Mother Cabrini: First U.S. Citizen to Become a Saint by Fr Charles R. Connor, PhD.
"Mother Cabrini is a woman of fine understanding and great holiness... she is a Saint." So Said Pope Leo XIII, a pontiff who know her well and was to play a significant role in her life.
Frances Xavier Cabrini was the first citizen of the United States to be canonized and her story is most interesting. It began on July 15, 1850; she was the 13th of 13 children, and her birthplace was San Angelo Lodigiano. Her family was extremely religious; in fact nightly readings came from the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith. That is significant because her desire to be a missionary to China, though never fulfilled, is traceable to these early years. She was turned down twice by religious communities when she attempted to enter at a young age, and what finally did bring her vocation to reality was a request from the Bishop of Lodi asking her to gather some like minded women to run the House of Providence Orphanage at Codogno, in his diocese. From that band of women was born the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
Once established, the highest priority was the Order's locale. Bishop Scalabrini, who had established the Society of Saint Charles to work with immigrants in the United States, urges her to come to America, as did the Archbishop of New York, Michael A. Corrigan. Mother Cabrini was still intent on China and decided to ask the personel council of Pope Leo XIII. The pontiff is suppossed to have replied, "Not to the East but to the West." With that, she and her Sisters set sail for New York City.
There were some 50,000 Italian immigrants in Manhattan in 1889, though the Sisters did not have an easy time of establishment. When Archbishop Corrigan was their plight and suggested they might consider returning to Italy, Mother Cabrini more resolved than ever. Over the next 35 years, she crossed the Ocean 30 times, establishing 67 houses of her order( schools, hospitals, orphanages) not only in the United States but also in France, England and South America.
Frances Xavier Cabrini has been describes as a "born leader, as strict as she was just," she continually encouraged her sisters to "sacrifice yourselves...readily and always. Her death occured in Chicago, though her burial place to this day is on Fort Washington Avenue, in Upper Manhattan. As one biographer so aptly said of her "her glory belongs to Italy, to America, to the Church and to mankind."
The Life and Work of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini
Feast Day: November 13th
Foundress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, patroness of immigrants, and the first citizen of the United States to be canonized
Francesí Early Life
Maria Francesca Cabrini was born two months premature on July 15, 1850 on a farm in Sant' Angelo Lodigiano, near Milan, Italy. She was the youngest of thirteen childen but only four, including herself survived to adulthood. Her parents, Agostino Cabrini and Stella Oldini raised their children in a devout Catholic home dedicated to the Sacred heart of Jesus. Throughout her life, this frail, peasant farm girl would surprise the world. What she lacked in physical strenght, she more than made up for in spirit. Many would underestimate Frances, only to find an indomitable will set on doing God's work.
Frances, always susceptible to illness, was home-schooled under Rosa, her equally devout sister and the village school mistress. Rosa was fifteen years her senior. Frances's health problems would effect her severly later on in years as she extensively traveled throughout the world but that would not stop her. Because of Rosa and her uncle Father Luigi Oldini. Frances became more faithful a Catholic as the years went on.
One of the most extraordinary events of Frances's life was the day she received Confirmation on August 1, 1858. When anointed with the chrism oil she felt changed. She remarked later," from that moment I was no longer of the earth...I knew the Holy Ghost had come to me." Having heard the stories of the missionaries all her life, she now wanted to become a missionary in China. When she brought up the idea to Rosa, (out of concern for her frail and sickly sister) Rosa scolded Frances saying "You, so little and ignorant, how dare you think of becoming a missionary?" Frances would keep her dream and wait for Divine Providence to bring it about.
Founding the Missionary Sisters of The Sacred Heart
Frances endured many sorrows and disappointments. By the time she was twenty, both her parents and most of her brothers and sisters had died. Others would have retreated from life, perhaps plunging into anger and despair but the hard life of a peasant farmer only strengthened Frances's character. Her resolve would launch Frances on a glorious career as the faithful servant of God. In 1863, following her older sister's footsteps, she studied to be a schoolteacher at the Normal School run by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart at Arluno. Rosa and Frances both were devoted to prayer and charitable works. For Frances, living a semi-religious life at the school with the sisters was a dream come true. When Frances received her teacher's diploma in 1868, Rosa entered religious life. Frances also applied for admission to two religious communities, including the Daughters of the Sacred Heart. But after falling victim to smallpox in 1872 (contracted while visiting the sick and poor) and with a record of poor health that was to plague her life, she was turned down by both communities. It was felt that she might not be able to endure the demands of religious life. The Mother Superior of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, Mother Grassi, told Maria: "you are destined to found an institute that will bring glory to the Heart of Jesus." This turned out to be very prophetic.
