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Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, M.S.C.

July 15, 1850 – December 22, 1917


Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini was an Italian-American religious sister who founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This was a Catholic religious group who supported the Italian immigrants to the United States. She was canonized on July 7, 1946 and was the first naturalized citizen of the United States to be canonized.


Cabrini was born July 15, 1850, in Sant'Angelo Lodigiano of the Austrian Empire. She attended a school run by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart and graduated cum laude, with a teaching certificate. She then became the headmistress of the House of Providence orphanage in Codogno where she taught. While there, she convinced 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.


In1880, she and six other women founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (M.S.C.). Cabrini composed the constitution 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. The institute established seven homes and a free school and nursery in its first five years. Its good works brought Cabrini to the attention 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 mostly in great poverty. Cabrini arrived in New York City on March 31, 1889, along with six other sisters. They found housing at the convent of the Sisters of Charity, where they were allowed to stay as long as necessary. She obtained the permission to found an orphanage, which is located in New York 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 very resourceful and found people who would donate what she needed in money, time, labor, and support. She founded Columbus Hospital and Italian Hospital in New York. In Chicago, the sisters opened Columbus Extension Hospital in the heart of the city’s Italian neighborhood. All in all she founded 67 institutions: in New York; Chicago; Des Plaines, Illinois; Seattle; New Orleans; Denver; Golden, Colorado; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; and in countries throughout South America and Europe. Long after her death, the Missionary Sisters would achieve Cabrini's goal of being missionaries to China.


Cabrini was naturalized as a United States citizen in 1909. She died of complications from dysentery at age 67. By that time, she had founded 67 missionary institutions to serve the sick and poor and trained additional sisters to carry on the work.


Cabrini was beatified on November 13, 1938, by Pope Pius XI, and canonized on July 7, 1946, by Pope Pius XII. Her beatification miracle involved the restoration of sight and healing the disfigurements of a one-day old baby who had been blinded by a mistaken silver nitrate application in the child's eyes. The child, named Peter Smith, would later be present at her canonization and became a priest. 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.


St. Frances Xavier Cabrini's feast day is November 13th. She is the patron saint of immigrants. In 1955 Cardinal Samuel Stritchx consecrated a National Shrine built in her honor within the hospital complex where she died. In 2002, the hospital closed and soon after was torn down, but the shrine and Cabrini's room were preserved, though closed to the public. It was reopened on October 1, 2012 and functions as a stand-alone center for prayer, worship, spiritual care and pilgrimage. Many shrines and churches named after Mother Cabrini are located in New York, Colorado, Minnesota, Connecticut, Missouri, California Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio, Nebraska, Texas, Louisiana and Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and even Puerto Rico.


St. Cabrini was honored in 1996 when she was listed in the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Jim Fritz

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