Frances Xavier Cabrini

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Frances Xavier Cabrini

Francesca Cabrini.JPG
Virgin, Religious, Foundress, Missionary
BornMaria Francesca Cabrini
(1850-07-15)July 15, 1850
Sant'Angelo Lodigiano, Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia, Austrian Empire (now Lombardy, Italy)
DiedDecember 22, 1917(1917-12-22) (aged 67)
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Resting placeSt. Frances Xavier Cabrini Shrine, Washington Heights, Upper Manhattan, New York, USA
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
BeatifiedNovember 13, 1938, by Pope Pius XI
CanonizedJuly 7, 1946, by Pope Pius XII
Major shrineNational Shrine of Saint Francis Xavier Cabrini, Chicago, IL; Mother Cabrini Shrine, Golden, CO; St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Shrine, New York, NY
FeastNovember 13 (US, 1961 to date),
December 22 (elsewhere)
PatronageImmigrants, hospital administrators

Frances Xavier Cabrini M.S.C. (Italian: Francesca Saverio Cabrini; July 15, 1850 – December 22, 1917), also called Mother Cabrini, was an Italian-American Catholic nun. She founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a religious institute that was a major support to her fellow Italian immigrants to the United States. She was the first U.S. citizen to be canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church, on July 7, 1946. (Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first born in what is now the United States.)[1]

Early life[edit]

She was born Maria Francesca Cabrini on July 15, 1850, in Sant'Angelo Lodigiano, in the Lombard Province of Lodi, then part of the Austrian Empire. She was the youngest of the thirteen children of farmers Agostino Cabrini and Stella Oldini.[2] Only four of the thirteen survived beyond adolescence.

Born two months early, she was small and weak as a child and remained in delicate health throughout her life. During her childhood, she visited an uncle, Don Luigi Oldini of Livagra, a priest who lived beside a swift canal. While there, she made little boats of paper, dropped violets in them, called the flowers "missionaries", and launched them to sail off to India and China. At thirteen, Francesca attended a school run by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Five years later she graduated cum laude, with a teaching certificate.[3]

After her parents died in 1870, she applied for admission to the Daughters of the Sacred Heart at Arluno. These sisters were her former teachers, but reluctantly, they told her she was too frail for their life.[4] She became the headmistress of the House of Providence orphanage in Codogno, where she taught and drew a small community of women to live a religious way of life. Cabrini took religious vows in 1877 and added Xavier (Saverio) to her name to honor the Jesuit saint, Francis Xavier, the patron saint of missionary service, as she had planned like Francis Xavier, to be a missionary in the Far East.[5]

Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus[edit]

In November 1880, she and seven other women who had taken religious vows with her founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (M.S.C.).[6] Cabrini composed the Rule and Constitutions of the religious institute, and she continued as its superior general until her death. The sisters took in orphans and foundlings, opened a day school to help pay expenses, started classes in needlework and sold their fine embroidery to earn a little more money.[3] The institute established seven homes and a free school and nursery in its first five years. Its good works brought Cabrini to the attention of Giovanni Scalabrini, Bishop of Piacenza, and of Pope Leo XIII.

Mission to United States[edit]

Stained glass window in Chesapeake, Virginia, depicting Mother Cabrini

In September 1887, Cabrini went to seek the pope's approval to establish missions in China. Instead, he urged that she go to the United States to help the Italian immigrants who were flooding to that nation, mostly in great poverty. "Not to the East, but to the West" was his advice.[6]

Cabrini left for the United States, arriving in New York City on March 31, 1889, along with six other sisters.[7] In New York she encountered disappointment and difficulties.[6] Archbishop Michael Corrigan, who was not immediately supportive, found them housing at the convent of the Sisters of Charity. She obtained the archbishop's permission to found the Sacred Heart Orphan Asylum in West Park, New York, later renamed Saint Cabrini Home.

Cabrini organized catechism and education classes for the Italian immigrants and provided for many orphans' needs. She established schools and orphanages despite tremendous odds. She was as resourceful as she was prayerful, finding people who would donate what she needed in money, time, labor, and support.[8] In New York City, she founded Columbus Hospital, which merged with Italian Hospital to become Cabrini Medical Center from 1973[9] until its closure in 2008.[10]

In Chicago, the sisters opened Columbus Hospital in Lincoln Park and Columbus Extension Hospital (later renamed Saint Cabrini Hospital) in the heart of the city's Italian neighborhood on the Near West Side. Both hospitals eventually closed in 2001–2002.[11] Their foundress's name lives on in Chicago's Cabrini Street.

