By: Raymond Guarini
Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini is somewhat of a big deal among Italian Americans. She is also a pretty big deal to most Catholic immigrants and their children. Mother Cabrini, as she is often called, was born on July 15, 1850. Almost drowning while a child left her in frail health for most of her life, and terrified of water. Nevertheless, Mother Cabrini overcame her fears of water in her eventual travels between Italy and the United States via multi-week voyages across the Atlantic- 23 in total- to work with Pope Pius XII in the Catholic church’s efforts to evangelize and cultivate the flocks of Italian immigrants in many cities within the United States.
To really understand Mother Cabrini’s immense accomplishments, it is really important to realize that during her time there were few luxuries, especially in regard to travel. One thing that traveling to Italian neighborhoods and churches throughout the United States has afforded me, is the perspective of how immense of a land the United States really is, and how far apart many cities and towns are from one another. After conducting flights, train rides, and long car rides across the country and its northern and southern borders to document Italian enclaves, I can surely say that traveling in and of itself, despite the modern modalities of transport, is a tiring and wearing process. What would take one about two-and-a-half hours by car today to go from Manhattan, New York to Scranton, Pennsylvania, for example, would have taken Mother Cabrini a few days in her horse-drawn carriage. As I have gone from city to city over the span of almost a decade, I still have not yet been to as many Italian enclaves as Mother Cabrini. I am in awe of her accomplishments at a time when travel was not so easy. I am even more amazed at how she negotiated things such as the formation of hospitals, orphanages, and churches by buying large swaths of land and in some cases, overseeing the construction of buildings without any formal experience. It was unheard of for a woman to do, let alone a woman of the cloth. Beyond the United States, Mother Cabrini was also successful in establishing institutions in South America, Central America and Europe.
Mother Cabrini was first intent upon going to China to evangelize and conduct God’s work; however, she was told by Pope Pius in his famous words “not to the east but to the west” and so, Mother Cabrini wound up in New York after her first transatlantic voyage. Part of her mission there was to provide peace and education for the Italian immigrants, mainly children, who were the subject of fierce prejudice and anti-Italian sentiment. Not often discussed in most history classes, the reality for Italian immigrants in the United States in the late 1800’s and well into the 1900’s ,was not the easiest. Nonetheless, with the help of Mother Cabrini, and coordinating with the bishops of many dioceses throughout the country, places of worship were opened for Italian immigrants. Italian National parishes were formed with Italian priests to administer mass, as well as Italian teachers, mostly nuns, to teach at the schools.
Mother Cabrini is not only credited with being the first American citizen to become a saint, but she is also credited with establishing 67 institutions across the United States, many of which are still standing today. Hopefully, by her feast day next year, I can conclude an entire list of those institutions she founded in the United States along with unique photographs of them. In the meantime, it is important to mention that Mother Cabrini formed schools, orphanages, and hospitals. As a shrewd business woman, she was able to facilitate complex transactions with the toughest businessmen in order to raise money for the building and development of these institutions. Mother Cabrini’s influence and formation of institutions spanned New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Louisiana, Ohio, Illinois, Colorado, Nebraska, California, and certainly more.
Mother Cabrini is interred at her tomb in New York where her body is preserved for veneration and the carriage of her horse-drawn carriage is on display. There are several events such as masses and processions that are held for her on her feast day each year, namely a mass being held at 9am at St. Rita Church in Staten Island, New York.
Many miracles are attributed to Saint Frances Cabrini. The most commonly known was a miracle whereby an infant had caught pneumonia shortly after Mother Cabrini’s passing at a hospital which Cabrini helped found. The sisters prayed to Mother Cabrini for the infant’s return to full health and wrapped the baby in Mother Cabrini’s old habit. The doctor’s prognosis was that the baby would most likely pass. The infant’s fever of 106 degrees broke almost immediately and he returned to full health. That baby wound up becoming a priest.
In Recent News
Recently, Governor Cuomo of New York City, helped fund a monument to Mother Cabrini that is situated in Battery Park, Manhattan. The monument was created and placed after much fanfare by the Italian American community in New York and elsewhere after Mayor William DeBlasio’s wife snubbed Mother Cabrini as the winner of the She Built NYC campaign in 2018-2019. Apparently, Mother Cabrini, with the help of many of her New York based Devotees and staunch support by the Italian Enclaves Historical Society, received the most votes in this campaign, by far, which would grant the figure with the most votes a statue somewhere prominently displayed in New York. Ignoring the vast number of votes for Mother Cabrini, the mayor’s wife elected to ignore the democratic process of voting in order to honor someone else. The Italian American community was outraged and defiantly created a float for Mother Cabrini to be drawn in the 2019 Columbus Day parade and continued to petition the mayor and governor for something to be done to honor saint Frances Cabrini. After pressure from multitudes of Italian Americans and Catholics of other ethnic makeups, Cuomo conceded by having a statue placed along the shoreline of lower Manhattan in Battery Park.
Prayer to Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini:
Almighty and Eternal Father, Giver of all Gifts, show us Your mercy, and grant, we beseech You, through the merits of Your faithful Servant, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, that all who invoke her intercession may obtain what they desire according to the good pleasure of Your Holy Will.
[Mention your request]
O Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, mindful of Your bountiful goodness and love, deign, we implore You, through the tender devotion of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini for Your Sacred Heart, to hear our prayers and grant our petitions.
O God, the Holy Spirit, Comforter of the afflicted, Fountain of Light and Truth, through the ardent zeal of Your humble handmaid, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, grant us Your all-powerful aid in our necessities, sanctify our souls and fill our minds with Divine Light that we may see the Holy Will of God in all things.
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, beloved spouse of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, intercede for us that the favor we now ask may be granted.