when Pope Leo XIII was speaking to a couple of Mother Cabrini’s
(See color picture p. 32) nuns, he said,
“Mother Cabrini is truly a saint!” It’s very rare indeed
that a Pope would make such a public statement, but Pope Leo did,
and with good reason. Like St. Francis Xavier, Mother Cabrini
was one of the most active missionaries that the Catholic Church
has ever known. She never relied on herself, but on God alone.
For her motto she took these holy words, Phil-4:13, “I can
do all things in Him who strengthens me.” And she was one
of those saints who were able to see the fruits of her labors,
during her life – she opened 67 charitable institutions and houses
of her religious order.
For years, the homeland of Lombardy, where Francesca
was to be born, had been repeatedly harassed by war and civil
war. Italy at that time was a disorganized assortment of feudal
territories, controlled by royal families, and oppressed by France
and Austria. The clergy had their lands snatched from them, and
they were subjected to various forms of cruel oppression. This
resulted in a series of wars and bloody uprisings between peasants
and leaders. In short, this period was characterized by bitter
dispute between Church and State, and it was into this period
that Francesca Cabrini was born.
has happened in the lives of many saints in the past, God gave
a special sign of His benediction on July 15, 1850, the birthday
of Francesca Cabrini. A flock of white doves swirled down over
the town of San Angelo, in Lombardy, Italy, and then flew in order,
like a great crown, above the Cabrini house. One of the doves
got entangled in a rose vine on the house. When Agostino Cabrini
released the dove, it showed no fear but rested on his chest,
as he carried it to his wife, Stella. She caressed the dove and
held it to her cheek, and then she released it. As it flew away,
Stella gave birth to Francesca, the future missionary.
Francesca’s parents were hard working good Catholics.
Agostino was a farmer, devoted to his family. He was a pious man
who prayed and kept the commandments. He prayed and worked and
worked and prayed – the people of San Angelo called him “the Christian
was a devoted home maker who cooked and cleaned and sewed for
her husband and thirteen children. She prayed often and went to
daily Mass, and she often received Communion. She made sure that
the truths of the Catholic Faith ran in the veins of her children.
Stella taught her children the great truth that God the Holy Trinity
had each of them in mind forever, even before the world
was created. She instructed, “God knew you all my children
and from all ages of eternity, He loved you. You must be very
good, to have deserved the attention of the Blessed Trinity, the
great Lord God!”
And she told them, “God does not give life for
nothing. You must each look into yourselves, into your hearts,
into your lives, to study and see why God brought you here. You
mustn’t waste that gift of life – ever!” Please God that we
could all have such a wonderful mother! With such excellent instruction
the road to Heaven was made very firm and inviting.
When Francesca was born, Rosa, the oldest of the children,
was 15. Although she was extremely firm with her siblings, they
still loved her. Sometimes Stella had to step in and balance the
situation, as Rosa became overbearing, but in the end all worked
Rosa watched over Francesca like a hawk, supervising
all she did. She was very patient, taking time to explain what
she had learned at the convent school of the Daughters of the
Sacred Heart, to her baby sister. One time Rosa was explaining
to Francesca about the twelve promises of the Sacred Heart of
Jesus to St. Margaret Mary. At the same time she showed pity for
France who had become so cold towards Jesus. At this point, Francesca
jumped up, “Don’t pity her (France)! Her saints will save her
when things go wrong. Perhaps Rosa – perhaps France may need a
little whipping; if she’s been naughty. And when she’s been punished
enough, she’ll be forgiven, and the loving Sacred Heart will take
her back -- happier than ever – with some more saints!” Francesca
developed such a great devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus that
He became the guiding light of her life.
night the family would read aloud about saints and good Catholics
and Francesca would lie awake listening to the glorious stories
of the missionary priests and nuns that had been recorded in the
‘Annals of the Propagation of the Faith’. China especially drew
her – China that was filled with many small children.
