Mother Cabrini first had the “call” to work in Asia, but during a meeting with Pope Leo XIII, he encouraged her to go west to the Americas. She went to New York City to establish a orphanage for Italian children and continued this work establishing schools, orphanages and hospitals in cities like New Orleans, Chicago and Seattle.
In 1899, her work brought her to Scranton. Here she established a school and convent while the Diocese of Scranton also was establishing a church for Italians in the city. The church, the school and convent would all end up in the former No. 16 School on Chestnut Avenue in West Scranton. The new congregation would be called St. Lucy’s.
Mother Cabrini left this new school in the hands of the order of sisters she founded, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
This wasn’t the last time this future saint would visit the Electric City. She paid another visit in 1913, stopping by the school and convent she established 14 years earlier. While there she thanked the good people of St. Lucy’s for all the help they had given her.
While visiting the school in 1913, she also took a moment to speak with a young boy named Tony Johns. In 1990, Mr. Johns shared his memory of speaking with Mother Cabrini with Scranton Times columnist Joe Flannery. Mr. Johns said she stopped at his desk and asked his name in Italian. He responded, “Antonio.” She would go on to tell him that St. Anthony is a big saint and that he will watch over you for many years. He said she then placed a hand on his shoulder and paused for a moment. He felt that she said a prayer over him that day.
Mother Cabrini would die only four years after that visit in 1917 at age 67. But her work wasn’t done.
Following her death, she continued to help by answering the prayers of those in need. In 1938, she was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church after two miracles were attributed to her.
On July 7, 1946, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini was made a saint. This was a big deal here in Scranton. Two sisters from the convent she established here, Sisters Gesualdo and Limbania, traveled to Vatican City to represent Scranton at her canonization Mass. Joining the sisters on their journey was Mrs. Anthony DePaolo, of Scranton Street. Mrs. DePaolo said she was going because she had been interested in the works of Mother Cabrini for many years.
While these three Scrantonians were at the Vatican, a solemn high Mass in honor of her canonization was held at St. Lucy’s Church. The Most Rev. William Hafey celebrated the mass for an estimated crowd of 3,000 people.
That evening, a procession was held in the streets of West Scranton to honor St. Frances Cabrini. The procession was led by a statue of the new saint atop an automobile draped in papal colors and flanked by two girls, Frances Cabrini Melley and Frances Cabrini Ferraro. These two girls were the first in the parish to be named after the saint since her beatification in 1938. Following the float was a car that carried a group of Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart that at one time or another lived with St. Frances Cabrini. The rest of the procession was made up the following groups: the first communion and confirmation classes at St. Lucy’s, the Catholic Daughters of America, Blessed Virgin Sodality, Altar and Rosary Society, Legion of Mary, Sacred Heart League and St. Frances Cabrini Society. Once the procession made it to St. Lucy’s, a novena was said to St. Frances Cabrini, followed by a blessing with a relic of her.
The city of Scranton marked the canonization by renaming Chestnut Ave in honor of the saint. It is now known as St. Frances Cabrini Avenue.
The school founded by a saint would continue to operate until 1974. But the building would find another purpose as a home for senior citizens operated by United Neighborhood Centers.