Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini

Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, Virgin
1850-1917

November 13—USA Memorial
Liturgical Color: White
Patron Saint of immigrants and hospital administrators

Indomitable and charismatic, she moved mountains for the Lord

The hurricane of apostolic activity that was Mother Cabrini motored powerfully over the Atlantic Ocean, gathered force as it swept into the American heartland, and then rested there, perpetually oscillating, for almost three decades. A serene eye, though, hovered at the center of this low roar of activity. Mother Cabrini accomplished so much, so well, and so quickly, precisely because her soul rotated calmly around a fixed point, the immovable Christ. A peaceful focus on God in the morning rained down a storm of good works in the afternoon and evening.

Frances Cabrini was the tenth child born into a rural but well-to-do family in Northern Italy. Her uncle, a priest, had a deep influence on her, as did the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, whose school she attended as a teen. After graduation, she petitioned for entrance into the Daughters and, later, the Conossian Sisters. But Frances’ tiny frame had never quite conquered the frailty resulting from her premature birth. These Orders needed robust women capable of caring for children and the infirm. Nuns did not take vows so they could take care of other nuns. So even an application from an otherwise stellar candidate like Frances was reluctantly rejected due to her ill health. Frances eventually obtained a position as the lay director of an orphanage. Her innate charisma pulled people toward her like a magnet, and soon a small community of women grew up around her to share a common religious life. 

As proof of her apostolic zeal, Frances added “Xavier” to her baptismal name in honor of the great missionary Saint Francis Xavier. She then founded a modest house, along with six other women, dedicated to serving in the Church’s foreign missions. Frances was clearly the leader and wrote the new Institute’s Rule. Eventually the small Order received Church approval as the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The sisters’ excellent work became well known, and in 1887 Mother Cabrini, the Superior, met with Pope Leo XIII in Rome to inquire about her sisters evangelizing in China. The Pope listened to her in silence and then concluded simply: Her mission was “not to the East, but to the West.” The plug had been pulled on entire regions of Italy and their populations drained away to the United States. They needed the Church’s attention. 

In 1889 Mother Cabrini left for the United States with six sisters. Disembarking from the ship in New York Harbor, they were met by not even a single person. No one expected them, and no one welcomed them. The Archbishop was cold and told Mother Cabrini that he wanted Italian priests, not sisters, and that her ship was still docked in the harbor if she wanted to return to Italy.  She replied “I have letters from the Pope” and stayed and persevered amidst the most extreme hardships. 

Starting from absolute zero, Mother Cabrini miraculously began her work among Italian immigrants. She would work almost exclusively with, and for, Italians the rest of her life. She begged, pleaded, and cajoled. She pulled every lever of charm and persuasion she could reach. It worked. Her deep spirituality and constant state of motion soon put her in contact with Italian benefactors eager to help their own. Mother Cabrini was then seemingly everywhere, doing everything. She founded hospitals, orphanages, schools, workshops, and convents in New York, Denver, Cincinnati, Pittsburg, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Chicago. She trekked to Nicaragua, Argentina, and Brazil. She sailed back to Italy nine times. She became an American citizen but remained fully Italian in her identity and a source of pride for America’s many “Little Italies.” Mother Cabrini’s relentless energy, remarkable administrative skills, shrewdness, humility, and charisma quickly built an empire of charity. When she died in Chicago, she left behind sixty-seven institutions and a robust Order of dedicated nuns. On July 7, 1946, she became the first United States citizen to be canonized a saint. 

Mother Cabrini, you were indefatigable in your work for Christ and the Church. You knew no rest, no stranger, and no obstacle that could not be overcome. Inspire all evangelizers and teachers to be so brave and tireless in their service.


Further Reading:

Franciscan Media

Mother Cabrini

Wikipedia


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