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Catholic Faith Corner

Living in the Light
of Jesus Christ

St. Cabrini: An Amazing American

Recently I saw the movie Cabrini.  I hope you get a chance to see it if you haven’t already. Mother Cabrini is the first American saint. A woman, not a man, had this honor! The movie is inspiring especially because it shows what one weak woman can accomplish when she lets God direct her life. Because she was a woman of faith and blessed with business acumen, over the course of thirty-four years, she established no less than 67 schools, hospitals, and orphanages. In 2020, Colorado renamed Columbus Day Saint Cabrini Day. In that state she had founded an orphanage, a summer camp, and a small farm.

St. Cabrini’s life was incredible. She was born to farmers in Italy in 1850, two months premature, the youngest of thirteen children. She was diminutive, barely five feet tall and frail, and had piercing blue eyes.  Almost her entire life, she was sickly, and once succumbed to smallpox. She also encountered numerous other crosses.  But nothing stopped her.

As a child, Frances dreamed of being a missionary. She filled paper boats with violets (missionaries) and sent them down the river. Nearly drowning one day left her with a great fear of water. Despite that, she would cross the ocean 27 times to do God’s work.

Frances was called to be a Sister. When she applied to the religious community who had taught her, because of her poor health, she was rejected. She went on to receive a teaching certificate and taught at a village school. A priest told the bishop what an outstanding teacher she was, and he asked her to be in charge of an orphanage. She joined the Sisters who ran it and took the name Xavier, after St. Francis Xavier, S.J. who was a missionary in the Far East.

Under Sister Cabrini’s leadership, the convent’s ministries increased. The superior of the community, however, was jealous of young Sister Cabrini and bullied and harassed her for six years. When the diocese dissolved the community, Sister was asked to found a new one, which she did when she was thirty years old: The Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

A Missionary

Although Mother Cabrini wished to go to China, at an audience with Pope Leo XIII, he told her “not to the East but to the West” to the United States. Italian immigrants there were living under terrible conditions, including prejudice.

Mother Cabrini and six Sisters came to New York City in 1889. The Monsignor there did not give them a warm welcome, but he did find them a house. Mother Cabrini got to work immediately and organized education for the children. An orphanage housed children from the notorious Five Points neighborhood. She and the Sisters raised money by going door-to-door. An admirable businesswoman, she was ingenious and shrewd in persuading people to donate money, time, labor, and support.

When contractors tried to swindle the Sisters in remodeling a hotel into a hospital, she fired them, and spent weeks directing the workers herself.

Mother Cabrini led her Sisters to minister in the United States in Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Seatlle, Denver, and other cities. She also went to Europe, and Central and South America.

At the age of 59, in 1909, Mother Cabrini became a U.S. citizen. In 1917, when she was 67, she died in Chicago from endocarditis (inflammation of the inner lining of the heart caused by bacteria). Nine years after he death, her Sisters did go to China.


St. Frances Cabrini Shrine, Lincoln Field, Chicago

 Although 50 years are usually required to elapse after a person is canonized, she was canonized already in 1946. One of her miracles required for canonization was restoring sight to a day-old baby who had been blinded by a great overdose of silver nitrate solution in its eyes. The second miracle was of a terminally ill member of her congregation, who lived twenty more years. At a Mass of thanksgiving for Cabrini’s canonization, about 120,000 people filled Chicago’s Soldier Field.

As would be expected, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini was named the Patroness of Immigrants. Her feast day is November 13. It’s said that she also helps in finding a parking space because she was used to New York City traffic.

Mother Cabrini took these words of Jesus to heart …

• Are you a descendant of immigrants?  What is your story?

• What other woman has done prodigious things?

4 Responses

  1. We saw the Cabrini movie recently and were very impressed at the craft involved in making it. However, though it captured the good that St. Frances Xavier Cabrini did, it made little to no reference to her missionary spirituality that drove her ever outward to others. My wife, Therese, recently published an article with that speaks to this–

    1. Thank you, John, for adding your comment that takes us to more facts about St. Frances Cabrini. You’re right, her spirituality was largely ignored in the movie.

  2. My Father’s family were from Sciacca, Sicily. My Father was born there. I have many cousins. My Father’s parents were also from Sciacca. My Mother’s family were also from Sciacca. My Mother was American, also my Grandmother. It’s good to hear about St. Francis Cabrini. All the work she did for the Italian immigrants. In her day Italians were not liked. She built, hospitals, schools. Her name was Francesca Cabrini.

    1. Mother Cabrini was certainly a hero and a saint. Maybe somehow you are related to her, Linda.

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