Frances Xavier Cabrini

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St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, M.S.C.
Francesca Cabrini.JPG
Religious and foundress
Born (1850-07-15)July 15, 1850
Sant'Angelo Lodigiano, Province of Lodi, Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, Austrian Empire
Died December 22, 1917(1917-12-22) (aged 67)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified November 13, 1938, by Pope Pius XI
Canonized July 7, 1946, by Pope Pius XII
Major shrine Chapel of Mother Cabrini High School, New York City
Feast November 13 (December 22, pre-1970)
Patronage immigrants, hospital administrators, Lincoln

Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, M.S.C. (Italian: Francesca Saverio Cabrini; July 15, 1850 – December 22, 1917), also called Mother Cabrini, was an Italian- American religious sister, who founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic religious institute that was a major support to the Italian immigrants to the United States. She was the first naturalized citizen of the United States to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, on July 7, 1946.[1]

Early life

Cabrini was born July 15, 1850, in Sant'Angelo Lodigiano, in the Lombard Province of Lodi, then part of the Austrian Empire, the youngest of the thirteen children of Agostino Cabrini and Stella Oldini, who were wealthy cherry tree farmers. Sadly, only four of the thirteen survived beyond adolescence.[2] Small and weak as a child, born two months premature, she remained in delicate health throughout her life. When she went to visit to her uncle, Don Luigi Oldini of Livagra, a priest who lived beside a swift canal, she made little boats of paper, dropped violets in them, called the flowers missionaries, and launched them to sail off to India and China.[3]

At thirteen Francesca attended a school run by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart. Five years later she graduated cum laude, with a teaching certificate.[3] After the deaths of her parents in 1870, she applied for admission to the religious congregation of 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 to her name to honor the Jesuit saint, Francis Xavier, the patron saint of missionary service.[5]

Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

In November 1880, she and six 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 Mother Cabrini to the attention of (the now Blessed) Giovanni Scalabrini, Bishop of Piacenza, and of Pope Leo XIII.


In September 1877, Cabrini went to seek approval of the pope to establish missions in China. Instead, he suggested to her that she go to the United States to help the Italian immigrants who were flooding to that nation in that era, 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. She encountered disappointment and difficulties at every step.[6] Archbishop Michael Corrigan, who was not immediately supportive, found them housing at the convent of the Sisters of Charity, where they were allowed to stay as long as necessary. She obtained the permission of the archbishop to found an orphanage, which is located in West Park, New York today and is known as Saint Cabrini Home.

Cabrini organized catechism and education classes for the Italian immigrants and provided for the needs of the many orphans. 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.[7] In New York City, she founded Columbus Hospital and Italian Hospital. In the 1980s, they were merged into Cabrini Medical Center.[4] The facility closed in 2008.

In Chicago, the sisters opened 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 near the end of the 20th century. Their foundress’ name lives on in Chicago's Cabrini Street.

She founded 67 institutions: in New York; Chicago; Des Plaines, Illinois; Seattle; New Orleans; Denver; Golden, Colorado; Los Angeles; Philadelphia;[5] and in countries throughout South America and Europe. Long after her death, the Missionary Sisters would achieve Mother 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.

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


Cabrini High School, Fort Washington Avenue, Manhattan, New York City

Mother Cabrini died of complications from dysentery at age 67 in Columbus Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, on December 22, 1917,[7] while preparing Christmas candy for the local children. By that time, she had founded 67 missionary institutions to serve the sick and poor and train additional sisters to carry on the work.

Her body was originally interred at Saint Cabrini Home, an orphanage she founded in West Park, Ulster County, New York.


In 1931, her body was exhumed as part of the canonization process. At that time, her head was removed and is preserved in the chapel of the congregation's international motherhouse in Rome. An arm is at the national shrine in Chicago, while most of the rest of her body is at the shrine in New York.

Cabrini was beatified on November 13, 1938, by Pope Pius XI, and canonized on July 7, 1946,[7] by Pope Pius XII. Her beatification miracle involved the restoration of sight to a child who had been blinded by excess silver nitrate in the child's eyes. Her canonization miracle involved the healing of a terminally ill member of her congregation. When she was canonized, 120,000 people from all over the area filled Soldier Field for a Mass of thanksgiving.[8]

Mother Cabrini's feast day is November 13,[9] the day of her beatification. In the pre-1970 calendar, still used by some, the date was December 22, the day of her birth in heaven, the day normally chosen for a saint's feast day.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini is the patron saint of immigrants,[10] and of the religious institute, the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, (Servidoras).[11]


National Shrine of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini

Due to the overwhelming increase of pilgrims to her room at Chicago’s Columbus Hospital, the then-Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Samuel Stritch, consecrated a National Shrine built in her honor within the hospital complex. The National Shrine of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini was dedicated in 1955.[12] The Shrine was at the heart of Columbus Hospital, formerly located in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. It was a popular destination for the faithful seeking personal healing and spiritual comfort. In 2002, the hospital closed and soon after was torn down, but the shrine and Mother Cabrini’s room were conserved, though closed to the public. It was reopened on October 1, 2012, following a ceremony the previous day.

It is located in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago at the former Columbus Hospital. It was solemnly blessed and dedicated in an Inaugural Liturgy that was celebrated by Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago, on September 30, 2012. The Reverend Theodore Ploplis, Coordinator of Spiritual Services at Chicago's St. Joseph Hospital and a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, also assumed duties as the first Rector of the National Shrine, effective September 1, 2012.

