Mother Cabrini

Dan Graves, MSL

Mother Cabrini

Although her constitution was very frail, her spirit was endowed with such singular strength that, knowing the will of God in her regard, she permitted nothing to impede her from accomplishing what seemed beyond the strength of a woman." Pope Pius XII was speaking of Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first American Citizen to be named a saint by the Roman Church. Her feast day, the day on which the church celebrates her memory, is on November 13.

Mother Cabrini was not always an American citizen. She was born in Italy, the last of a very large family (she had fourteen brothers and sisters). From an early age, Frances wanted to become a nun. She trained as a teacher, but was rejected for the convent at age eighteen, because she was considered too sickly. So she went to work at an orphanage. When the bishop closed its doors, she founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart and seven of her orphans joined her. She hoped to carry the gospel to China or Africa.

But first, she had to get her new community's rules approved in Rome. With naive confidence, she sought the personal approval of the pope, and hoped to found two convents in Rome while there. Worldly-wise churchmen chuckled at her innocence. But as it turned out, she succeeded in both of her aims. However, she did not make it to China. Pope Leo XIII urged her to direct her attention to Italian immigrants in the United States.

A house was set aside for her to open an orphanage in New York City. But when she arrived, she found it had been put to another use. The Archbishop told her to pack up and go home. Frances refused. With spunk and determination, she convinced him to allow her to raise money to buy another building. He agreed and she soon made the necessary arrangements. She organized adult classes to reinforce the faith of Italian immigrants. Despite dread of the sea, she crossed the Atlantic more than thirty times on mission business. She became a citizen of her adopted country.

By her death in 1917, this frail woman had overcome her sickness to found over seventy hospitals, schools, convents and orphanages in North and South America and in Europe. She died of malaria, sitting in a wicker chair in Chicago. Her body was removed to New York where her tomb became a site of pilgrimages.


  1. "Frances Xavier Cabrini." Catholic Information Network. (
  2. "Graveyards of Chicago." Holy Sepulcher Catholic Cemetery. (
  3. Saint of the Day web site.
  4. "St. Frances Xavier Cabrini." (
  5. "St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, Patroness of Immigrants." (
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