Tag Archives: Italian American Pentecostalism

Dr. Anthony Palma (1926-2023): Assemblies of God Minister, Educator, Author

This Week in AG History —April 3, 1955

By Glenn W. Gohr
Originally published on AG-News, 06 April 2023

Anthony David Palma (1926-2023) was a beloved Assemblies of God minister, college and seminary professor, administrator, and author. He was born into a nominal Roman Catholic household to Italian immigrants Philip and Maria Palma on Dec. 22, 1926, in Moonachie, New Jersey. One of five children, he spent his early childhood in the Italian neighborhood in Hoboken, New Jersey.

At the age of 12, his family moved to Jersey City. Living nearby were three Italian immigrant ladies who attended a local Italian Pentecostal church. Because of their encouragement and evangelistic efforts, Anthony, his parents, and his older sister, Susan, began attending the church and accepted Christ. Anthony was 14 at the time of his salvation. Three years later he was baptized in the Holy Spirit (1943).

Palma placed great value on education and enrolled at Central Bible Institute (later Central Bible College) in Springfield, Missouri, in 1944. From 1945 to 1947 he attended Eastern Bible Institute (now University of Valley Forge). He returned to CBI from 1948 to 1949, graduating with a BA in Bible. Next he earned an MA in education from New York University in 1957. He also earned the Bachelor of Sacred Theology (STB) from New York Theological Seminary in 1960, and the STM (1966) and ThD (1974) from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.

Palma joined the U.S. Navy in 1950, serving during the Korean Conflict. He wrote articles for the Christ’s Ambassadors Herald while he was in the service. He viewed the military as a “tremendous mission field” with close to 5,000,000 men serving in the armed forces at that time. After his military service, he married Betty J. Leskela of Waukegan, Illinois, in August 1959, and they had two children. Palma later served as a chaplain in the U.S. Naval Reserve, attaining the rank of Commander.

While in the Navy, Palma said he “experienced a spiritual revolution which culminated in a deeper appreciation for our Pentecostal heritage.” This led him to pioneer a church in Hoboken, New Jersey, a city where he lived as a boy and “never once heard the message of salvation or saw a Bible.” Through his efforts souls were saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit. Palma pastored this home missions church for three years while he was attending seminary. He was ordained with the New Jersey district on May 19, 1960.

A notice about Anthony Palma planting an AG church in Hoboken, New Jersey, is featured on page 16 of the April 3, 1955, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Feeling a call to teach, Palma had an extensive ministry in education. He began teaching at South-Eastern Bible College (now Southeastern University) in Lakeland, Florida. He then taught at Central Bible College (1962-70); Evangel College (now Evangel University) (1970-73); and the Assemblies of God Graduate School (now Assemblies of God Theological Seminary) (1973-81), all located in Springfield, Missouri. He also taught at Valley Forge Christian College (now University of Valley Forge) in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania (1981-86), and Anthony and Betty both taught at American Indian Bible College (now SAGU American Indian College), Phoenix, Arizona (1990-1993).

As an administrator, he served as dean of theology at AGGS (1974-80), academic dean at VFCC (1981-86), and administrator/principal at Calvary Temple Christian Academy (1987-89) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He also served as president of the Society for Pentecostal Studies in 1978.

In addition, from 1993 to 2004, he and his wife filled preaching assignments and ministered as short-term teachers at overseas Bible colleges and seminaries in Belgium, Italy, the Philippine Islands, Korea, Nigeria, Colombia, Peru, and Brazil.

In 1993, Palma was honored by the General Council of the Assemblies of God with the Distinguished Educator Award in recognition of his distinguished service to Christian higher education.

A prolific writer, Palma authored a number of articles and books. His theses include: Glossolalia in the Light of the New Testament and Subsequent History (S.T.B. thesis, 1960); Tongues and Prophecy: A Comparative Study in Charismata (S.T.M. thesis, 1966); and The Holy Spirit in the Corporate Life of the Pauline Congregation (Th.D. thesis, 1974). He published several articles in the Pentecostal Evangel and “Spiritual Gifts — Basic Considerations” in Pneuma. His books include: The Writings of John: A Study Manual For Youth (1966); Knowing Your Bible (1970); The Spirit: God in Action (1974); Truth: Antidote for Error (1977); Baptism in the Holy Spirit (1999); and The Holy Spirit: A Pentecostal Perspective (2001).

Through his teaching, preaching, and writing, Anthony Palma made important contributions in the training of Pentecostal ministers and educators. He considered his teaching ministry as a professor of New Testament Theology and Greek (especially his work at AGTS) as the most important aspect of his life calling. One of his students said, “He opened my mind and my heart through his teaching of Bible scriptures. His life and that of his lovely wife were examples to us.”

