Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini
Remembering the First American Saint on her Feast Day
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, known to the world as ‘Mother Cabrini’ left an indelible imprint on the Church in the United States and around the world. She was the first American saint canonized in Rome in 1946. Born Maria Francesca Cabrini on July 15, 1850 in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano in Lombardy, Italy, Maria took religious vows in 1877. Three years later, she became one of the seven founding members of the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She then set up two missions in Rome all the while nursing her true dream, which was to be a missionary in China.
Mother Cabrini gained an audience with Pope Leo XII seeking his approval for this missionary endeavour. However, at this time in history, tens of thousands of Italian immigrants were arriving in the United States and in desperate need of pastoral care. Poor and destitute, cut off from their home and tradition, Italians were encountering difficulties adjusting to the Anglo Saxon, American way of life.
The Pope told Cabrini “Go West, Not East,” telling her the Church needed her more in the USA than in China. Despite her initial hesitation she accepted the Pope’s view and soon after began her long and legendary service to the Italian immigrant community and poor she encountered in the US. She founded an orphanage in New York, which would become the first of 67 institutions she launched in New York, Chicago, Seattle, New Orleans, Denver and Los Angeles.
Mother Cabrini’s willingness to forsake her own personal ambition to evangelize in China turned into a blessing for millions of underprivileged immigrants who benefited from her ministry. Sometimes when we are determined to have our way, we should stop and listen to the voice of God, and to those we trust, to make sure we truly are following the right course.
When I was growing up in an Italian-American household, we often heard stories of the saints and blesseds from my grandparents and parents. Two Italians, of course, were at the top of the list: Mother Cabrini and Padre Pio. St. Mother Cabrini’s prayer for humility was given to us and I have kept it ever since in my Bible.
“Lord Jesus Christ, I pray that you may fortify me with the grace of your Holy Spirit, and give your peace to my soul, that I may be free from all needless anxiety and worry. Help me to desire always that which is pleasing and acceptable to you, so that your will may be my will.
Grant that I may be free from unholy desires, and that, for your love, I may remain obscure and unknown in this world, to be known only to you.
Do not permit me to attribute to myself the good that you perform in me and through me, but rather, referring all honor to you, may I admit only to my infirmities, so that renouncing sincerely all vainglory which comes from the world, I may aspire to that true and lasting glory that comes from you. Amen.”