Mother Cabrini

By Becky Schlofner

One of the important figures in the United States was born Francesca Cabrini July 15, 1850 in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano, Lombardy, Italy which, in the nineteenth century, was part of the Austrian Empire. Since she was born a couple months prematurely, and she was number thirteen of thirteen in her large family, Francesca was always delicate. Only four children in her family reached adulthood. Shortly before her birth, however, a host of white doves flew over the family home, possibly giving a sign of hope to her family.

Francesca was homeschooled by her sister Rosa. She developed a fear of water after nearly drowning as a child, yet during her lifetime she crossed the ocean nearly thirty times. One of the influential persons in her life was her uncle, Don Luigi Oldini, who was a priest in Livagra. She was deeply spiritual and always desired serving others, often dreaming of being a missionary in India or China.

When she was thirteen, Francesca attended a school that was run by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Her schooling would lead her to receive a teaching certificate, graduating Cum Laude. After her parents died in 1870, she declined admission into the Daughters of the Sacred Heart to accept a position of headmistress at the House of Providence orphanage in Codogno, where women would come to hear her teachings. However, she realized that her poor health would be a problem serving in that role.

In 1877 she joined the religious community and added Saverio (Xavier) to her name. This was in honor of Francis Xavier, the patron saint of missionary service. A local bishop encouraged her to start her own religious community that could serve God as Mother Cabrini wished to serve. Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was born in 1880 with seven sisters in Lodi, Italy. She wrote the Rules and Constitutions of the Order and remained Mother Superior until her death. The Order sold needlework and the sisters taught at the orphanage they had built, keeping the Order secure. They also built seven homes and a nursery within the order’s first five years. Pope Leo XIII then became interested in the sisters’ work and in what Mother Cabrini had been able to accomplish in a short amount of time.

Mother Cabrini asked the Pope for his permission for her to be a missionary to India and China as she had always dreamed of. But the Pope had a better idea. He sent her to America to work with the Italian immigrants who greatly needed her help. On March 31, 1889 Mother Cabrini and her six sisters arrived in New York City. The trip across the Atlantic into New York was full of difficulties, including rough seas, illness and terrible conditions for those 1500 passengers who were travelling in third class. The sisters helped them as much as they could.

She arrived to the disapproval of Archbishop Corrigan. Originally, the seven stayed in the Italian Ghetto in a single room and their stipend was not available. But everything would work out for them. The archbishop eventually gave in to a request to found the Sacred Heart Orphan Asylum in rural West Park, and this would become the Saint Cabrini Home.

The Missionary Sisters embraced Cabrini’s principles of love, humility and service by centering their service around education, healthcare and social services. She helped the Italian immigrants through periods of discrimination, poverty and a lack of support systems. But Cabrini would greatly surpass the improvement of this little corner of society by serving the Italian needy across the continent of North America. She herself became a U.S. citizen in 1909.

Before her death on December 22, 1917 Mother Cabrini founded many institutions. Here is a small, yet incomplete list below:

  • Columbus Hospital/Cabrini Medical Center, NYC
  • Columbus Hospital, Chicago
  • 67 missionary institutions throughout Chicago, New York City, Des Plaines (Illinois), New Orleans, Denver, Golden (Colorado), Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Latin America

Shrines can be found in:

  • Chicago (National Shrine)
  • Golden, CO
  • Upper Manhattan (New York City)
  • Southwark, London

The following dates led to Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini’s Sainthood.

  • 1928: George Cardinal Mundelein verifies two miracles attributed to Mother Cabrini
  • Nov. 13, 1938: Pope Pius XI decrees Mother Cabrini “Blessed” (Beatified)
  • 1939: Two more miracles are attributed to Mother Cabrini’s intercession, leading her toward canonization
  • July 7, 1946: Pope Pius XII proclaims Mother Cabrini a Saint, making her the first American Citizen Saint


Cabrini National Shrine


Angel Studios


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