She founded 67 missionary institutions to serve the sick and poor, long before government agencies provided extensive social services – in New York; Chicago and Des Plaines, Illinois; Seattle; New Orleans; Denver and Golden, Colorado; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; and in countries throughout Latin America and Europe.[5] Long after her death, the Missionary Sisters would achieve Cabrini's goal of being missionaries to China. In only a short time, after much social and religious upheaval there, the Sisters left China and, subsequently, a Siberian placement.[citation needed]

Cabrini was naturalized as a United States citizen in 1909.[5]


Cabrini died of complications from malaria at age 67 in Columbus Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, on December 22, 1917,[2] while preparing Christmas candy for the local children. Her body was initially interred at what became Saint Cabrini Home, the orphanage she founded in West Park, Ulster County, New York.


In 1933, her body was exhumed and divided as part of the process toward sainthood. At that time, her head was removed and is preserved in the chapel of the congregation's international motherhouse in Rome. Her heart is preserved in Codogno, where she founded her missionary order. An arm bone is at her national shrine in Chicago. Most of the rest of her body is at her shrine in New York.[12]

Cabrini was beatified on November 13, 1938, by Pope Pius XI, and canonized on July 7, 1946, by Pope Pius XII.[8] Her beatification miracle involved purportedly restoring the sight of a day-old baby who had been blinded by a 50% silver nitrate solution instead of the normal 1% solution in the child's eyes. The child, named Peter Smith (1921–2002), would later be present at her beatification and become a priest.[13] Her canonization miracle involved the purported healing of a terminally ill member of her congregation. When she was canonized, an estimated 120,000 people filled Chicago's Soldier Field for a Mass of thanksgiving.[14]

In the Roman Martyrology, her feast day is December 22, the anniversary of her death, the day ordinarily chosen as a saint's feast day.[15] Following the reforms in Pope John XXIII's Code of Rubrics, the United States since 1961 has celebrated Cabrini's feast on November 13, the anniversary of her beatification, to avoid conflicting with the greater ferias of Advent.

In 1950, Pope Pius XII named Frances Xavier Cabrini as the patron saint of immigrants, recognizing her efforts on their behalf across the Americas in schools, orphanages, hospitals, and prisons.[16][17]

Cabrini is also informally recognized as an effective intercessor for finding a parking space. As one priest explained: "She lived in New York City. She understands traffic."[18]


Chicago, Illinois (National Shrine)[edit]

National Shrine in Chicago

After Cabrini's death, her convent room at Columbus Hospital, in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, became a popular destination for the faithful seeking personal healing and spiritual comfort. Due to the overwhelming number of pilgrims after her canonization in 1946, the Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Samuel Stritch, commissioned a large National Shrine in her honor within the hospital complex. He dedicated the shrine in 1955.[19]

The hospital and shrine closed in 2002 to be replaced by a high-rise development on North Lakeview Avenue. Still, the shrine and Cabrini's room were preserved and refurbished during the long demolition and construction period. They were solemnly blessed and re-dedicated by Cardinal Francis George on September 30, 2012, and reopened to the public the next day. The shrine is an architectural gem of gold mosaics, Carrara marble, frescoes, and Florentine stained glass, functioning as a stand-alone center for prayer, worship, spiritual care, and pilgrimage.[19]

Golden, Colorado[edit]

Stone House in Golden, Colorado

In 1904, Cabrini established Denver's Queen of Heaven Orphanage for girls, including many orphans of local Italian miners. In 1910, she purchased a rural property from the town of Golden, on the east slope of Lookout Mountain, as a summer camp for the girls. A small farming operation was established and maintained by three of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. The camp dormitory, built of native rock and named the Stone House, was completed in 1914 and later listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[20]

Where Cabrini had once located an underground spring on the mountainside, a replica of the Lourdes Grotto was built in 1929, later replaced by a simpler sandstone structure. After Cabrini's canonization, the campsite officially became a shrine. Extensive additions in 1954 included a long Stairway of Prayer for pilgrims following her footpath up the mountain, marked with the Stations of the Cross, leading to a 22-foot (7 m) Statue of Jesus at the highest point of the site.[21]

Queen of Heaven Orphanage closed in 1967, replaced by a system of foster care. The summer campsite became a year-round facility for retreats and small prayer gatherings. A new convent building, completed in 1970, includes housing for the resident Sisters, overnight accommodations for visitors, a chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart, and an exhibit of artifacts and clothing once used by Cabrini.[20] The statues and stained-glass windows of the chapel came from Villa Cabrini Academy in Burbank, California, a former school founded by the Missionary Sisters.[21]

