Mother Cabrini

November 8, 1998
Brother John Raymond

Mother Cabrini High School is probably like many other Catholic high schools, except for the fact that a saint's body can be found in the church associated with it. Under the main altar in the church enclosed in glass the body of Mother Cabrini can be seen, although now it is encased in wax. At one time her body was incorrupt. Perhaps parents might think of bringing their children to see this shrine dedicated to an American Saint. It is located at 701 Ft. Washington Avenue in New York, NY (tel. 212-923-3536). She really was the Mother Teresa of Calcutta of her time.

Like to know more about her? Well, she was the thirteenth child born to Augustine and Stella Cabrini on July 15, 1850. She was christened Maria Francesca. (Thirteen was a lucky number for these parents!) Augustine farmed the land he owned in Sant' Angelo Lodigiano, a town in northern Italy. Her parents were devout Catholics whose piety definitely had an influence on her future vocation. Her parents would read aloud various Catholic works including the "Annals of the Propagation of the Faith" to their children. This particular work inspired young Francesca with a desire to go to the foreign missions. Later her parents would insist on Francesca becoming a schoolteacher, which she did. At 20 years old, after both her parents had died, Francesca pursued her true heart's desire, a religious vocation.

Both communities she applied to rejected her because of poor health. A rather eccentric woman had founded an orphanage at a parish in Codogno. The parish priest and the bishop asked her to help out there hoping to turn the staff into a religious community. Francesca suffered much under this woman who really became insane. After seven years they were able to make their first vows. Francesca was put in charge but this same woman continued to give her much trouble for the next three years. Finally, the Bishop gave her permission to start an institute of missionary sisters. Mother Cabrini and her seven recruits moved to an abandoned Franciscan friary. Here she drew up constitutions for the community. Their principal work was to be the Christian education of girls. They were called The Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Soon she opened three other houses.

A bishop had begun a society of priests to help with the Italian immigrants in America. He asked Mother Cabrini if her community would go to America and help these priests. She had wanted to go to the East. She asked the advice of Pope Leo XIII who told her, "Not to the East, but to the West." This was not an easy trip for her. As a child she had fallen into a river. Since then she feared water. Now she would have to cross it in a ship. (In her lifetime she would cross the Atlantic twenty-five times by ship.) With six sisters she landed in New York on March 31, 1889. She founded a house at West Park, on the Hudson River. She was called away to found a house in Nicaragua. On her return she stopped by New Orleans and founded another house. In 1892 she began the Columbus Hospital in New York.

Mother Cabrini returned to Italy for the opening of two more houses. The order was expanding rapidly. By 1907 the order had increased to over a thousand sisters in eight countries. In her lifetime she was to see sixty-seven houses founded: free-schools, high schools, hospitals and other establishments. She died at a convent of her sisters in Chicago on December 22, 1917. She was canonized in 1946, becoming the first citizen of the United States to become a saint. Her feastday is November 13th.