One day, Francesca visited her uncle; Don Luigi –
a priest. His garden extended to the nearby Venera River. Francesca
made little paper boats and filled them with flowers. She pretended
that she was the Mother Superior and that the flowers were her
nuns. Leaning over the river bank and sending her boats downstream,
she suddenly lost her balance and fell in. Some people found her
lying on the river bank, quite a distance from where she fell
in. Her guardian angel must have pulled her out, as she did not
get out herself and no person pulled her out. After nearly drowning
Francesca questioned herself, “How can I be a missionary when
I fear to leave my home and cross the deep sea?” This fear
was to remain with her all the days of her life.
On July 1, 1857, Francesca was confirmed. She received
extraordinary graces and decided then and there that she would
be a bride of Christ, for she felt that He had chosen her to be
His bride. Of this time she said, “The moment of the anointing
of the sacred chrism, I felt that which can never be described.
From that moment I was no longer of the earth. My heart began
to grow through space, ever with purest joy.”
Francesca worked hard as a girl harvesting grapes,
preserving fruit and vegetables in crocks, making butter and cheese,
and baking bread in brick ovens. She salted meats, shelled chestnuts
and ground them into flour for polenta pudding. She also sheared
the sheep, washed their wool, and spun and wove material for garments.
Under Rosa’s guidance, Francesca completed the primary
grades. When she was 13, she was sent to the Daughters of the
Sacred Heart School at Arluno. There she studied for five years.
She mastered Latin, Italian, French, history, mathematics, geography,
and natural science. She passed with highest honors and at 18
obtained her schoolteacher’s license.
She now wanted to become a religious. Francesca presented
herself to the Mother Superior and expressed her wish to become
a Daughter of the Sacred Heart. But Mother Grassi could not accept
the young woman because of her poor health, “It is with regret
that I refuse you. Abide and do not be discouraged. He whom you
cherish so has His purpose for you.”
Francesca went back home and decided that she would
devote herself to the comfort and happiness of her parents until
God should call them to Heaven. The next year, in February 1869,
Agostino had just got ready to go to Mass when a trembling seized
him, and he suddenly became powerless. He stumbled to a chair
and sat down; then he became paralyzed. He did not have long to
live as God took him a short time later, on February 22nd.
And later, before the year had ended, Francesca’s mother died.
As Francesca held her dying mother in her arms, her mother whispered,
“My child of light….from above my prayers shall follow thy
feet.” Francesca did not mourn the passing of her loved ones,
because she knew that while they had lived they had ever kept
Heaven before their eyes, and she had every hope that they were
the death of her parents, Francesca worked the farm with Rosa
and her brother Giovanni. And after putting in a hard days work,
Francesca would cater to the poor and the sick.
The spring of 1872 brought the dreaded smallpox. Bravely,
Francesca and Rosa nursed the sick day and night. In time Francesca
too became ill with smallpox and Rosa nursed her back to health.
After that she became a schoolteacher at Vidardo and taught there
for two years. She then offered herself to the Conossian Sisters
and again to the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, but both rejected
In 1874, when Francesca was 24, her Bishop and her
parish priest asked her to go to the House of Providence at Codogno,
to work with the young orphan girls there. For the next six years
Francesca was to live in this veritable hell on earth! A woman
known as Sr. Tondini and her partner Sr. Calza were running the
orphanage in a most terrible fashion. Tondini had bought the building
to shelter orphans and the parish paid her a sum of money each
month to house each orphan, but she was keeping the orphans in
a disgraceful condition – they were starved, ragged and physically
Upon meeting Francesca, Sr. Tondini scowled, “(Mgr.)
Serrati told me that he was sending you here! But schoolteacher,
saint, fool, spy, dupe, or whatever you are, I did not need, nor
ask for you! Serrati has a lot of nerve to thrust you under my
roof! ….” Francesca was shocked at Tondini’s attitude and
she was shocked even more when Tondini and Calza slapped the poor
orphan girls and cursed them. This horrible attitude continued
for six long years and Francesca would only bow her head and tell
the orphan girls, “Remember always, in your work and study
and play and dreams, that you are His (God’s) beloved children.
You are the flowers He gave to me.”