Upper Manhattan, New York[edit]

Cabrini Shrine in Manhattan

The St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Shrine in the Hudson Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan overlooks the Hudson River, the George Washington Bridge, and the New Jersey Palisades. As Cabrini's cause for sainthood accelerated in 1933, the Missionary Sisters moved her remains from the Sacred Heart Orphanage she had founded in rural West Park, New York, to the chapel of a Catholic school she had founded in Manhattan, freshly renamed Mother Cabrini High School. When it became a popular pilgrimage site with her beatification in 1938, the Sisters enshrined the major portion of her body in a glass-enclosed coffin under the altar of the school chapel. Her 1946 canonization brought a further sustained level of public interest, so in 1957–1960 a larger shrine was built adjoining the school. When the new shrine was near completion in 1959, her remains were transferred to a large bronze-and-glass reliquary casket in the shrine's altar. She still rests in perpetual display for veneration, covered with her religious habit and a sculpted face mask and hands for more-lifelike viewing.[22] In addition to accommodating the public, the new shrine also served Cabrini High School students as a place for their liturgies and prayer services until the school closed in 2014.[23] "Today, the shrine continues as a center of welcome for new immigrants and pilgrims of many nationalities who come to pray and reflect."[24]

Other shrines[edit]

Shrine in St George's Cathedral, Southwark

Southwark, London, England: In St George's Cathedral, Southwark, which Cabrini regularly attended during her time in London, a shrine was dedicated to her in 2009, designed by brothers Theodore, James, and Gabriel Gillick. The bronze sculpture depicts the saint watching over a group of migrants standing on a pile of suitcases.[25]

Burbank, California, U.S.: Near the site of Villa Cabrini Academy (1937–1970), Burbank's Cabrini shrine consists of a chapel founded by Cabrini in 1916, relocated to St. Francis Xavier Church and renovated during 1973–1975, and joined by a library wing in 1993. The Italian Catholic Federation sponsors the shrine.[26]

Lewiston, New York, U.S.: Near Niagara Falls, the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima includes a shrine to Cabrini along the Avenues of Saints.[27]

Lower Manhattan, New York, U.S.: Our Lady of Pompeii Church was founded in 1892 as a national parish to serve the Italian-American immigrants of Greenwich Village. Cabrini and her Missionary Sisters taught religious education there for a time, and the church now honors her with a shrine, a statue, and a stained-glass window.[28][29]

Peru, New York, U.S.: In 1947, one year after Cabrini's canonization, a shrine was dedicated to her in Peru, New York. The shrine is a stone grotto located on the grounds of St. Patrick's, a mission church built in 1841 for Irish immigrants.[30][31]

Scranton, Pennsylvania, U.S.: In 1899–1900, Cabrini helped to found St. Lucy parish and school for Scranton's Italian immigrants. A century later, the church dedicated a shrine in honor of St. Cabrini.[32]

2019 statue controversy[edit]

In 2019, the First Lady of New York City, Chirlane McCray launched a campaign called "She built NYC", to build monuments to honor women who made an impact on New York City. Mother Cabrini received the most votes from New Yorkers to receive a monument in her honor. However the campaign decided to not give a monument to Mother Cabrini. The decision drew outrage from New Yorkers, especially Italian-Americans including actor Chazz Palminteri who called the decision "racist". Many other New Yorkers considered the decision to not honor Cabrini, as "anti-Christian" and "anti-Catholic". Days after the controversy, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a statue of Mother Cabrini would be built in Battery Park, overlooking New York Harbor, to honor Mother Cabrini's work with immigrants.[33] The statue was unveiled on Columbus Day in October 2020.