Anthony Palma passed away on Feb. 23, 2023, in Media, Pennsylvania. His wife, Betty, passed away on April 14, 2020. Both are buried in Washington Crossing National Cemetery, Newtown, Pennsylvania.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Love’s Triumph in Gethsemane,” by Robert W. Cummings

• “Cheap Crosses,” by Edwin Raymond Anderson

• “Revival Among the Young People in Japan,” by Robert W. Frivold

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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The Legacy of Massimiliano Tosetto: Italian American Pentecostal Pioneer

M.Tosetto-1949 (2)By Paul J. Palma

Pentecostal pioneer, Massimiliano Tosetto, was many things—a loving husband, devoted father, pastor, artist, writer, composer, Bible scholar, and church founder. Born in Campiglia dei Berici, Veneto in 1877, from an early age Tosetto proved dedicated to his family, church, and education. He was a diligent student, despite growing up in a town where 80 percent of the population was illiterate. The untimely passing of his mother when he was eighteen prompted him to set out on his own. He entered the study of decorative art at the Art Institute of Milan and proceeded to find work as a fresco painter.

Raised Roman Catholic, Tosetto underwent a religious conversion at twenty-two. After three different priests refused to hear his confession (because his list was too long), he left Catholicism. Graciously offered a Bible by someone from a neighboring Baptist church, Tosetto set out on a new faith journey. His quest for further opportunity, along both economic and religious lines, drove him to emigrate for the New World. He arrived in Chicago in 1902. Impressed with his ability as a painter, Marshall Field’s Co. hired him as an interior decorator.

Tosetto learned of the “baptism in the Spirit” through R. A. Torrey, pastor of the large Moody Church in Chicago. Intrigued by this fuller experience of the Holy Spirit, in 1909 Tosetto attended a service at Chicago’s Assemblea Cristiana, the first Italian Pentecostal church on record. It was here that he discovered the baptism in the Spirit firsthand. In 1914, he married the organist Maria Pontarelli (with whom he had 6 children) of an immigrant family from San Vincenzo, Abruzzi. They plotted their future together through their joint service in the Pentecostal movement. After being miraculously healed of an ear infection, Tosetto left his day work as an artist and gave himself fully to the ministry.

Tosetto went on to found churches in New York, Ontario, Quebec, and in his hometown in Italy. He served twenty-nine years as pastor of Walnut Avenue Christian Church in Niagara Falls. He moved with his family to Niagara Falls in 1916, rented a two story flat, and began hosting worship meetings on the downstairs floor. There they set up Maria’s organ. Together with another family of six, they became the nucleus for a growing congregation. Tosetto put up a sign outside the home that read “Chiesa Cristiana” (Christian Church).

Tosetto built the congregation’s first baptismal pool by hand out of 2x4s. In about two years’ time, the congregation rallied enough funds to purchase a property down the street. Tosetto designed the building plans and erected a new chapel. Over the next several years the congregation thrived. By 1922, the chapel was attended by about 250 congregants. Needing a larger building once again, a novel plan was enacted whereby the existing church edifice was sawed in half. The two halves were moved a distance apart and new center walls, ceiling, and floors were constructed.

Tosetto became the visionary and organizational leader of the flagship Italian Pentecostal denomination, the Christian Church of North America (CCNA). Among the early Italian Pentecostal pioneers, Tosetto stood as a voice of order. It is no surprise that the banner raised above the pulpit of his Niagara Falls church read, “Do all things decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). In the 1920s, when theological controversy threatened to divide Italian Pentecostalism in North American and Italy, Tosetto encouraged the consolidation of churches into one body. The CCNA’s first General Convention was held in Niagara Falls at Tosetto’s church in 1927. He served as one of five original overseers of the denomination. Today the CCNA, known as the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies, has a membership of about 1,800,000 in nearly 3,600 congregations across each inhabitable continent of the world.

In addition to founding churches in the US and Canada, Tosetto established the Evangelical Christian Church in his hometown in Italy on August 15, 1908. This feat was accomplished despite strong opposition. Tosetto’s efforts won the support of neighboring churches, including financial backing from the local Methodists. Recently, Assemblies of God (AG) leadership convened at the church in an effort to bring the congregation under the covering of the AG in Italy.

Massimiliano passed away in 1949 on a preaching mission to Montreal, Quebec. His last message, themed “Precious in the Sight of the Lord is the Death of His Saints,” concluded with an exhortation to live in peace and love and with the words, “I feel as though I have wings, ready to fly.” He returned to Niagara Falls to be buried by the church he founded.

I conclude this reflection with a selection of a hymn Tosetto penned, with my translation in English alongside the original Italian. The hymn, “Pace, vera pace” (Peace, True Peace), was originally published as part of the hymnal, Nuovo libro d’inni e salmi spirituali (New book of hymns and spiritual songs):

Let the Lord be praised,
And glorified at every hour,
Blessed and thanked;
He is the peace in our hearts.

(Il Signore sia lodato,
E glorificato ognor,
Benedetto e ringraziato;
Egli è pace ai nostri cuor.)


Paul J. Palma, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies and Christian Ministry at Regent University, is the great-grandson of Tosetto. The story of the birth of Pentecostalism among Italian immigrants like Tosetto is chronicled in Palma’s new book, Italian American Pentecostalism and the Struggle for Religious Identity. Please visit Routledge.com for more information.


Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: iFPHC.org


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