Time passed and one day seven of the girls came to
Francesca telling her, “We want to become missionaries with
you. We want to be His brides by your side!” A few years passed
and Monsignor Serrati accepted the vows of poverty, chastity and
obedience from Francesca who was 27, and those seven girls who
were now young women. And he appointed Francesca – ‘Mother Cabrini’
Superior of the House of Providence. Now all that remained was
to become a missionary.
Even after Francesca became Superior, Tondini remained
an impossible, uncontrollable woman. Whenever Francesca asked
Tondini for an accounting of the orphanage funds, Tondini flew
into a rage and threatened to kill her. One night when Mother
Cabrini was in a room singing hymns with her nuns, Tondini barged
into the room and started smashing the poor nun in the face. Bleeding
from her nose and mouth, Mother Cabrini returned this hatred with
words of love and charity. Francesca remained at the orphanage
for the next three years and discovered that Tondini was stealing
from the orphanage funds. At last she informed Bishop Gelmini
of Tondini’s thievery and demanded a return of the money. When
Tondini failed to return the money, the Bishop excommunicated
Tondini and Calza and dissolved the House of Providence. And the
orphans were removed to other homes. Then Bishop Gelmini told
Mother Cabrini, “… the time has matured for you. There is no
institute of missionary sisters in these parts. So Mother Cabrini,
found one yourself!” Inspired by God, the next day Francesca
went in search of a house for her nuns. She found an abandoned
monastery in Codogno, in the woods, behind a Franciscan Church
– this would be the cradle for the missionary nuns.
Mgr. Serrati marveled at Francesca’s choice of building
and property and he at once arranged for its purchase. And the
orphans would not be abandoned – then and there, Francesca decided
to take the orphans with her, and make the old monastery a missionary
convent and an orphanage combined.
They all moved in on November 12, 1880 – happy to
be in their own home. Mother Cabrini wanted her institute to have
the spirit of the Holy Family. All would be equal in love without
preference, acclaim or favor. Simplicity would be the straight
and narrow path.
To her convent came more and more orphans and aspiring
brides of Christ. Within a year after Francesca had bought the
place, the convent had to be enlarged. Gradually the school and
orphanage became known for its scholastic quality, efficiency
and spiritual deportment.
In November, 1882, Francesca opened another school
in Grumello. Her type of charity and scholarly competence was
needed and recognized, and soon calls came to her from other districts
to open houses.
1887, Mother Cabrini had opened seven houses. She was now 37 years
old, and more impatient than ever to do the real missionary work
she had dreamed of all her life. She told Msgr. Serrati that she
wanted to establish her order in Rome and obtain approval for
missions to far lands. At first he was opposed to her idea of
expecting Pope Leo XIII to collaborate with her in sending her
baby order around the world. But that night Francesca had a dream.
Christ appeared to her and said, “Go to that ground where they
crucified Peter. Go to the rock where flames, the light eternal.
Francesca, Rome is thy portal!”
Mother Cabrini approached Mgr. Serrati about her desire to go
to Rome, and finally he was convinced. On September 24, 1887,
Francesca and one of her nuns boarded a train and left for Rome.
But with the serious struggle going on between the Vatican and
the government in Rome, who would care to listen to Francesca
Cabrini from Lombardy? Who would foster her missionary dreams?
She discovered that the authority to appeal to for
her purposes was Cardinal-Vicar Parocchi. She pressed for an appointment
and after three days, he consented to see her. He was overwhelmed
by her sincere and honest nature. He saw her a few more times
and though her order was quite unknown to most of Italy, the Cardinal
asked her to open not one, but two houses in Rome!
On March 12, 1888, Mother Cabrini received from the
Vatican the recognition and approval of her order. Things were
moving quite fast. Later she opened a college in Piacenza and
formed a friendship with Bishop Scalabrini of Piacenza. The aspiration
of this Bishop’s heart was to give moral and spiritual aid to
the huge amount of emigrants who made their way to the United
States. He spoke with Mother Cabrini a few times and when she
was 38 he offered her a mission across the ocean saying, “Archbishop
Corrigan of New York expressed a sincere wish that you bring your
mission to New York and assist with Italian orphanage work.”