Churches and parishes[edit]


  • St. Frances Cabrini Parish (parrocchia Santa Francesca Cabrini), Lodi
  • St. Frances Cabrini Parish (parrocchia Santa Francesca Cabrini), Rome
  • St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, 18-foot (5.5 m) statue of "S. Francisca Xaveria Cabrini", included among 39 saints who founded religious congregations[34]

United States[edit]

Other countries[edit]

  • St Francesca Cabrini Italian Church in Bedford, England[43]

Educational institutions[edit]

Mother Cabrini High School, New York City


  • Istituto Comprensivo "F.S. Cabrini" in Milan[44]

United States[edit]

Other countries[edit]


Other tributes[edit]

  • St. Cabrini Home, West Park, New York, was Mother Cabrini's early orphanage, headquarters, and burial place.
  • The Cabrini Mission Foundation, founded in 1998, is a non-profit organization that raises funds to support Cabrini programs and institutions focused on health care, education, and social services.[52]
  • The Cabrini Sisters operate Cabrini Eldercare, a pair of non-profit residential facilities in Manhattan and Dobbs Ferry, New York.[53]
  • Cabrini was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1996.[54]
  • Milan Central railway station was dedicated to Cabrini in 2010.[55]
  • Chicago's Cabrini–Green housing project, which has since been mostly torn down,[56] was named after her due to her work with Italian immigrants in the location. It has since become a haven for underprivileged and poor people, and the Cabrini Sisters still work there.
  • Cabrini Boulevard and "Cabrini Woods Nature Sanctuary" are adjacent to the Cabrini shrine in Manhattan, New York.[57]
  • Mother Cabrini Park was created in Brooklyn, New York, in 1992.[58]
  • Mother Cabrini Park in Newark, New Jersey, includes a 1958 statue of the saint on the former site of one of her schools.[59]
  • Pope Francis's religious vocation was partly inspired by Mother Cabrini's ministry to his family's Italian immigrant community in Argentina.[12]
  • Colorado replaced its Columbus Day state holiday with Cabrini Day starting in 2020.[60]
  • In 2012, the Society of the Citizens of Pozzallo partnered with art organization Groundswell to create a mural honoring Cabrini. The mural's location on the side of Arriana Condominium in the heart of Carroll Gardens recognizes the contribution of the Italian and Sicilian community to the area.[61]
  • Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, has a residence hall named after him, called Fraces Xavier Cabrini Hall.
  • In 2022, Mother Cabrini was inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame.[62]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Elizabeth Seton was born in New York on August 28, 1774, which was then a British colony.
  2. ^ a b "Our Patron Saint", St. Frances Cabrini Parish, San Jose, California.
  3. ^ a b "Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini", Lives of Saints, John J. Crawley & Co.
  4. ^ "Frances Xavier Cabrini 1850–1917", Catholic Home Study Service.
  5. ^ a b c "St. Frances Xavier Cabrini – Missionary to the Immigrants", Florida State Council, Knights of Columbus.
  6. ^ a b c Foley O.F.M., Leonard. "Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini", revised by Pat McCloskey O.F.M., Franciscan Media.
  7. ^ Rothman, Lily (July 6, 2016). "How Mother Cabrini Became the First American Saint". Faith. Time. Archived from the original on March 4, 2017. Retrieved March 4, 2017.
  8. ^ a b c "Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini", Cabrini College, Radnor, Pennsylvania.
  9. ^ "About Us", Italian Hospital Society.
  10. ^ Schapiro, Rich (March 15, 2008). "Cabrini Medical Center closing doors". Daily News. Retrieved December 12, 2019.
  11. ^ "Mother Cabrini – Chicago Missions". The National Shrine of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini.
  12. ^ a b Luongo, Michael (February 6, 2015). "In Upper Manhattan, Restoring the Golden Halo of Mother Cabrini". The New York Times.
  13. ^ Connolly, Seán (November 12, 2019). "The age of miracles has not passed". Catholic World Report.
  14. ^ Martin, Michelle (February 26, 2012). "Cabrini shrine seeing improvements, new mission" Catholic New World, Archdiocese of Chicago.
  15. ^ Martyrologium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2001). ISBN 88-209-7210-7.
  16. ^ Mann, Tania (January 6, 2008). "Relic reawakens spirit of Mother Cabrini's mission", Catholic New World, Archdiocese of Chicago.
  17. ^ Pope Pius XII (September 7, 1950). "Sancta Francisca Xaveria Cabrini, V. Omnium Emigrantium Patrona Apud Deum Constituitur" (in Latin).
