At its annual meeting on Jan. 6 in Boston, the society presented Fr. Mormando with the Howard R. Marraro Prize for his book, The Preacher's Demons: Bernardino of Siena and the Social Underworld of Early Renaissance Italy, which was published in 1999.
The prize is awarded annually to the author of a distinguished scholarly work dealing with Italian history or Italo-American history or relations. Fr. Mormando's was the first book written on Bernardino in 35 years and offers a new view of the saint who was canonized only six years after his death.
"Having spent five years working on the book," said Fr. Mormando, who has taught at Boston College since 1994, "the award is a very gratifying vote of confidence."
Franco Mormando, SJ
In The Preacher's Demons, Fr. Mormando examines St. Bernardino's sermons to consider the role the 15th-century Franciscan friar played in Italian society. Where past examinations of Bernardino focused on his positive elements, Fr. Mormando's book seeks to show the darker side of the preacher, such as his attacks on homosexuals, witches and Jews.
Preachers of that era were the conduit through which the public got its news, information, gossip and opinion, according to Fr. Mormando, and popular ones like Bernardino had a great deal of influence. Bernardino's inflammatory rhetoric contributed to fear and intolerance of those on the margins of society.
"Fr. Mormando teaches us a great deal about Bernardino's world and his audience," wrote John E. Monfasani, chairman of the prize committee, in the citation for The Preacher's Demons.
"Here Bernardino's many failures are as important as his success and fame," said Monfasani, a history professor at the State University of New York at Albany.
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