Bishop Scalabrini arranged for Mother Cabrini to see Pope Leo
XIII. When she saw him, knowing before hand that she wanted to
go to the Orient, he told her that, “Hundreds of thousands
of our Italian souls in America have become lost and battered
sheep, isolated from Christ, understanding, and ordinary decency.
The New World cries for the warmth and compassion of a mother’s
heart, a heart tempered by love and sacrifice, the heart of the
apostle. Francesca Cabrini, you have that very heart! My daughter,
your field awaits you not in the East, but in the West. I desire
very much a great missionary expansion in America. Plant there,
and cultivate the beautiful fruit of Christ.” God had spoken
through His Vicar. Francesca went about getting credentials and
steamship tickets for six of her nuns and herself. And on March
23, 1889, in the port of Le Harve France, Mother Cabrini and her
nuns boarded a ship to America. On that ship was a confusing mess
of emigrants, mostly Italians, headed to the American land of
hopes and dreams.
As soon as the ship got under way, Mother Cabrini’s
nuns became frightened and seasick. But they weren’t the only
ones to get sick, below the deck there were 700 Italian emigrants.
Almost all of them were seasick and depressed, but Mother Cabrini
encouraged them and with a group of men, worked with the nuns
to help ease the distress of the very young and very old.
When the ship landed in New York, on the evening of
March 31, 1889, nobody was there to meet Mother Cabrini and her
sisters, so they spent the night in a dingy boarding house near
Chinatown. Still exhausted from seasickness, they took turns sitting
on one chair all night, for the beds were filthy and the place
was crawling with mice, and bugs.
In the morning the poor nuns were dreadfully tired
from lack of sleep, but they still went to Mass. After Mass, the
sisters called on Archbishop Corrigan, who was greatly embarrassed.
The plans for the Italian orphanage had fallen through, and he
had mailed a letter telling the sisters to remain in Italy – but
they had already left. The Archbishop regretfully advised them
to return to Italy on the same ship which had brought them over.
But Mother Cabrini firmly told him, “Excellence, I came to
America by order from St. Peter’s sacred seat. America is my ordained
mission. Excellence, in all humbleness I must say, in America
I must stay.”
The poor Archbishop gasped, this woman had great courage!
He smiled, “Very well, young Mother, somehow or other you may
begin with a small school for Italian children in the Church of
San Gioacchino. In the meantime I shall make arrangements for
you and your group to stay with the Irish Sisters of Charity.”
On May 3, 1889, Archbishop Corrigan celebrated Mass
in the first American orphanage opened by the Missionary Sisters
of the Sacred Heart.
established an orphanage and a school within four months, Mother
Cabrini was obliged to return to Italy for more of her nuns to
help expand the American mission. She visited her houses in Codogno,
Lombardy, and Rome. And again she went to see Pope Leo, who was
delighted to see her and was keenly interested in hearing about
her ventures in New York. Then taking a group of seven daughters,
she sailed back to New York.
On her return there, Mother Cabrini set about buying
a 450-acre property of the Jesuits in West Park, on the Hudson
River, for the sake of her orphans. Upon seeing the property she
exclaimed, “This is the very place I saw in my dream – the
large country houses, the cliff and river, the trees and bushes,
the barns and stables, the mountain on the other side of the highway.”
Then she told Sister Aurelia, “Here I will be buried, on the
gentle slope overlooking the river.” However, there was one
problem. The Jesuits explained that their well had gone dry and
one well-driller after another had failed to locate water! But
this wasn’t a problem for Mother Cabrini – she prayed to Our Lady
of Graces to help her locate water, and Our Lady appeared to her
in a dream and indicated were the well should be dug.
By this time, her ability had become well known amongst
church leaders, and requests came to her to found schools and
orphanages in France, Spain, England and Latin America. Soon after
the opening of West Park she made another trip to Rome to enlarge
her institute and to bring back more nuns. After seeing Pope Leo
again, in September 1890, Francesca sailed back to America with
Before her last trip to Rome, Mother Cabrini spoke
with Dona Elena Arrelano who was from Nicaragua. Now Francesca
agreed to open a private academy for the daughters of the wealthy
in Granada, Nicaragua, because she thought they could use spiritual
guidance. She chose fourteen nuns and set sail for that country
on October 10, 1891. She set up the private school in Granada
and was then off to New Orleans in America.
Mother Cabrini arrived in New Orleans on Holy Tuesday,
1892. There the Italians were ridiculed and treated like beasts
of burden. Francesca rented a place for her nuns in the slum area.
Before long she bought the place and soon, with the help of enthusiastic
Italians, there was a beautiful chapel. To this chapel, immigrants
came in such large numbers, that it was necessary to celebrate
Mass under a huge canopy outside.
In every city where Mother Cabrini founded a house,
she and her daughters went to the prisons to console and convert.
They helped those with twisted and broken lives either to amend
their life or at least to die in God’s favor.
In 1891, Bishop Scalabrini opened a small hospital
for Italians. The Bishop wanted Mother Cabrini’s nuns to work
in the hospital. But poor Mother Cabrini found hospitals, nauseating
and revolting. She then had a dream in which the Blessed Virgin
Mary was changing dirty bed sheets and attending to the patient’s
wounds. In her dream Francesca rushed to help the Virgin Mary,
but Our Lady smilingly waved her away saying, “Francesca Cabrini,
I, I will do this urgent work for you!” After this dream,
Mother Cabrini was most willing to help whole heartedly, in the
care of the sick.
Francesca knew that her ‘Columbus Hospital’ would
not survive without the help of Heaven. The hospital had previously
fallen into bankruptcy so she had a hard time finding people to
support it. Since charitable organizations would not come to her
aid, she appealed to businessmen. After talking to Mother Cabrini,
they realized that she was a very sensible, practical woman, and
they supplied her hospital needs. In time, the Columbus Hospital
was well underway and in the secure trust of good doctors and
staff, and Francesca’s nuns.
Again she returned to Italy and visited each house.
She saw Pope Leo who again asked her about her growing order and
she told him amongst other things that she had been asked to open
a house in Brazil. To this he responded, “Brazil! Child you
will then see what a vast field for Christ, South America is.
Let us labor, Cabrini. Let us labor, for Paradise awaits!”
In spite of all her troubles, Mother Cabrini kept
her great sense of humor. She joked with her nuns about the mistakes
she made in the English language. And she mimicked the characters
of her tales with comic faces and expressions that her nuns would
almost die laughing, so funny did they find her.
On September 13, 1894, Francesca and fifteen young
nuns left Genoa for New York. But during her absence from New
York, civil and religious groups had pressured Archbishop Corrigan
into thinking that neither Mother Cabrini’s Columbus Hospital
was needed, nor her schools and orphanages, and that she and her
missionary nuns would do best to pack up and go back to Italy!
When Mother Cabrini heard this, she was shocked to say the least,
and replied, “Excellence, in all humility I must remind you
that I gave you my reply the first time I had set foot in America:
‘The pope sent me here, and here I stay!’”
God was with Mother Cabrini. She bought an old hospital
and had it repaired and renovated. And in 1895, the new Columbus
Hospital, with more than 100 beds, modern equipment, and an excellent
medical staff, was approved by the State of New York.
Having established her hospital, Francesca began the
long trip to South America. On reaching Panama, there, she joyfully
embraced her daughters. Taking Sr. Chiara with her, she resumed
her trip to South America. Sr. Chiara preferred traveling over
the Andes Mountains rather than going by sea, so the two sisters,
dressed in fur-lined cloaks, took the narrow mule trail up the
mountain. There was what seemed, a bottomless abyss on one side
and eternal snow covered heights on the other side.
The two nuns had much to encounter on their journey.
Sr. Chiara lost her speech over all this and no matter how often
Mother Cabrini told her to bravely sit up straight on the mule,
she insisted on laying on the poor beast like a sack of potatoes,
with her head buried against its neck. And at one point in the
trail, they met with a treacherous crevice, which they had to
jump. When Mother Cabrini tried to leap over the crevice, she
fell short, but quick as lightning, the guide pulled her to safety.
