November 12, 2017

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, Missionary and Foundress

Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini

Memorial - November 13th 

Sometimes the things we believe we are supposed to do in life are merely a variation on what God actually has in mind for us. Such was the case with a young Italian girl named Frances Xavier Cabrini. As a child, she dreamed of becoming a missionary in China. But Pope Leo XIII would one day suggest that her missionary efforts were destined to be carried out in a very different part of the world; it wasn’t China, but it was precisely where God desired her to be.

Frances Xavier Cabrini was born on a farm in Lombardi, Italy in 1850, one of 13 children.  She was trained as a teacher in a nearby convent school and, when she reached the age of 18, she sought to join the Order that had educated her. Her health, however, was so frail that they denied her request and Frances instead returned to the family farm, where she cared for her parents until their death.

Shortly afterward, at the request of a priest, Frances began working at the House of Providence Orphanage in Cadogno, Italy.  She was finally able to take religious vows in 1877 and, when the orphanage closed in 1880, her bishop, impressed by her work at the orphanage, asked that she found the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart to continue to care for the poor children in the diocese. This she did, accompanied by seven other dedicated young women from the orphanage.

But Frances, who was now 30 years old, had never given up on her dream to be a missionary.  In an audience with Pope Leo XIII, she broached the idea of going to China, but he countered with the response, “Not to the East, but to the West.” Thus, in 1889, Mother Cabrini and her congregation of sisters found themselves, not in the Orient, but among the Italian immigrants in New York City's slums.

Their arrival was not entirely greeted with open arms. Archbishop Corrigan, in whose diocese she was supposed to work, did not expect her so soon and even suggested she return to Italy. True to her nature, Mother Cabrini refused. She and her fellow sisters spent their first night in America, in a run-down tenement, praying. They had a great deal to pray for. Adrift in a new country, surrounded by a culture and a language that were foreign to them, they might have given serious thought to the archbishop’s recommendation that they go home. But the Sisters of Charity soon gave the Missionary Sisters hospitality and, with their guidance, Mother Cabrini set out instead to find her way around her new city.

Her efforts would soon bear fruit. On Palm Sunday, 1890, Archbishop Corrigan, who was a friend of Mother Cabrini’s, gave his blessing to an orphanage in Manhattan on property given to the sisters by a wealthy Countess. The Italian orphans occupied one section of the building, and the sisters used another as their convent. Encouraged by their work with these children, the archbishop implored Mother Cabrini to open a hospital for poor Italian immigrants. At first, she hesitated, but after receiving a message from the Virgin in a dream, she quickly did as the archbishop asked. Although they were new to this work, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart were excellent health-care providers.

In 1909, Mother Cabrini fulfilled another of her dreams by becoming a citizen of the United States. She continued in her labors until her death in 1917. In 1946, Mother Cabrini became the first U. S. citizen to be canonized by the Catholic Church. She is the patron of immigrants. Grant us, we pray, O Lord our God, the constant gladness of being devoted to you, for it is full and lasting happiness to serve with due constancy the author of all that is holy. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who reigns with you and in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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