Frances trusting in God waited. Throughout all her disappointments, she learned the valuable lessson of humility and was being forged into a woman with an iron will. Despite life's adversities she would be God's faithful and valient servant.
Taking the advice of her pastor, Don Antonio Serrati, in 1874 Frances went to administer the orphanage in Codogno. When the orphanage closed in 1880, Bishop Dominic Gelmini, encouraged Frances to begin an order devoted to the missions. "You always wanted to be a missionary," he said to her. "I know of no such order of women. Why not found one yourself?" "I'll look for a house right away,' Frances answered.
As it turned out, during those six years at the orphanage, Frances had formed a spiritual community with some of her associates. So when the orphanage closed, seven women and Frances banded together to form the Institue of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. It was Nov. 14, 1880. It was at this time Mother Cabrini took the name "Xavier" in imitation of St. Francis Xavier who brought the Faith to the Orient. All her life, Mother Carini hoped to follow in his footsteps. Mother Cabrini was now 30 years old.
Bishop Domenico Gelmini approved the group as a diocesan institute. In his mind, he thought they would be content to be just a diocesan institute. However, Mother Cabrini never forgot her dream to be a missionary to China. With the Bishop's permission she rewrote the community rule and headed for Rome seeking Papal approval that would allow her and her sisters to work anywhere in the universal Church.
"All for Jesus, All with Jesus, All in Jesus and for His most loving heart in which I desire to melt and lose myself."-Retreat Note of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, Rome, February 15, 1887.
Mother Cabrini arrive in Rome in September 1887. The Cardinals were amused at the grandiose dreams of this young niave, farm girl. This frail girl seemed to them to be a bit innocent, a sheep in a wolf's world. When she told them that her plan was to open not one but two houses in Rome and to receive the personal approval of Poe Leo XIII for her institute, they just smiled. After all, the bureaucracy of Rome moved very slowly and the canonical scrutiny of the rule took time. They treated her pleasantly and expected that in time she would give up and go back to her diocese. The Cardinals underestimated this small, frail girl. She did not give up untilshe won over the cardinals and received her personal audience with Pope Leo XIII, who would become her good friend. To everyones surprise Pope Leo XIII quickly approved her foundation on March 12, 1888. Frances also opened two convents in Rome to work with the poor.
While in Rome, Mother Cabrini met the Bishop of Piacenza, Giovanni Battista Scalbrini. This meeting would change Mother Cabrini's life and end her dream of going to China.
The plight of the Italian immigrants to America was becoming known in Rome with great alarm. Italian immigrants faced many hardships in the United States. They worked at the most menial labor and experienced discrimination both as foreigners and as Catholics. Uprooted, without pastoral care, they were strangers even in their own Church. The Catholic Church in America was English speaking and not equipped to deal with the non-English speaking immigrants. They were also the systematic targets of Protestant proselytism. It was the time of great anti-catholic fever in America. There was even a political party, the Know-Nothing Party that wanted the borders closed to keep out Catholics. Despite this, the great majority of Italians maintained an eagerness to return again to their Cathoilc faith and devotions. Seeking the help of religious women, Bishop Scalabrini asked Mother Cabrini to go to New York to work with the Italian immigrants. She hesitated because her dream was to go the the Orient.
Wanting to do the will of God, Mother Cabrini went to Pope Leo XIII. She would not get the answer she hoped for. Pope Leo XIII knew of Mother Cabrini's desire , but he told her, "Not to the East, but to the West." Weighing heavily on the Pope's heart was the terrible conditions of the Italian immigrants in America. Obedient to God's will, Mother Cabrini would not go to China but to Chinatown in New York City and the fast growing lower East Side were over 50,000 Italians were trying to survive bodily and spiritually.
Twenty-Eight Years of Faithful Service
Upon her arrival in New York City in March 31, 1889, Mother Cabrini and her sisters were lodged in a home in the East Side slums of New York. The women didn't even sleep in the beds because they were so infested with bugs. Following their arrival in America, Mother Cabrini was told by Archbishop Michael Corrigan to go home because there was no convent in the Italian district. When she politely stood up and told him she was there "by the order of the Holy See" and that she would stay. Archbishop Corrigan flew into a rage. However, Mother Cabrini waited patiently for the anger to subside. She would win him over and Archbishop Corrigan became her friend. With a touch of Irish wit, Archbishop Corrigan made peace not with an olive branch but by personally delivering to her the palm he had carried earlier in the Palm Sunday procession. She started her convent and even planned an orphanage.
This demonstrates the steadfastness and strong resolve that was to guide Mother Cabrini's work with the Italian immigrants in the United States. Almost immediately she plunged into parish work with the Italian immigrants who had been cut off from the practice of their faith due to the language barrier anf the lack of Italian priests and sisters.