Then they had a day of slipping and sliding down the perilous
mountain trail and finally took the train to Buenos Aires. Mother
Cabrini stayed for eight months, setting up an Academy in Buenos
Aires. By August, 1896, the Academy was flourishing, so Francesca
returned to her houses in Italy to encourage her daughters there.
In July 1898, Mother Cabrini met again with Pope Leo
who was now quite aged. When she mentioned about going to London
to set up her order, the pope sighed, “Ah, England that was
once the Isle of Saints, and which through the carnal passions
and pride of its king, lost the Faith. Go there child, for England
is precious in my heart!” Then he placed both hands on Mother
Cabrini’s head and showered blessings on her, and telling her
to pray for him, as his heart was overwhelmed with sorrow on the
account of the revolutions prevalent in many countries. Francesca
left Rome for Paris, and there with the help of two benefactors,
found an orphanage. She left for London on October 27th,
and after a few days stopover, set off for New York, where she
arranged to set up more schools. She also set up a school in New
Jersey and in May, 1899, Mother Cabrini went with 14 of her daughters
to set up another school in Chicago.
In the year 1900, Francesca turned 50; she could barely
walk at times and fever gripped her – her health was slowly diminishing!
In spite of this she returned to Italy taking on a colossal amount
of work, opening convents and other institutions. In her meeting
with Pope Leo during this time, he emphasized dramatically, “God
has elected thee. He is with thee wherever thou goest. Cabrini!
God has elected thee!”
Mother Cabrini spent seven successful months in the
Argentine and then sailed for Rome. Again she saw Pope Leo and
after that she visited all the Italian houses, and the house in
Paris; and she established the first house in England. Then she
was off again to the United States.
In July, 1902, Francesca went to found a school in
Denver, Colorado. And while there, she and her nuns went down
into the mines to visit the Italian men and tell them about God
and the school she was planning to build for their children in
In July 1903, Pope Leo XIII, died. By the end of his
life, Leo XIII had achieved great things. He had not only reversed
the intrusion of European Godlessness, but also was responsible
for reviving the Catholic Faith in Protestant countries as well.
And although Mother Cabrini felt the loss of this dear friend,
she believed that now she had a great heavenly intercessor for
At the end of 1903, Francesca went to Chicago to found
a hospital. She went about raising funds, but the money came in
slowly. In April 1904, she came upon the North Shore Hotel that
fronted Lincoln Park, with the lake beyond. It was a grey stone
building, six stories high, and had been one of the most fashionable
hotels, until it was ruined by bad management. It was a bargain
at $160,000. But though Mother Cabrini only had one thousand dollars
to start, she put her trust in the Sacred Heart of Jesus – He
would not fail her!
However there was going to be a lot of sweat, blood,
and tears in order to finish the hospital. First of all, the owners
tried to cheat the Missionary Sisters out of a portion of the
land occupied by the hotel. And later, the contractor suggested
so many improvements on the hotel, when only a few small changes
would have sufficed, that the building was almost completely gutted.
Francesca had been away from the scene for a while, but when she
saw what the contractors had done, she exclaimed, “You will
of course be paid what is just; you will not be paid one penny
more! I’m going to take this in hand myself!” One of them
asked her what she meant, and she replied, “I mean that you
are all fired! I’m in charge from now on!” Francesca did supervise
the work and eight months later on April 26, 1905, the Chicago
Hospital was formally opened. As in the case of New York, Francesca
decided to call this hospital, the Columbus Hospital, again in
order to please the Italians; both liberal and conservative. A
saint’s name would not have appealed to the liberal Italians.
In fact, “Columbus” was the name she was to give all the hospitals
Though she was suffering from a high fever, Mother
Cabrini then headed for Seattle, where she set up a small orphanage,
a parochial school and a small church for Italian immigrants;
in which she herself used a pick-axe to dig the foundation. Then
she acquired a piece of property at the foot of the Rocky Mountains,
in Denver, Colorado, where 30 orphans were to be housed. And in
the fall she headed for California to establish an orphanage and
convent in Los Angeles.
Elsewhere, in 1905, in New Orleans, an epidemic of
yellow fever swept through the city. The poor immigrants living
as they did in close congestion in the slums, fell victim to the
fever. But not one of the Missionary Sisters who were there helping
the Italians, caught the infection, though they had been exposed
to it more than anybody else.
November 14, 1905, brought the Silver Jubilee of the
founding of Francesca’s, Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart
– 25 years of unending work. There were now 1000 nuns in fifty
different convents, 5000 orphans and thousands of pupils, and
100,000 patients who had been treated in their hospitals. Francesca,
who had started on her own, with so little support, was now known
as “Mother” to no less than 199,000 emigrants.
Mother Cabrini had become so well known that her name
was echoed honorably and affectionately from one end of the United
States to the other. And her name was held in love and reverence
not only in the United States, but also in South America and Central
America, and wherever she had set her foot.
The priests of the diocese said that it had never
happened before, in Los Angeles, that the foundress of a religious
institute was there at the time of its jubilee. So the priests
celebrated it with the utmost pomp but at the same time, Mother
Cabrini looked forward to a future day when she could celebrate
the jubilee with her daughters in Italy.
After establishing the California foundations, in
1906, Francesca went back to Italy. At this time, Milan was having
an exhibition of Italian work that had been done in foreign countries.
Francesca was asked to send the products of her American and South
American houses. The crowning event of all this was that Queen
Margarita came forward and awarded Mother Cabrini with the “Grand
Prix”, for work accomplished among the Italian emigrants.
In July 1907, Pope Pius X gave the final approbation
of the Rule of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Mother
Cabrini carried the Rule through Italy, to France, England and
At the end of 1907, Francesca was on her way to Argentina
to open a larger school in Buenos Aires and after three months
she was off to Brazil to start the foundation of two large schools
in Rio de Janeiro. An epidemic of smallpox broke out there and
several of her nuns caught the disease. Then, on her way from
Sao Paolo to Rio, Francesca herself, fell victim to malaria. She
was forced to convalesce for a while and then she returned to
the United States.
Cabrini spent two years solidifying her foundations in America
and building even another hospital in Chicago. But the devil was
close at hand and enticed enemies to work particular havoc. They
hid themselves in the building one evening, after Mother Cabrini
and her sisters had left, and they cut the water pipes. As it
was in mid winter, the flood of water froze in the building. Then
shortly after this the enemies soaked the floors with paraffin
and set them on fire. The fire was discovered in time and extinguished.
There was only one thing left to do Francesca went to live in
the hospital until it was completed.
the hospital was finished, Mother Cabrini thought that her work
as Superior should end. She put all her affairs in order, and
in March, 1910, she set sail for Italy. But her heart was elsewhere
– she longed to retire to the hills of West Park, and to meditate
there, while preparing for death. When she arrived at the General
House in Rome, she announced that she wanted to retire. But God
had other plans for her. Without her knowing, Francesca’s nuns
had petitioned the Holy Father, and on July 16, 1910, Pope Pius
X issued a decree – Francesca Cabrini was to remain Superior General
for life! Even though she was wearing out, the holy woman accepted
the obedience and continued her work.
From Rome, Francesca went to France, then England
and back to Italy. In Codogno, she asked that Antonia Tondini
be brought to the convent. Upon meeting her, Mother Cabrini embraced
the old woman saying, “Antonia, God bless you. I have thought
of you with affection so often, and longed to see you.” Mother
Cabrini held no grudges – a lesson of forgiveness for all of us.
Francesca returned to Rome and she suffered chronic
anaemia and a severe malarial attack. For months she was too sick
to leave her room and now she was thin and weak. Knowing that
she could not visit her nuns, in Italy, Spain, France and England,
Mother Cabrini sent them a circular instead. Then, sick as she
was, on March 22, 1911, she departed for New York. Immediately
in New York, she went back to her old life, frailer than ever,
but still energetic. Yet despite the fact that she had brought
with her a subscription book that Pope Pius X has signed, recommending
the Columbus Hospital to public support, she found it difficult
to collect much money. But in spite of this she still asked a
young architect to draw up plans for a new ten story hospital
– she was putting all her trust in Divine Providence.
