Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, M.S.C. (Italian religious sister, Patron Saint of Migrant Workers & hospital administrators, religious institutes, the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, Servidoras) was born July 15, 1850, in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano, in the Province of Lodi, Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, Austrian Empire. She was the youngest of eleven children of Agostino Cabrini and Stella Oldini, who were wealthy cherry tree farmers. Only four of her eleven siblings survived beyond adolescence. As a young teacher, she attempted to join various religious orders, but they all turned her away due to her poor health. She was born two months premature, small and weak as a child, and remained in fragile health throughout her entire life. But, it appears that she was called to religious life at an early age. When she visited her uncle, Don Luigi Oldini of Livagra, a priest who resided alongside a canal, she would make small paper boats, filling them with violets and calling the flowers “missionaries”, sending them sailing to India and China.
Her education consisted of attending a school run by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, then to graduate cum laude, with a teaching certificate, five years later. Following her parents death, she attempted to join the religious order of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart at Arluno. These sisters were her former instructors, aware of her frail health and reluctantly decided that she was too frail for their way of life. After being turned away, and at the request of her bishop, she became the headmistress of the House of Providence orphanage in Codogno, where she, also, taught and gathered a small community of women to live a religious way of life. Francesca 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.
In 1880, near Lodi, Italy, she founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Catholic religious institute that was a major support to the Italian immigrants to the United States, which did charity work for the poor. The nuns took in orphans, opened a day school to help pay expenses, began classes in needlework and sold their fine embroidery to earn extra money. In its first five years, the institute established seven homes and a free school and nursery. Her accomplishments presented Mother Cabrini to the attention of (the now Blessed) Giovanni Scalabrini, Bishop of Piacenza, and of Pope Leo XIII.
For about thirty years, under severe difficult conditions, Frances traveled throughout the United States and to Central and South America, England, France, and, repeatedly, Italy, establishing convents, schools, hospitals, and other institutions. In 1889, Pope Leo XIII sent her to the United States, where she offered assistance to Italian-American immigrants. She arrived in New York City on March 31, 1889, joined with six other sisters. She attained the permission of the archbishop to found an orphanage, which is located in West Park, New York today, known as the Saint Cabrini Home.
In New York City, she founded Columbus Hospital and Italian Hospital. In the 1980s, they were merged into Cabrini Medical Center, but in 2008, the Medical Center closed. On the Near West Side, in the heart of Chicago’s Italian neighborhood, the sisters opened Columbus Extension Hospital (later named Saint Cabrini Hospital). Both closed near the end of the 20th century. Mother Cabrini founded 67 institutions in: New York; Chicago; Des Plaines, Illinois; Seattle; New Orleans; Denver; Golden, Colorado; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; and throughout South America and Europe. After her death, the Missionary Sisters achieved Mother Cabrini’s goal of being missionaries to China. The sisters left China shortly due to social and religious difficulties that they faced.
Mother Cabrini died at age 67, in Columbus Hospital, in Chicago, Illinois, of complications from dysentery, on December 22, 1917, after preparing Christmas candy for the local children. Her body was originally interred at Saint Cabrini Home, the orphanage she founded in West Park, Ulster County, New York. In 1931, her body was exhumed as part of the canonization process.
Mother Cabrini was naturalized as a United States citizen in 1909. She was the first naturalized citizen of the United States to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. She was beatified on November 13, 1938, by Pope Pius XI, and canonized on July 7, 1946, by Pope Pius XII. Mother Cabrini’s beatification miracle was the restoration of a child’s eye sight, who became blind by an excessive amount of silver nitrate in the child’s eyes. Her canonization miracle was the healing of a terminally-ill member of her congregation. Approximately, 120,000 people from all over filled Soldier Field, for a Mass of thanksgiving, when she was canonized. Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini’s feast day is November 13, the day of her beatification. In the pre-1970 calendar, the date was December 22, the day she embraced “Sister Death.”
Shrines: Lincoln Park area of Chicago, at the former Columbus Hospital.
The St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Shrine, in Washington Heights, Manhattan, New York.
In Golden, Colorado, a convent and chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart, with an
exhibit of artifacts and clothing used by Mother Cabrini.
The Cabrini Mission Foundation, founded in 1998, a non-profit organization, raises funds to support St. Frances Xavier Cabrini programs and institutions focused on health care, education, and social services. There are several parishes, educational institutions, hospitals, and even The Central Station of Milan (Stazione Francesca Cabrini) that are named in honor of Mother Cabrini. St. Francis Xavier Cabrini was honored in 1996, registering her in the National Women’s Hall of Fame.