November 13 – Patroness of missionaries

November 11, 2013

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, M.S.C.

Mother Vabrini

Also called Mother Cabrini, she founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, a religious institute which was a major support to the Italian immigrants to the United States. She was the first citizen of the United States to be canonized by the Catholic Church.

She was born in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano, in the Lombard Province of Lodi, then part of the Austrian Empire, the youngest of the eleven children of Agostino Cabrini and Stella Oldini, who were wealthy cherry tree farmers. Sadly, only four of the eleven survived beyond adolescence. Small and weak as a child, born two months premature, she remained in delicate health throughout her life.

St. Francis Cabrini

She took religious vows in 1877 and added Xavier to her name to honor the Jesuit saint, Francis Xavier, the patron saint of missionary service. She became the Superior of the House of Providence orphanage in Codogno, where she taught, and drew a small community of women to live a religious way of life In 1880, the orphanage was closed and then opened again by her. She and six other women who had taken religious vows with her founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (M.S.C.) on November 14.

Cabrini composed the Rule and Constitutions of the religious institute, and she continued as its Superior General until her death. The congregation established seven homes and a free school and nursery in its first five years. Its good works brought Mother Cabrini to the attention of (the now Blessed) Giovanni Scalabrini, Bishop of Piacenza, and of Pope Leo XIII.

Mother Cabrini is on the left side of the Sacred Heart.

Mother Cabrini is on the left side of the Sacred Heart.

Mother Cabrini went to seek approval of the Pope to establish missions in China. Instead, he suggested to her that she go to the United States to help the Italian immigrants who were flooding to that nation in that era, mostly in great poverty. “Not to the East, but to the West” was his advice.

St. Francesca Cabrini

She followed the papal will and left for the United States, arriving in New York City on March 31, 1889 along with six other Sisters. There she obtained the permission of Archbishop Michael Corrigan, the Archbishop of New York, to found an orphanage, which is located in West Park, New York, today and is known as Saint Cabrini Home—the first of 67 institutions she founded: in New York, Chicago, Des Plaines, Seattle, New Orleans, Denver, Golden, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and in countries throughout South America and Europe. Long after her death, the Missionary Sisters would achieve Mother Cabrini’s goal of being missionaries to China. In only a short time, after much social and religious upheaval there, the Sisters left China and, subsequently, a Siberian placement.

Mother Cabrini High School Chapel, where St. Frances Xavier Cabrini lies.

Mother Cabrini High School Chapel, where St. Frances Xavier Cabrini lies.

In New York City, she founded Columbus Hospital and Italian Hospital.

She was naturalized as a United States citizen in 1909.

Mother Cabrini died of complications from dysentery at age 67 in Columbus Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, on December 22, 1917, while preparing Christmas candy for the local children. Her body was originally interred at Saint Cabrini Home, an orphanage she founded in West Park, Ulster County, New York.

The Stone House, designed as a dormitory for the summer camp in 1914. Mother Cabrini negotiated the purchase of this property at Lookout Mountain in Golden, Colorado in 1910, to be used as a summer camp for Queen of Heaven Orphanage. Though the site had no reliable source of water, the Sisters complained to Mother Cabrini and she answered, “Lift that rock over there and start to dig. You will find water fresh enough to drink and clean enough to wash.” A spring issued forth and the water has never stopped.

The Stone House, designed as a dormitory for the summer camp in 1914. Mother Cabrini negotiated the purchase of this property at Lookout Mountain in Golden, Colorado in 1910, to be used as a summer camp for Queen of Heaven Orphanage. She called the sisters who were with her and said, “daughters, I dropped my cane… go back and find it. Where you find it make a sign with stones because that is where the house is to be built.” The cane was on a level spot overlooking the city of Denver. Though the site had no reliable source of water, the Sisters complained to Mother Cabrini and she answered, “Lift that rock over there and start to dig. You will find water fresh enough to drink and clean enough to wash.” A spring issued forth and the water has never stopped.

In 1931, her body was exhumed as part of the canonization process, and was found to be partially incorrupt. The major portion of her body is now enshrined under glass in the altar at St. Frances Cabrini Shrine, part of Mother Cabrini High School, at 701 Fort Washington Avenue, in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan.  The street to the west of the shrine was renamed Cabrini Boulevard in her honor.

At that time, her head was removed and is preserved in the chapel of the congregation’s international motherhouse in Rome.

On her last visit to Colorado in 1912, Mother Cabrini took several sisters and a few of the children from the orphanage by horse and buggy along a cow path to the foot of the highest hill. Leaving the buggy at the base, they climbed to the top where they gathered white stones and arranged them on the mountain in the shape of a Heart surmounted by a cross; with the smaller stones, she formed a crown of thorns, which are still present there beneath a glass case. She dedicated the hill to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, naming it the “Mount of the Sacred Heart”. A 373-step stairway leads to the top of this hill, where a 22 foot statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was erected in 1954.

On her last visit to Colorado in 1912, Mother Cabrini took several sisters and a few of the children from the orphanage by horse and buggy along a cow path to the foot of the highest hill. Leaving the buggy at the base, they climbed to the top where they gathered white stones and arranged them on the mountain in the shape of a Heart surmounted by a cross; with the smaller stones, she formed a crown of thorns, which are still present there beneath a glass case. She dedicated the hill to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, naming it the “Mount of the Sacred Heart”. A 373-step stairway leads to the top of this hill, where a 22 foot statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was erected in 1954.

She was canonized in Rome in 1946 by Pope Pius XII. Due to the overwhelming increase of pilgrims to her room at Chicago’s Columbus Hospital, the then-Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Stritch, consecrated a National Shrine built in her honor within the hospital complex.

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