Argentine pioneer saw Church grow from small beginnings

At this time of the year when members think of pioneers, it is appropriate to recall the life of one of the pioneers of the Church in this country, Antonino Gianfelice, 74.

Brother Gianfelice is a well-known and greatly respected leader now serving as a temple sealer in the Buenos Aires Argentina Temple. He is also the first patriarch to be ordained in South America, and continues to serve in this calling in the Buenos Aires Argentina Castelar Stake.The son of Italian immigrants who accepted the gospel from the first missionaries to Argentina in 1926, he has also served as mission president, district and branch president, and mission president's counselor. With his wife, Delia A. Salvatore de Gianfelice, he served a mission in the Sao Paulo Temple as well. He served a full-time mission in 1942.

Antonino Gianfelice was 5 years old when his family heard about the Church. This was just a few months after South America had been dedicated by Elder Melvin J. Ballard on Dec. 25, 1925. Elder Ballard, a member of the Council of the Twelve, and his associates Elders Rulon S. Wells and Rey L. Pratt of the First Council of the Seventy (who spoke German and Spanish, respectively), had arrived Dec. 6, 1925, to initiate missionary work in South America.

The Gianfelice family encountered the Church one Sunday morning in 1926, said Brother Gianfelice. "We went to visit a family of friends of my parents," he said. "While we were there, we could hear what seemed to be singing of church hymns. My parents enjoyed the singing very much. We were told that it was a church brought by foreigners who lived with German families. My mother asked my father to investigate to learn if it was possible to attend this new church. During the following week, a man distributed pamphlets from door to door. The pamphlet was titled, "The Gospel Restored" and listed the meeting times and addresses of the Church." The Gianfelice family attended the next week.

"In our home, we will always remember the first visit of the missionaries," continued Brother Gianfelice. "Elder Rey L. Pratt asked my father if he could visit, and my father said that we lived in very small quarters, and were very poor." Elder Pratt made an appointment to come.

"It was raining heavily and most of the streets were blocked the day the missionaries were to come, and my father thought they would never make it. Nevertheless, the missionaries came, stopping first at our neighbor's home, and then our home.

"As was the custom with Italians, my mother served wine to our visitors. Brother Pratt said, `We understand that people who work hard may want to drink wine, but we do not drink it.'

"My father responded, `If you do not drink, neither do we.' "

Later, said Brother Gianfelice, Elder Pratt taught the family to pray and told them that they were to use their own words, and that the Church did not have a prayerbook.

The missionaries made a great impact on the lives of the family. "Elder Pratt understood the language and had much experience," said Brother Gianfelice. "He was a person always willing to share his understanding of the gospel."

The Gianfelice family was the first baptized after Elder Pratt, Elder Melvin J. Ballard and Rulon G. Wells departed for the United States. Pres. Karl Bruno Reinhold Stoof then presided over the mission.

"I was baptized on my eighth birthday on Aug. 22, 1928," said Brother Gianfelice. "The river was very full. My mother was asked if she was not afraid I would become ill from entering the cold water. The river was very swift, and the missionary who baptized me had to hold me in his arms until we reached the area where the water was deep enough for my immersion."

During this year, an incident involving Brother Gianfelice's father, Donato, was recorded by early missionary Frederick S. Williams:

"The winter of 1928 was one of the wettest on record. Rain fell almost continuously for 21 days and the sun disappeared altogether. Buenos Aires is a table top and at that time had no storm drains. After a few days the water

hadT become so deep that . . . soon all traffic stopped. Often we waded across intersections in water up to our belts; we were always cold and wet.

"One Sunday during this period we had to walk 65 blocks to Liniers

to hold a meeting thereT and the Gianfelice family had walked back with us to spend Sunday evening with us. After all the members had gone home that night . . . we heard a knock at the door. It was Brother Gianfelice, who had left only an hour or so before. He said: `Will you pray to the Lord to forgive me? When I paid my tithing this afternoon, I miscalculated and underpaid the Lord 20 centavos (at the time about a nickel in American money). . . . I would not have been able to sleep knowing that I had cheated the Lord in my tithing.' " (From Acorn to Oak Tree, by Frederick S. Williams and Frederick G. Williams, p. 58.)

In 1942, Frederick S. Williams was president of the Argentine Mission when Antonino was called as a full-time missionary to serve in that mission.

"Missionary work in those days was very slow. It was necessary to earn the friendship of the people, visit them many times, be patient, and teach the gospel little by little.

"My mission helped me to develop spiritually, to learn to be fully involved in the work of the Lord, to relate well with people, to preach in public, and, over all, to realize that we are lifelong missionaries."

Another milestone in the life of Brother Felice came in 1966 when the first stake in Argentina was created. "This was the fulfillment of a dream for many of the brothers and sisters of Argentina, some of whom are living today."

He said that the organizing authorities, Elder Spencer W. Kimball, then of the Council of the Twelve, and Elder Franklin D. Richards, then an Assistant to the Twelve, called him as bishop of the Liniers 1st Ward, and that he was later ordained as stake patriarch.

The latter calling was particularly meaningful to Brother Gianfelice. "My father always used to tell me about the experiences of the ancient patriarchs, and tell me of what a beautiful thing it would be to be able to have a patriarchal blessing."

Since that time, Brother Gianfelice has given more than 2,500 blessings.

It is appropriate that one of the earliest baptized members of Argentina now living is also serving in the temple.

"I now have the opportunity to serve in the temple as an ordinance worker and sealer," he said. "My spirit is overflowing with gratitude to the Lord for permitting me to serve my fellow beings, both those who are on the earth and those who have departed from it."

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed