Artscape: The Surprising History Of Jews At Providence College

May 31, 2018

Providence College is 101 years old.  In doing research before the centennial, two of the school’s professors unearthed a surprising story: For several decades in the first half of the 20th century, Catholic PC was a welcoming haven for Jewish students. For this month’s Artscape, RIPR’s Chuck Hinman introduces us to those professors, their story and how they turned it into the documentary, “Sons of Providence”:

Arthur Urbano and Jennifer Illuzzi
Credit Chuck Hinman / RIPR

Jennifer Illuzzi, an associate professor of history at Providence College, and Arthur Urbano. an associate professor of theology and chair of the Catholic-Jewish Theological Exchange, talked to Rhode Island Public Radio about their project, "Sons of Providence". Urbano explained that his involvement in the theological exchange initially sparked his curiosity about the subject of Jews at PC. He said his Jewish acquaintances in the exhange had mentioned to him over the years that there was a time when there was a large percentage of Jews at the college. 

"And I kept hearing this over and over again, to the point where I thought, this is really interesting. I need to find out more about this," he said. "I went into the enrollment services office, to discover that the school kept track of religious affiliation in the early decades. And as I went through the records I kept seeing Jewish, Jewish, Jewish, Hebrew, Jewish, Hebrew, so on and so forth. And I realized there was a good number here, and a big project that one person couldn’t work on alone."     

Urbano recruited Illuzzi the historian and they began working on a project that would involve them for the next five years.