St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

As a child in northern Italy, Francesca Cabrini was enthralled by stories of missionaries. Sadly, frail health made her unable to join a religious community. She received her teaching certificate, taught for a time in a village school, and then became administrator of an orphanage. In 1880, at the age of 30, Francesca founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The petite Mother Cabrini was eager to spread the love of Jesus around the world, and particularly longed to go to China. She obtained an audience with Pope Leo XIII with this goal in mind. However, the Pope told Mother Cabrini to go “not to the East, but to the West” to tend to the needs of the tens of thousands of Italian immigrants struggling in the United States.

Mother Cabrini and six of her Missionary Sisters set off for New York City in 1889. They faced a mass of human misery: families lived crammed into foul tenements, parents worked long days at unskilled labor for meagre wages, and children lacked food, supervision, and basic education.  Within days of her arrival, Mother Cabrini organized catechism classes and schooling for the children. She and the Missionary Sisters knocked door to door through rough neighborhoods, facing humiliating rebuffs and insults to gather funds to do their work. Their convent quickly became a haven for children from the notorious Five Points neighborhood. An orphanage was established, followed by parochial schools and a hospital.

Soon requests for Mother Cabrini’s help poured in from other cities in the United States, as well as from Europe and Central and South America. Renowned as a woman of deep faith, Mother Cabrini also proved to be a shrewd businesswoman. Over the course of 34 years she established an astonishing 67 hospitals, orphanages, and schools to address the spiritual and physical needs of others. Her energy was fueled by an intense focus on serving Jesus in whatever he asked of her.

In 1909 Mother Cabrini was granted citizenship in the United States. She died in Chicago on December 22, 1917 at the age of 67 of chronic endocarditis.  She was canonized in 1946 by Pope Pius XII, becoming the first American citizen to be named a saint. Four years later she was given the title of Patroness of Immigrants.