SAINT FRANCES XAVIER CABRINI (1850-1917), virgin, religious and foundress – Patroness of immigrants, orphans, hospital administrators and those suffering from malaria
Today, the Church honors Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first United States citizen to be canonized. Her deep trust in the loving care of her God gave her the strength to be a valiant woman doing the work of Christ.
Francesca Cabrini was born in Sant’ Angelo Lodigiano in the province of Lombardy in northern Italy on July 15, 1850. The youngest of thirteen children, she was a small and frail girl with curly, blond hair. And, due to her delicate condition, she was schooled at home by her sister Rosa, who was fifteen years her senior. When Frances was eighteen years old, she tried to become a religious, but was denied entrance because of her poor health. She remained with her parents until their death, and then worked with her brothers and sisters on a farm.
In 1872, after recovering from smallpox contracted while visiting the sick and the poor, she was asked to teach at a girls’ school. After six years of teaching, she followed the request of her bishop and founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart to care for the poor children in schools and hospitals. In September 1877, she made her vows and took the religious habit [a distinctive set of garments worn by members of a religious order]. Sister Frances added Xavier to her name, in tribute to the Jesuit, Saint Francis Xavier, who evangelized in the Orient.
When the bishop closed the local orphanage in 1880, he named Sister Frances prioress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, who was now known as Mother Cabrini. Seven young women from the orphanage joined her Order.
Since her early childhood in Italy, Frances had desired to be a missionary in China but, at the urging of Pope Leo XIII, Mother Cabrini went west instead of east. She traveled with six sisters to New York City in 1889 to work with the thousands of Italian immigrants living in the city.
Once there, she found disappointment and difficulties with every step. When she first arrived, the house intended to be her first orphanage in the United States was not available. The archbishop advised her to return to Italy. But Mother Cabrini, known to be a courageous and valiant woman, departed from the archbishop’s residence all the more determined to establish the orphanage which was so badly needed. With determination and faith in God’s Providence, she succeeded.
In 1909, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini became a United States citizen, and, throughout her life as a religious sister, she founded 67 institutions in the United States, England, France, Spain, and South America – all dedicated to caring for the poor, the abandoned, the uneducated and the sick. Seeing great need among Italian immigrants who were losing their faith, she also organized schools and adult education classes.
As a child, she was always frightened of water, unable to overcome her fear of drowning. Yet, despite this fear, she traveled across the Atlantic Ocean more than 30 times. In one of her missionary journeys, she contracted malaria and died on December 22, 1917, in her own Columbus Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.
On July 7, 1946, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini became the first American citizen to be canonized, when Venerable Pope Pius XII elevated her to sainthood. Her remains are in a glass encasement under the Altar at the Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini Shrine in Upper Manhattan, New York City.
We commemorate her feastday on November 13.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org, mothercabrini.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini)
“God our Father, You called Frances Xavier Cabrini from Italy to serve the immigrants of America. By her example, teach us concern for the stranger, the sick and the frustrated. By her prayers, help us to see Christ in all the men and women we meet.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”