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Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini

by Catherine Fournier

Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini
Mother Cabrini
Feast Day: November 13, December 22
Patron of: emigrants, immigrants, hospital administrators, orphans
Symbol: pictured seated with a large cross and watch fob

Young Families

The first day of school is both exciting and scary. School is a new place, full of new people and things that you have never seen before. Imagine what it must be like to come to a whole new country with a new language, new laws, and new customs. Every day would seem like the first day of school for a very long time.

North America was settled and built by people who were brave enough to come to a new country, and we continue to welcome immigrants today. At different times, people from France, England, Ireland, Poland, Germany and Italy have come to North America. In the late 1800's many thousands of Italians came and settled in the cities and towns of the United States and Canada. They had a difficult time, they didn't know the language, Catholicism was discriminated against and they had trouble finding work.

Back in their homeland of Italy, a nun named Sister Frances Xavier Cabrini had founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, and she and her sisters were caring for poor children in schools and hospitals. Mother Cabrini had wanted to be a missionary for as long as she could remember, and was waiting for permission to go to China and bring the Word of God to the people there. Imagine her surprise (and disappointment) when Pope Leo XIII asked her to go to the United States instead, to work among the Italian immigrants.

Out of obedience to the Holy Father, she came to New York city. In the years that followed, she founded schools, hospitals and orphanages in the New Land. With a great trust in God, she overcame every obstacle in her path, and managed to achieve things that everyone else said couldn't be done. At all times, every when she was running hospitals and in charge of hundreds of nuns, she never forgot to care for all the poor, lost, homeless and jobless immigrants that she was sent to serve. She thanked God everyday for the opportunity to serve Him, and for His plan that send her West, instead of East.

Mother Cabrini entered Heaven on December 22, 1917. In 1946, she was canonized by Pope Pius XII, the first American citizen to become a saint.


Practiced Families

Frances Cabrini was well acquainted with unexpected changes to plans. She was born in Lombardy, Italy in 1850, one of thirteen children. Her plans and dreams were dashed when at eighteen, she applied to become a Sister, but was refused because of her health and her small fragile stature. The rigors of a religious life would be too much, she was told. So, Frances returned to her parents home, first caring for them until their death and then working with her brothers and sisters on the family farm.

Another unexpected change and another chance at the religious life came in 1874 when a priest asked her to teach in a girl's school. She was there for six years, teaching, praying and planning to be a missionary to China. Then in 1880 her Bishop asked her to found the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She and seven other young women began caring for poor children in need of education and medical care.

Sister Frances Cabrini had achieved her plan of becoming a nun, though not in the way she expected. She still wished most strongly to travel as a Missionary to China, and began petitioning the Pope for permission to do so. To her surprise, the request came to travel west instead, to go the New Land of America. The Pope asked her to go to New York with her Missionary Sisters and help the Italian immigrants, many of whom were in desperate conditions of poverty, disease and starvation. It was an immense task for any organization, but for a small group of largely untrained nuns, it seemed impossible. It seemed even more impossible upon their arrival, when their sponsoring Bishop informed them that he had withdrawn his support for their project.

But Mother Cabrini was as resourceful as she was prayerful.This ordinary, fragile woman, with ordinary fragile plans and dreams had learned by now that despite 'changes in plans' God was guiding all her endeavors. She was encouraged and inspired by a powerful, personal experience of God's love with it could do anything God asked of her. During her lifetime, Mother Cabrini founded sixty-seven missions including schools, hospitals, orphanages and child-care centers throughout the United States and England, France, Spain, and South America. Mother Cabrini died on December 22, 1917, at Columbus Hospital in Chicago. She was beatified in 1938 and canonized a Saint on July 7, 1946.


Experienced Families

Frances was born on July 15, 1850. As a child she dreamed about being a missionary to China. She sailed paper boats down a stream to play her "pretend game." The paper boats were ships taking missionaries to China. But, Frances was not accepted into a convent because her health was not good. She cared for her parents until their deaths, and then helped on the family farm, work which may have strengthened her physically and prepared her for what was to come. Then a priest asked her to teach in a small home for orphans. Things were hard there, because of the lady who ran the house was strict and unkind. Yet Frances stuck to the work, and some other generous women joined her.

At last the bishop told Frances that she and her 'sisters' could begin their own congregation of missionary nuns. Without hesitating over her inexperience or lack of schooling, Frances founded Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Before long, it began to grow, first in Italy and then in many other countries.

Frances, whom everyone called Mother Cabrini, still had her heart set on going to China. But Pope Leo XIII told her, "Go west, not east," and the matter was settled. With obedience and trust in God St. Frances Xavier Cabrini sailed for the United States

Mother Cabrini and her sisters had a very difficult time in the beginning. The archbishop of New York even suggested that they return to Italy. But Mother Cabrini answered, "Your excellency, the Pope sent me here and here I must stay." The archbishop admired her pioneer spirit, and so she and her sisters were permitted to begin their work. Mother Cabrini became an American citizen. She and her congregation opened schools, hospitals, and homes for children in different states, all dedicated to helping and serving immigrants and the poor. As the years passed, Mother Cabrini made many trips to spread her congregation and its works. There were always difficulties, but she put all her trust in the Sacred Heart. "It is he who is doing everything, not us," she would say.

Mother Cabrini died in Chicago on December 22, 1917. She was proclaimed a saint by Pope Pius XII in 1946.


Prayer

God, through the works of Saint Francis Cabrini You brought comfort and love to the immigrants and all those in need. May her example and work be continued in the lives of those dedicated to you. Amen.

For more information about Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, visit the Catholic Information Network. Other sources of information are the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Society, and Mother Cabrini Shrine @ Golden, Colorado, USA

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