For someone with a deep fear of water, Mother Cabrini found great peace while at sea. The reason was simple: “My secure boat is the Sacred Heart, my star of the sea is Mary, and my protector is Saint Frances Xavier, the wonder worker.” But she would not voluntarily get in a boat for any reason other than that Jesus required it!

Often those long ocean voyages — eight days or more — were the only time she rested. Her long letters to the Missionary Sisters while aboard ship give us delightful insight into Mother Cabrini’s good humor and joy in God’s creation.

Encountering the Equator

“Sister Eletta… cannot understand how the navigators of this ship can be so ignorant! They always steer the ship in the middle of the ocean, while the others that we see from time to time are on the edge of the horizon and are therefore more secure… Now she maintains that it must be during the night that our ship changes course, because by day the circle is always at the same distance, and so we shall never reach New York – perhaps we will get to heaven first!”        Le Havre to New York, 1890

“What a pity that Mother Gabriel is not with me on this voyage now that we are about to cross the equator, because she had a great desire to see the line… Some merry conspirators lent a pair of binoculars to a woman passenger desiring to see the equatorial line, indicating that it could be better seen with them. They secretly ran a thread across the lens so that the lady believed she was seeing something like a great beam dividing the two hemisphere.”       Panama to Buenos Aires, 1895     

Fascinated by Phosphorescence

“Yesterday afternoon we suddenly saw multicolored rivulets with a vehemence all their own coursing like brooks among the salt water. We asked the captain about this novel sight and he replied it was phosphorous and at night we would see a display of the true phosphorescence very common in the Pacific Ocean.

“In fact as soon as the sun set and darkness fell we saw a most enchanting scene. The artificial fireworks of the Milan Arena are nothing in comparison with these natural ones on the Pacific Ocean. The ship seemed suddenly surrounded by red flames from which occasionally darted foaming waves of green fire. This again separated into lights like a comet, flashing like lightning in the black waters, rendered even more dismal by the blackness of a darkest night.  These comets first seemed spent and grew then brighter in lovely hues like falling doves.”      New York to Nicaragua 1891 

Refreshed by God’s Creation

“A sweet, deep sleep in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, lasting all night, wonderfully restored. my health. Today I again seem to have mastery over the immense elements, beneath and around us. The sun shines in all its splendor and the heat of its rays is tempered by the purest air, which surrounds us in a breeze and creates for us a delightful resting place under the awning that the captain reserved for us in the best place on deck. The sky is serene, ruffled only by some of the whitest small clouds. From time to time the clouds change into broad, luminous rays, as it to remind us that we are in the novena of Pentecost and that our good Jesus is also calling us, as he did his apostles, to withdraw from the tumult of the world. In fact, he has removed us from the world and placed us in the immensity of the ocean, where the clamor of people does not reach us. We can pray more freely for the coming of the Holy Spirit.”     New Orleans to Panama, 1895                                                               

Breathing in God’s Grace

“The air was humid, filled with iodine and other healthful elements. Open-mouthed, we inhaled all that God provided us to strengthen our lungs. I was particularly happy for my companion because I yearn for her to become always more robust. We sang the Ave Maris Stella and the peaceful waves seemed to respond to our voices, giving an unexplained chiaroscuro to our modulations. It was as though the heavens opened, the angels joined us, and the Queen of all saints spread her mantle even more to increase her protection over us.”

Liverpool to New York, 1898

© 2015 St. Frances Cabrini Shrine.