St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

st-cabriniThere are people alive today who can recall the bustling charity of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini – lay people, religious, and priests who knew her as she labored toward her place among the Church”s canonized saints and who were witnesses to the stamp she placed on American religious history. She died a citizen of the United States, and she was so nearly our contemporary that she rode in automobiles and knew the sufferings of our modern city slums. Everything about her should be familiar to us – everything, perhaps, but her sanctity. It was probably one of her greatest achievements that she showed us how holiness may be attained even in our world.

This vibrant woman was born into a farmer”s family which already numbered twelve children, in a village near Lodi in Lombardy. Her mother, overloaded with the work of so large a family, entrusted her to her oldest sister, Rosa, who superintended Francesca”s early education and taught her knitting, sewing, and catechism.

At eighteen, with a teacher”s certificate and a lively interest in the missions, Francesca applied for admission to a convent, but was refused because of her bad health. Later, she tried again, and was refused a second time. It was then that her pastor, knowing her ability, assigned her the task of reorganizing a badly managed orphanage in a nearby town. The job proved to be the opportunity she was seeking; in 1880, six years later, the orphanage was closed, but Francesca was already Mother Cabrini, a sister in vows and the superior of seven others.

In Lodi, at the bishop”s suggestion, she established her little band as the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart and founded her first house, an orphanage and day school. Within seven years, seven new houses of the congregation were founded, including a mission at Cremona and a boarding school at Milan, all of them staffed by sisters she had trained. In 1887, on a visit to Rome, she obtained papal approval for her work, and from that time the field of her activity broadened immensely.

Two years later, with seven of her sisters, she was off to the New World and a missionary field larger than anything she had ever dreamed of. There had been hard times in Italy, and millions of Italians, lured by the promise of economic opportunity, had emigrated to the United States and to Latin America. They were an impoverished lot, and were not immediately welcome in their new land. In the Little Italies” of American cities