When Mother Cabrini began her orphanage for Italian children she ran into a lack of support from Archbishop Corrigan, who decreed that money could only be collected from Italians. This posed a significant problem because many of the Italian immigrants were to poor to contribute the sums of money that were needed. Once again, she won over the Archbishop, who relented and eventually allowed funds to be collected from all Catholics. Now with the Archbishop's blessing she raised the money to buy a house for an orphanage and a convent.
West Park Orphanage, 1890
After a trip back to Italy, she returned to new York City with seven more sisters. Upon arrival she learned that the Jesuits were willing to sell at a low price a mansion in West Park on the Hudson River. Mother Cabrini felt that this would be an ideal place for the orphanage, but knew that the delimina in acquiring it would be to convince the Archbishop of its value. To gain his support she innocently asked the Archbishop where he felt the orphanage should be located without mentioning the Jesuit's mansion. Mother Cabrini was well aware that if it were the archbishop's idea, then the location of the orphanage would be secure. With the attainment of the property, the success of the orphanage was assured. On Palm. Sunday of 1899, an orphanage for Italian children was begun.
Mother Cabrini would prove not to be so niave. Founding schools, hospitals and charitable works of every kind, she would cross the ocean thirty times, bringing bands of her young Italian Sisters to Noth and South America. Ironically, Mother Cabrini was petrified of being on the water. She would only embark on a voyage if it were to do God's business for then God's hand was upon the ship keeping it and her safe. Explaining why she did not accompany some Sisters on a boat excursion she wrote,"I admit my weakness, I am afraid of the sea. And if there is no very holy motive in view, I have no courage to go where I fear danger, unless by obedience. For then, of course, one's movements are blessed by God."
In 1892, Mother cabrini traveled to New Orleans, where poverty among the Italian immigrants was worse that it was in New York. The immigrants were spiritually starved but all this started to change with the arrival of Mother Cabrini. Seeing the great good being done, Archbishop Janssens would be a good friend and supporter of Mother Cabrini.
When back to New York, Archbishop Corrigan begged Mother Cabrini to take on hospital work. She had doubts about wether the apostolate of the sick was her mission. Then one night, she had a dream where she saw the Blessed Virgin Mary tending to a hospital Patient. Mother Cabrini asked the Virgin Mary what she was doing. The BlessedVirgin responded, "I am doing the work you didn't want to do. Mother Cabrini moved quickly and established a hospital on 12th Street in Lower Manhattan for the sick and poor Italians. It is now Cabrini Medical Center. New to this work, the Sisters turned out to be excellent healthcare providers and administrators. Mother Cabrini later went on to establish other hospitals in Chicago and Seattle.
Next, Sister Cabrini turned her attention to the educational needs of the Italian immigrants. Archbishop Corrigan asked her to begin a new shcool. This school was to become enormously successful. The result of this school was some of the first vacations and her West Park novitate was soon full. In 1892 the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred heart of Jesus numbered 200 members in 14 houses. This unprecented growth was a testament to the tremendous success of Mother Cabrini's work.
Mother Cabrini, Columbus Hospital, 12th St. Manhattan, 1892
In 1899 the Sisters took over a parochial school in Chicago. From there Mother Cabrini went to Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Italian immigrants sought her help to open their own school. Mother Cabrini gathered the necessary rescources and Bishop Hoban purchased an old public school that became Cabrini School located on what is now St. Frances Cabrini Ave. It served St. Lucy's parish for 71 years. Today, it is Called the Cabrini Apartments for the senior citizens.
From Scranton, she founded a school in Newark, New Jersey. Back in New York City, Mother Cabrini started what today is called Mother Cabrini High School on Fort Washington Ave. Her remains lie here in the Chapel under the Altar.
In 1902, Sister Cabrini traveled to Colorado, ministering to Italian immigrants who worked in the mines under very harsh conditions. She founded a school and then an orphanage for the children left fatherless by the dangerous mines. She built a shrine to the Sacred heart of Jesus, which is still open in Golden, Colorado. She formed, with her own hands, the Sacred Heart from nearby stones (now covered in glass). The shrine and retreat house functions to this day. See it at: http://geoimages.berkeley.edu/worldwidepanorama/wwp1204/html/JohnFellers.html
She extended her educational and childcare missions to Santa Monica, california where there were settlements of Italian as well as Mexican immigrants. By September 1905, a school and an orphanage had been opened. Later a clinic for tubercular children would be started in the Santa Monica Mountains north of the city.
Next, she expanded her hospital in new York City and set up an orphanage in Passaic, New Jeresy. In Chicago she was asked to build a hospital by Bishop Quigley. Today it is Columbus Hospital of Chicago.
