In the opening scene of Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s 1958 novel “The Leopard,” beautifully rendered by Luchino Visconti’s 1963 film of the same name, it is May 1860, and the Sicilian Prince of Salina’s family has gathered to recite the rosary. When I first saw that film, I was impressed by this archaic Old-World custom. Growing up among nominal Protestants and secular Jews in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1950s and 1960s, I had never witnessed anything like it. I had only a couple of Roman Catholic classmates, one of whom lived in a large family that seemed to be in a state of perpetual pandemonium. It appeared to confirm the stereotype of Catholics as poor and ignorant – ignorant because they were poor, poor because they were ignorant. Large families were considered a sign of ignorance.
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