XIX, Vatican, 1942: 10-11; Petru Tocanel, “Franciscanii minori conventuali ºi limba românã”, Buna vestire 3 (1972): 27-30; idem, Storia della chiesa cattolica in Romania, III, Padua: Mesaggero, 1965: 327-392; Iosif M. Petru Pal, Originea catolicilor din Moldova ºi franciscanii, pastorii lor de veacuri, Sãbãoani-Roman, 1942: 154; Fabian Doboº, Sãbãoani file de istorie, Iaºi: Presa bunã, 2002: 85; Iosif Simon, Franciscanii minori conventuali. Provincia Sf. Iosif din Moldova, Bacãu: Serafica, 1998: 291-297, 300; Iosif Gabor, Dicþionarul comunitãþilor catolice din Moldova, Bacãu: Conexiuni, 1995: 22, 48, 95-96, 103, 110-111, 151, 225, 292; Anton Despinescu, Scurt istoric al bisericii catolice din Moldova, Iaºi, 1995: 44-45; Ferenc Poszoni, Ceangãii din Moldova, Cluj: Asociaþia Etnograficã “Kriza János”, 2002: 39, 76-77.

[2] See Gabor, op. cit.: 22, 48, 95-96, 103, 110-111, 151, 225, 292.

[3] The convention from 1825 stipulated that the Catholic mission from Moldavia had to pay each year 100 Roman scuds in exchange for six Hungarian Franciscan missionaries sent by the Provincial of Hungary. The convention was established on July the 6th 1825 at Cluj between Rudolf Studer, Minister of the Franciscan Province of Hungary, and Giovanni Paroni, Visitor general of the Catholic apostolic mission from Moldavia. Román Szabo abolished the convention in 1851 from financial reasons.

[4] See the letter sent from Iaºi, June the 28th 1843.

[5] See on the seminar Morariu, op. cit. 10; Doboº, op. cit.: 85; Gabor, op. cit.: 151; Despinescu, op. cit.: 45; Tocanel, Storia, cit.: 347, 351.

[6] See on George Bauer as alumnus of the seminar from Iaºi in Gabor, op. cit.: 151.

[7] See Tocanel, op. cit.: 354.

[8] See the letter from June the 28th 1843.

[9] Ibidem.

[10] See Tocanel, op. cit.: 339 (The Sacred Congregation urged the papal nuncio from Vienna to realise a compromise between the Franciscan Provincial of Hungary and Paolo Sardi in order to be ensured a sufficient number of Hungarian missionaries for Moldavia).

[11] See Tocanel, op. cit.: 135.

[12] Ibidem: 340.

[13] Ibidem: 333.

[14] See the letter from April the 30th 1845: Sardi and Eisenbach successfully opposed to the decision of the Moldavian Chancellery (Divan) to expel all the Hungarian missionaries from Moldavia: “Non ha guari che mi è stata comunicata da questo Signor Agente imperiale una nota confidenziale ricevuta dalla cancelleria di questo principato nella quale s’intiene l’espulsione dei sacerdoti ungari dimoranti in questa missione perchè disturbatori della pace, perchè sussorroni e sovvertitori della pubblica tranquillità e di sostituire agli ungari altrettanti sacerdoti italiani a cui il governo locale ha maggior stima e confidenza. A tale innovazione cagionata dall’imprudenza del mentovato esploratore Giovanni Iernes ho fatto le mie osservazioni di comune accordo con questo signor imperiale agente perchè ha dell’insinuazione e dell’assolutismo ruteno, perchè tale principio, abbenchè sembra lusinghevole in apparenza, ofende l’autorità ecclesiastica, a cui appartiene indipendentemente il provvedere i suoi popoli nei bisogni spirituali nelle libere elezione dei propri pastori senza mai avvincolarsi nei propri diritti. Piacquero al signor agente tali miei rimarchi di un ben presto ne fece uso con tutto lo zelo onde rinpedire ogni reazione nel mio esercizio del ministero vescovile presto nel principe regnante, che si compiacque d’aggradire a condizione però che il vescovo debbe essere risponsabile tenendo al dovere li religiosi dissidenti dissipando ogni spirito di partito.

[15] See for the most recent and exhaustive approaches on the problem of the Hungarian Csángos from Moldavia Hungarian Csángós in Moldavia. Essays on the past and present of the Hungarian Csángós in Moldavia (ed. by László Diószegi), Budapest: Teleki László Foundation – Pro Minoritate Foundation, 2002.

[16] See Pal, op. cit.: 154. Pal’s book tries to argue the pure Romanian origin of the Catholic communities from Moldavia as early as from the Middle Ages.