One morning, in July, when Mother Cabrini was visiting
West Park, she thought she was dying. As soon as she was able
to travel, the nuns got her to go to Colorado – where she could
convalesce. Later that year, Francesca supervised the construction
of an annex to the house in Los Angeles. Standing out in the sun
and wearing a large hat, she stood leaning on her cane, and took
charge of the demolition of another building. She had bought this
building cheap, intending to use the materials in the new structure.
Francesca found that she had so much brick and woodwork left over
that she was able to ship a great deal of it to Denver, where
another building was going up.
Early in 1913, she went to Seattle to buy another
orphanage. As she had done many times in the past, she took a
map of Seattle and studied it closely, and then put her finger
upon a spot. At this spot, there was a beautiful mansion, and
when Francesca went to look at the spot two days later, she providentially
hitched hiked for a ride with the very lady whose husband owned
the place! And later, an anonymous benefactor came forward with
the $100,000 needed to buy the place.
That same summer, Francesca was back in New York to
open another orphanage nearer the city than West Park. She looked
at a Protestant Boy’s School that was not for sale; and
there buried a medal of St. Joseph in a flower bed. Later, she
obtained the property, and changed it into an orphanage. Again
Mother Cabrini busied herself; washing the outside walls and doing
other things, she was never one to stay idle.
The Sacred Heart Villa no longer exists as an academy,
but known as Mother Cabrini’s High School, takes girls of all
nationalities. And it is in the chapel in this school that the
saint’s body now reposes in a crystal reliquary under the altar.
In all, Mother Cabrini crossed the ocean 25 times
and she set up foundations in more than eight American cities
as well as in Central and South America.
Mother Cabrini wanted each daughter of hers to be
a true mother to the orphans and pupils. And in one of her directions
she wrote, “My Daughters, in your hands are the new generations.
As educators you are obliged to form not only Christians for the
glory of Christ and the perpetuation of Holy Church, but also
solid patriotic citizens for the prosperity of the nation and
the felicity of the family. Thus it is yours to mould the decorum
of spirit, state, family and society.”
And Francesca told her nuns: “Pray much, for the
conversion of sinners and sanctification of souls does not depend
on human eloquence, or the grace of style and rhetoric, but upon
our spouse Jesus alone, who enlightens the mind, moves the will,
sows virtue, and animates us to undertake perfect works.”
But one of the most shocking truths that Mother Cabrini
ever told her nuns was this, “The world today is going back
to paganism. In spite of its gigantic progress, in science and
commerce, it has forgotten prayer, and hardly recognizes it any
more. And that has come about because with pagan materialistic
sentiments, man makes a god of himself and creatures, and loses
the idea of the relations that exist between himself and God!”
And this truth stands out even more, in today’s chaotic world.
Mother Cabrini had the faith that moves mountains,
for she would say, “Not the possible. The thing to do is the
impossible!” Beginning with nothing, and quite penniless,
she built convents, schools, hospitals, homes and a church. She
called herself “nothing and nobody,” not even ‘God’s
tool,’ though she was indeed the instrument He used, to do
the impossible. She had the talent of a great leader and the ability
of a general, all buried beneath the beautiful virtue of humility.
Her very soul burned with the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
– whose name she incorporated into the title of her community.
loved humility; the foundation of the saints. Of this virtue she
said, “Without humility everything is spoiled. With humility
all things can be done. Humble yourselves. Debase yourselves,
for in this way the graces of God will come… Love humiliations.”
And she wrote in her resolution book, “I shall love humiliations.
I shall rejoice in receiving them, thanking God for so precious
a gift that helps to keep my soul in balance. I shall be frightened
The Saint’s reliquary
most wonderful that we have Mother Cabrini for a saint, in these
modern times; a saint that proves to us that, yes, it is possible
to become a saint in the midst of a modern world and that it can
be a joyful experience, even amidst all our troubles, if only
we look to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as the focal point of our
Cabrini, Pray for us!