ROME, Italy — Native Romans Nicoletta and Umberto Pagnani have been married 41 years — all of them as members of the Church.
Forty-five years ago, though, when both were students at a medical university in Rome and encountered Mormon missionaries at a bus stop on a Saturday, the future Nicoletta Pagnani was skeptical.
“They were speaking about angels and gold plates,” she related in a recent interview at the chapel of the Rome 2nd Ward. “I even thought [Umberto] was a little crazy,” she said, recalling how she felt when he made the decision to join the Church.
As a self-proclaimed agnostic, it would take two years for her to accept the gospel.
For his part, Umberto Pagnani said he was simply curious at first. He had discussions with the missionaries for several weeks after the initial encounter, then went on vacation. He read the Book of Mormon while he was away. He looked for the elders when he returned, continued with discussions, and was baptized a year later, on July 24, 1974.
His fiancee’s conversion took a while longer.
“I was doing everything the missionaries asked me to, but I wasn’t getting an answer,” despite praying, Nicoletta Pagnani recalled. Then, one morning while she was preparing breakfast, “It came to me that Jesus was the Savior. From that point on, I felt the truth of the Church. I knew I needed to be baptized.”
Umberto Pagnani, who had already been a member for a year, baptized his future wife in the summer of 1975. They continued their studies and received their medical degrees, his as an ophthalmologist and hers as a pediatrician. They were married according to civil law in March 1977 and immediately made a trip to the temple in Bern, Switzerland, to be sealed.
Two daughters born in the covenant have also been married in the temple and are raising the Pagnanis’ five grandchildren in the gospel. Serena Teodosi is in the Rome 2nd Ward and Adriana Gessati in the Rome 5th. Along with their husbands and parents, they are helping provide a solid foundation for the growth of the Church in Rome.
A retired pediatrician, Nicoletta Pagnani remains involved with children in her calling as second counselor in the ward Primary. Both she and her husband have held many different callings over four decades.
A temple in Rome
Umberto Pagnani, who serves on the high council of the Rome Italy East Stake, expressed excitement about the announcement of the open house and dedication dates for the Rome Italy Temple.
“There’s a lot of curiosity about the temple. All our friends and relatives want to go inside. They’re waiting for that,” he said.
Nicoletta Pagnani noted that because their nonmember friends know and respect them, it will be a positive experience when those friends attend the open house.
Umberto Pagnani said the stake is encouraging members to work on family history and have family names ready for ordinance work when the temple is dedicated.
“Some of our own grandchildren will be old enough to do baptisms for the dead when the temple opens,” he added.
Nicoletta Pagnani, who was seriously ill for a time after the temple was announced, said, “I’m happy to be alive to see it open.”
The greatest blessings
Reflecting on their conversion to the gospel, she said, “The greatest blessing is that we’ve been able to raise our family in the Church,” along with “the trust between husband and wife and having the priesthood in our home.”
Because she and her husband tried to live gospel principles, she said, “our children have never [witnessed] us say one thing and do another.”
Umberto and Nicoletta Pagnani are the only members of the Church among their parents and siblings, yet Nicoletta Pagnani’s mother, who died 10 years ago, noted the softening of Nicoletta’s heart when she became a Latter-day Saint.
When they see the problems some of their friends are having, Nicoletta Pagnani observed, “I think how the Savior has sweetly worked in our lives. Our lives in the Church are like a rock with the blessings from Heavenly Father gently lapping against it.”