Frances Cabrini, our University’s namesake, was born on July 15, 1850 in the small village of Sant’Angelo Lodigiano, Italy. Enthralled by the stories of missionaries, she made up her mind to join a religious order.
Her dream was not easily acquired, as her frail health held her back from joining the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, the order who had been her teachers and mentors.
Undeterred, in 1880, Frances founded her own order with seven other young women—the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
She and her Sisters wanted to be missionaries in China and despite all obstacles; she visited Rome to obtain an audience with Pope Leo XIII. The Pope told Frances to go “not to the East, but to the West” to New York rather than to China as she had expected. She was to help the thousands of Italian immigrants already in the United States.
In 1889, New York seemed to be filled with chaos and poverty, and into this new world stepped Mother Frances Cabrini and her Sister companions. 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.
Soon, requests for her to open schools came to Frances Cabrini from all over the world. She traveled to Europe, Central and South America, and throughout the United States. She made 24 trans-Atlantic crossings and established 67 institutions: schools, hospitals, and orphanages.
On December 22, 1917, in Chicago, she died. In 1946, she was canonized a saint by PopePius XII in recognition of her holiness and service to mankind.
Today, the Missionary Sisters and their lay collaborator can be found on six continents and 17 countries throughout the world; wherever there is a need.
Discover more about Saint Frances’s life and indomitable spirit at mothercabrini.org.
Following the exhaustive Vatican processes of beatification and canonization, Mother Cabrini was declared Blessed on November 13, 1938, and on July 7, 1946, she became the first United States citizen to be canonized a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. Today we celebrate that anniversary.
In 1950, Pope Pius XII formally proclaimed St. Frances Xavier Cabrini as the “Patroness of Immigrants.”
In his homily, Pope Pius XII said, “She gathered endangered youth in safe houses, and taught them holy and rightful principles. She consoled the spirit of the imprisoned, giving them the comfort of life eternal, and urging them to resume the right path and to remake an honest life. She consoled the sick and the infirm gathered in hospitals, and cared for them assiduously. Especially towards immigrants, who had left their own homes… did she extend a friendly hand, a sheltering refuge, relief and help.”
Pope Francis, in a letter to Sr. Barbara Staley, MSC, General Superior of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, writes, “Catholics today cannot forget that [this] is the vocation of every Christian and of every community of the disciples of Jesus.”
The late Sr. Mary Louise Sullivan, MSC, PhD, writes in her book, Mother Cabrini: “Italian Immigrant of the Century” that “Cabrini was a modern woman. Her interests were extensive. She certainly did not adapt readily to the role expected of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century women religious. She was an entrepreneur and world traveler, keenly aware of the currents of thought in the world of her time. Cabrini foresaw the twentieth century as one of revolution, and tailored her philosophy of education, healthcare, and social service to accentuate the intrinsic value and dignity of each human being touched by her Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
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