Christ’s love heals the world: Celebrating the Jubilee Year of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini
American Catholics finally have something to be joyful about and celebrate. This year marks the 75th Anniversary of the canonization of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first American citizen declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.
It surprises and saddens me is that many American Catholics today have no idea who she is. Maria Francesca Cabrini was born in 1850 in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano in region of Lodi, province of Lombardy in Italy. She was tenth of eleven brothers and sisters, of which only four survived beyond adolescence. Her parents were peasants but had an immense faith that they transmitted to their children. Her childhood was marked by the political upheaval of the Risorgimentomovement, a pursuit of national unity by way of secularist and revolutionary liberalism. The Church in Italy suffered as a result. Much of the movement was anticlerical and sought to suppress the influence of the Church and religious organizations. The Church in Italy responded to this challenge with zealous bishops and pastors that inspired a fervent and apostolic zeal in its lay people. The parish in Sant’Angelo had two devotions that left a deep impression on Mother Cabrini, the work of the missions and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. When she was 21 years old, the parish and parishioners consecrated themselves to the Sacred of Heart of Jesus. The event was commemorated with a plaque on the front of the church, with the engraving: “His Heart is for us and ours for him”.
She understood that she had a religious vocation from childhood she sought to become a religious with the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, who had educated her. Due to her frail health, they did not think she was a good fit for their order. In 1868, she received a teaching certificate and taught in Sant’Angelo, eventually becoming the headmistress at the House of Providence orphanage in Codogno. It was here that she finally took religious vows and added Xavier to her name because of her devotion to the great missionary and patron of missions. Like St. Francis Xavier, she desired to go to China as a missionary. She gathered around her a small group of women and founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
In 1887, she went to Rome to petition Pope Leo XIII to allow her to set up missions in China. She first went to the Church of the Gesu, the mother church of the Society of Jesus, to ask for St. Francis Xavier’s assistance in her endeavor. Pope Leo’s response would change the course of her life, “Not to the East, but to the West”.
In the last third of the 19th century, Italian immigrants had been flooding into the United States, as many as 50,000 to 100,000 annually. They were poor peasants, mostly uneducated and had difficulty learning English. They were viewed with contempt by the wider Anglo population and were marginalized and consigned to ghettos. Their children did not have access to education and roamed the streets. Many were in unsupervised orphanages. The Italian mortality rate was very high due to limited access to hospitals. They had no government or philanthropic agency to advocate for them.
Mother Cabrini obediently accepted the pope’s request and arrived in New York in 1889 with six other sisters. She met with Archbishop Michael Corrigan, who was not supportive and suggested she go back to Italy. She responded with respect, but firmness, “No, your Excellency. We’ve come here by order of the Holy See and here we must stay”. He eventually relented and gave them housing at the convent of the Sisters of Charity.
She immediately got to work, organizing education and catechism classes for the Italian immigrants. She found generous benefactors that allow her to established schools, orphanages, and eventually hospitals. Her success in New York soon brought her to Chicago, where she founded Columbus Hospital. Her missionary zeal led to her to found convents, schools, and orphanages in Denver, Seattle, California, New Orleans, Central and South America, France, and Spain.
In 1909, she became a citizen of the United States. On December 22, 1917 she died from malaria at the age of 67 in Columbus Hospital in Chicago, Illinois while preparing Christmas candy for the local children. She was beatified on November 13, 1938 by Pope Pius XI and canonized on July 7, 1946 by Pope Pius XII. In 1950, Pope Pius XII named her Mater Emigrantium, Mother and Patron of Immigrant Peoples. Her feast day is November 13th.
At the request of The National Shrine of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, Cardinal Blaise Cupich of Chicago petitioned Pope Francis to declare a Jubilee Year in honor of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. The year will begin on Saturday, November 13, 2021 and conclude on Sunday, November 12, 2022. The theme for the Jubilee is “Christ’s love heals the world”. The year will include the installation of a statue of Mother Cabrini at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago in 2022. A Plenary Indulgence will be granted to those who make a pilgrimage to the National Shrine and Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago.
Mother Cabrini is a hero, not only for Italian Americans, but all Americans. Her immigrant story is our story. For many American Catholics, recent scandals and divisions has created a state of malaise. Mother Cabrini, whose pious devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and her work among poor immigrants, is a unifying figure. Christ’s love heals the world. St. Francis Xavier Cabrini, pray for us
This article, Christ’s love heals the world: Celebrating the Jubilee Year of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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