  18. ^ Martin S.J., James (November 1, 2006). "Saint Finder of Keys".
  19. ^ a b "History of the Shrine". The National Shrine of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini.
  20. ^ a b Tancredo, Thomas G. (2000). "Cabrini Shrine, Golden, Colorado", The American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.
  21. ^ a b "History of Mother Cabrini Shrine", Mother Cabrini Shrine, Golden, Colorado.
  22. ^ "About the Shrine". St. Frances X. Cabrini Shrine NYC. Retrieved February 15, 2020.
  23. ^ "Mother Cabrini High School", New York. Archived December 17, 2014.
  24. ^ "St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Shrine, New York". Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Retrieved February 15, 2020.
  25. ^ "New shrine to patron saint of migrants at St George's Cathedral". London SE1. Bankside Press. November 29, 2009.
  26. ^ "Mother Cabrini Shrine (Burbank, California)". Italian Catholic Federation.
  27. ^ "Self Guided Tour pg. 2". Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.
  28. ^ "History of Pompeii Church". Our Lady of Pompeii Church, New York, NY.
  29. ^ Pronechen, Joseph (October 6, 2013). "New York's Marian Marvel". National Catholic Register.
  30. ^ Ryan, John T. (July 14, 2012). "Renewed life and spirit at Mother Cabrini Shrine". Peru Gazette.
  31. ^ Langlois, Michael (December 9, 2015). "The Mother Cabrini Shrine". Lake Champlain Weekly.
  32. ^ "History". Saint Lucy's Church: The Mother Italian Church of The Diocese of Scranton.
  33. ^ "Question of whether to honor Mother Cabrini with statue causes controversy". 12 October 2019.
  34. ^ "Founder Saint Statues", Retrieved January 10, 2021.
  35. ^ St. Frances Cabrini Parish, San Jose
  36. ^ St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church, Littleton
  37. ^ St. Frances Cabrini, Spring Hill, Florida
  38. ^ Kingsley, Karen. "St. Francis Cabrini Church", Gentilly, 64 Parishes
  39. ^ St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Allen Park, Michigan
  40. ^ "St. Philomena's Cathedral & Rectory/St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church". Omaha Landmarks Heritage Preservation Commission. Retrieved 2014-07-11.
  41. ^ "Home".
  42. ^ "Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini", East River Catholics, New York, NY.
  43. ^ Italian Church of St Francesca Cabrini, Bedford
  44. ^ ""F.S. Cabrini" – Istituto Comprensivo Statale" (in Italian). Retrieved 2022-02-22.
  45. ^ "Villa Cabrini Academy". Los Angeles Public Library.
  46. ^ "Cabrini High School". Cabrini High School. Retrieved 2022-02-22.
  47. ^ "St. Frances Cabrini Academy: Study ~ Pray ~ Work ~ Play". The Tablet. 2017-08-23. Retrieved 2022-02-22.
  48. ^ St. Frances Cabrini Catholic School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  49. ^ "Colegio Santa Francisca Javier Cabrini Madrid". Retrieved August 7, 2017.
  50. ^ "St. Frances Cabrini Medical Center | Hospital Sto. Tomas, Batangas - Where Patient Experience Matters". Retrieved 2022-02-22.
  51. ^ "History". Retrieved 2022-02-22.
  52. ^ "Cabrini Mission Foundation". Cabrini Mission Foundation. Retrieved 2022-02-22.
  53. ^ "Cabrini Eldercare". Retrieved May 11, 2020.
  54. ^ "St. Frances Xavier Cabrini", National Women's Hall of Fame.
  55. ^ Galeazzi, Giacomo (November 13, 2010). "Bertone: Noi ex migrantii" (in Italian). Archived from the original on April 4, 2012.
  56. ^ "The Cabrini–Green Issue", The Paw Print, February 2009. Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, Chicago, Ill. Retrieved October 15, 2009.
  57. ^ "Cabrini Woods", Fort Tryon Park Trust.
  58. ^ "Mother Cabrini Park", New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.
  59. ^ Turner, Jean-Rae; Koles, Richard T. (2001). Newark, New Jersey. Arcadia Publishing. p. 129. ISBN 978-0-7385-2352-1.
  60. ^ Hindi, Saja (March 20, 2020). "Columbus Day no longer a state holiday in Colorado". The Denver Post. Retrieved May 11, 2020.
  61. ^ Street, Groundswell NYC 540 President; Brooklyn, Suite 1A;, NY 11215 Tel:254 9782 | Fax:254 9783 |. "The Legacy of Mother Cabrini: Story of Immigration". Groundswell NYC. Retrieved 2022-02-22.
  62. ^ "Class of 2022" Colorado Women's Hall of Fame.

Further reading[edit]

  • Di Donato, Pietro. Immigrant Saint: The Life of Mother Cabrini. McGraw-Hill (1960).
  • Keyes, Frances Parkinson. Mother Cabrini, missionary to the world (1959) Online free, For middle school students
  • Lorit, Sergio C. Frances Cabrini. New City Press (1975, Second Printing).

External links[edit]