The National Shrine will now function as a stand-alone center for prayer, worship, spiritual care and pilgrimage. Today, it is an architectural gem of gold mosaics, Carrara marble, frescoes and Florentine stained glass. As part of its restoration plan, it will be surrounded by a large condominium development on North Lakeview, the former site of Columbus Hospital.

Other shrines to Mother Cabrini

Manhattan, New York City

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Shrine, 701 Fort Washington Avenue in Washington Heights, Manhattan.

The St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Shrine in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan overlooks the banks of the Hudson River and neighboring New Jersey. After her death in 1917, Mother Cabrini was buried in West Park, New York. In 1933, her remains were moved to the chapel of Mother Cabrini High School. Following Mother Cabrini’s canonization in 1946, there were so many pilgrims coming to pray that a new shrine was built in 1957 on the school grounds. The shrine served the young women attending Mother Cabrini High School as a place for their liturgies and prayer services. Mother Cabrini High School was established in 1899. It closed June 30, 2014 after 115 years of educational service to women.[13]

The major portion of her body is now enshrined under glass in the altar of the shrine. Today, the Shrine continues as a center of welcome for new immigrants and pilgrims of many nationalities who come to pray and reflect.[14] The street to the west of the shrine was renamed Cabrini Boulevard in her honor.

Golden, Colorado

Queen of Heaven Orphanage Summer Camp, NRHP

Another Mother Cabrini Shrine is located in Golden, Colorado. Arriving in Denver in 1902, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, established in 1904 the Queen of Heaven Orphanage.[15] During a trip in 1902 to visit the Italian workers and their families in the Clear Creek, Argentine, and South Park mining districts, Frances X. Cabrini discovered a property on the east slope of Lookout Mountain owned by the town of Golden. No reliable source of water was known to exist on the property at that time, although there were two barns and a springhouse built in the 1890s. In 1909 -1910, she negotiated the purchase of this property as a summer camp for the girls at the Queen of Heaven Orphanage in Denver, Colorado. A farming operation, with poultry, livestock and dairy cows, was established and maintained by three of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.[16]

In September 1912, Mother Cabrini directed the sisters where to dig to find water. A replica of the grotto of Lourdes was built over the spring in 1929 and replaced in 1959 by a second built of sandstone. On Mother Cabrini’s last visit to the foothills in 1912 she authorized the building of the Stone House to serve as a dormitory for the girls. The house was to be built of native rock. Construction was completed in 1914. The house was used as a summer camp for the girls from the Queen of Heaven orphanage. In 1967 a system of foster care took over the responsibilities of the orphanage and Queen of Heaven closed.[15] The summer camp became a year around retreat facility, and a place for small prayer gatherings. The Stone House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In April 1948, a St. Frances Cabrini Shrine Committee was incorporated. The convent, completed in 1970, contains a chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart, and has an exhibit of artifacts and clothing used by Mother Cabrini. The stained-glass windows of the convent chapel came from Villa Cabrini in Burbank, California, which was a school formerly sponsored by the Missionary Sisters.[16]


  • 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.[17]

  • CHRISTUS-Saint Frances Cabrini Hospital in Alexandria, Louisiana, bears her name because Charles Greco, the Bishop of Alexandria at the time of its founding, shortly after her canonization, had met her when she came to visit the grade school he attended in New Orleans. The Santa-Cabrini Hospital in the east end of Montreal, Canada, is also named in her honor and is very popular amongst Canadians of Italian descent.
  • Chicago's Cabrini–Green housing project, which has since been mostly torn down,[23] 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.
  • St. Frances Xavier Cabrini was honored in 1996, listing her in the National Women's Hall of Fame.[24]

See also


  1. Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first native-born American citizen to be canonized.
  2. St. Frances Cabrini Parish, San Jose, California
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Saint Francis Xavier Cabrini", "Lives of Saints", John J. Crawley & Co., Inc.
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Frances Xavier Cabrini 1850-1917", Catholic Home Study Service
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Mother Cabrini's Life Story", Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Stella Maris Province
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Foley O.F.M., Leonard. "St. Frances Xavier Cabrini", Saint of the Day, Lives, Lessons and Feast, (revised by Pat McCloskey O.F.M.), Franciscan Media
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 "Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini", Cabrini College, Radnor, Pennsylvania
  8. Martin, Michelle. "Cabrini shrine seeing improvements, new mission", Catholic New World, Archdiocese of Chicago, February 26, 2012
  9. Martyrologium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2001 ISBN 88-209-7210-7)
  10. Mann, Tania. "Relic reawakens spirit of Mother Cabrini's mission", Catholic New World, Archdiocese of Chicago
  11. "our Patron", Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará
  12. National Shrine of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, Chicago, Illinois
  13. Mother Cabrini High School, New York
  14. "St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Shrine", The New York city Chapter of the American Guild of Organists
  15. 15.0 15.1 Tancredo, Thomas G., "Cabrini Shrine, Golden, Colorado", The American Folklife Center, Library of Congress
  16. 16.0 16.1 "History of Mother Cabrini Shrine", Mother Cabrini Shrine, Golden Colorado
  17. Cabrini Mission Foundation
  18. St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Allen Park, Michigan
  19. Italian Church of St Francesca Cabrini, Bedford
  20. Cabrini High School, New Orleans, Louisiana
  21. "Colegio Santa Francisca Javier Cabrini de Madrid". Retrieved 28 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Galeazzi, Giacomo (November 13, 2010). "Bertone: Noi ex migrantii" (in italiano).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "The Cabrini–Green Issue", The Paw Print, February 2009. Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, Chicago, Ill. Retrieved 2009-10-15.
  24. "St. Frances Xavier Cabrini",National Women's Hall of Fame

External links