In 1905 Mother Cabrini traveled to Seattle where she took over a parochial school and started the Sacred Heart Orphanage. Here in Seattle Mother Cabrini realized her dream of becoming a citizen of the United States.
Sacred Heart Orphanage, c. 1905
After Denver, Sister Cabrini traveled to New Orleans, where the orphanage had become to small. Despite pressure from varios groups who opposed Sisters' efforts, on February 4, 1907 the new orphanage was inaguarated.
Exhausted from years of travel and the burdens of so many, Sister Cabrini returned to her room in Chicago's Columbus Hospital for a rest. Unexpectedly at midday on December 22, 1917 she died while sitting in a chair in her room. She was preparing Christmas gifts for 500 needy children. She died as a result of a cerebral hemorrhage.
A novice , Sister Anna Lawrence Infante, summed up Sister Cabrini's life when she wrote: "Her's was a life lived for God alone... No task was too great, no labor too hard, no journey too long and fatiguing, no suffering's were unbearable when saving souls and succoring of suffering humanity were in question." At the time of her death, a long time friend, Cardinal Mundelein of Chicago, recalled the paradox of her dynamic power in so frail a frame and asked: "Does not all this fulfill the concept of a noble woman?"
Canonization Tapestry, July 7, 1946
Pope Leo XIII wrote that he found her "a woman of marvelous intuition and of great sanctity." Mother Cabrini founded almost 70 hospitals, schools and orphanages in the United States, Spain, France, England, and South America, more than one for every year of her life. When Mother Cabrini died over 1500 nuns, who aided the poor, the illiterate, the unskilled and the sick, staffed her institutions. This remarkable growth occurred over her 28 years as Mother Superior of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
Thus, through all of the setbacks or maybe "tests" that Mother Cabrini endured, she grew into the saint that is so remembered today. Purified by her trials she became the active, selfless, courageous, loving and obedient servant of God. Above the chair in which she died was placed a plaque with the words: "From this chair the soul of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini took flight to Heaven." She is remembered for trusting in God to assist her in many endeavors. Her love of God enabled her to "reach out to... the tired, the poor, the broken-hearted, the needy, and the immigrant" while at the same time, deepen the faith of the immigrants and help strengthen their ties to the Catholic Church.
Truly, Mother Cabrini is testimony to the power of God's grace that made all this possible. Frances Xavier Cabrini was canonized a saint by Pope Pius XII on July 7, 1946. Today, her Sisters continue to oversee misssions in 16 countries. Whether the missions are social, educational, or medical they continue to be centers of evangelization. The Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini Shrine is located at 701 Fort Washington Ave. (190th Street) in New York City. Phone # 212-923-3536. This story was compilied from many sources on the internet.
Hundreds to Worship at Shrine to Blessed Mother Cabrini
Thousands of Northeastern Pennsylvania residents will flock to St. Lucy's Church next Sunday to pay homage to Blessed Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, onetime frequent visitor to Scranton, now the first American citizen to become a saint.
Local festivities in observance of the canonization will be held at the same time as rites conducted by Pope Pius XII in Rome.A solemn high mass will be celebrated at St. Lucy's by the Rev. Salvatore J. Florey, pastor, at 11 a.m., and a procession in honor of the saint will be held in the evening.
A special shrine to Blessed Mother Cabrini has been erected in the church, and novena services preparatory to the canonization opened Friday, on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, and will continue every evening at 7:30 o'clock.
The services consist of the Rosary, Litany of the Sacred Heart, special prayers for Mother Cabrini's intercession, sermon and benediction of the blessed sacrament, The Rev. Alphonsus Grande, CP, is director of the novena, assisted by the pastor and his assistants.
Mass is celebrated at 7, 8 and 9 a.m. every day.
Blessed Mother Cabrini stayed a week at the home of the late Mr. and Mrs. Fortunato Tiscar in 1899, when she was here making arrangements for the establishment of St. Lucy's Parochial School, now called the Mother Cabrini School.
She visited this City several times since. Her last visit was in 1913, a few years before her death. She was responsible for the establishment of 67 schools, orphanages, and hospitals.
Flying to Rome
Representatives of the religious order she founded, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, will leave LaGuardia Field Wednesday to fly to Rome for the canonization rites.
Among them will be nuns from Chicago, Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles and New Orleans, as well as two Scranton nuns, Sister Gersualda and Sister Limbania.
Mrs. Mary DePaolo, 916 Scranton St., left Friday for Rome to attend the canonization rites. She is active in the affairs of the Mother Cabrini Society, Scranton.
Mrs. Angelo W.Fiorani, also amember ofthe society, has been named honorary chairman of Social events in connection with .the local canonization celebration. Miss Catherine Agnone is chairman.
Following the procession and service Sunday night, a band concert and social will be held in the church gardens. Cetta's Band will play.