Frances Xavier Cabrini

BornMaria Francesca Cabrini
(1850-07-15)July 15, 1850
Sant'Angelo Lodigiano, Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia, Austrian Empire
DiedDecember 22, 1917(1917-12-22) (aged 67)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Resting placeSt. Frances Xavier Cabrini Shrine, Upper Manhattan, New York, United States
Venerated inCatholic Church
BeatifiedNovember 13, 1938, by Pope Pius XI
CanonizedJuly 7, 1946 by Pope Pius XII
Major shrine
  • November 13 (US, 1961 to date)
  • December 22 (elsewhere)

Frances Xavier Cabrini MSC (Italian: Francesca Saverio Cabrini (birth name), July 15, 1850 – December 22, 1917), also known as Mother Cabrini, was an Italian-American, Roman Catholic, religious sister (nun). She founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a religious institute that was a major support to her fellow Italian immigrants in the United States.[1] Her congregation provided education, health care, and other services to the poor.

Mother Cabrini became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1909.[2] On July 7, 1946, Mother Cabrini became the first U.S. citizen to be canonized a saint by the Catholic Church.[a][3] She had entered the United States via New York City, and is now the patron saint of immigrants.[4]

Mother Cabrini is the first woman to have a holiday named for her in the United States. The Colorado General Assembly passed the act (HB20-1031) that established Frances Xavier Cabrini Day as an annual, legal, state holiday on the first Monday of October, and repealed Columbus Day. It was passed on March 10, 2020, signed by the governor on March 20, 2020, effective September 14, 2020, and first celebrated statewide in Colorado, on October 13, 2020.[5][6][7][4] Her annual Catholic feast day is her beatification day anniversary, November 13th in the U.S., and on her death day anniversary of December 22, elsewhere around the world.[8]

Early life

She was born Maria Francesca Cabrini on July 15, 1850, in Sant'Angelo Lodigiano, in the Lombard Province of Lodi, then part of the Austrian Empire. She was the youngest of the thirteen children of farmers Agostino Cabrini and Stella Oldini.[9] Only four of the thirteen survived beyond adolescence.

Born two months early, she was small and weak as a child and remained in delicate health throughout her life.[3] During her childhood, she visited an uncle, Don Luigi Oldini of Livagra, a priest who lived beside a swift canal. While there, she made little boats of paper, dropped violets in them, called the flowers "missionaries", and launched them to sail off to India and China. At thirteen, Francesca attended a school run by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Five years later she graduated cum laude, with a teaching certificate.[10]

After her parents died in 1870, she applied for admission to the Daughters of the Sacred Heart at Arluno. These sisters were her former teachers, but reluctantly, they told her she was too frail for their life.[11] She became the headmistress of the House of Providence orphanage in Codogno, where she taught and drew a small community of women. Cabrini took religious vows in 1877 and added Xavier (Saverio) to her name to honor the Jesuit cofounder Francis Xavier, the patron saint of missionary service. She had planned, like Francis Xavier, to be a missionary in the Far East.[2]

Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

In November 1880, Cabrini and seven other women who had taken religious vows with her founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (MSC).[12] She wrote the Rule and Constitutions 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.[10] 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 Giovanni Scalabrini, Bishop of Piacenza, and of Pope Leo XIII.

Mission to United States

Stained glass window in Chesapeake, Virginia, depicting Cabrini

In September 1887, Cabrini went to seek the pope's approval to establish missions in China. Instead, he urged that she go to the United States to help the Italian immigrants who were flooding to that nation, mostly in great poverty. "Not to the East, but to the West" was his advice.[12]

Cabrini left for the United States, arriving in New York City on March 31, 1889, along with six other sisters.[13] In New York she encountered disappointment and difficulties.[12][3] Archbishop Michael Corrigan, who was not immediately supportive, found them housing at the convent of the Sisters of Charity. She obtained the archbishop's permission to found the Sacred Heart Orphan Asylum in rural West Park, New York, later renamed Saint Cabrini Home.

Cabrini organized catechism and education classes for the Italian immigrants and provided for many orphans' needs. She established schools and orphanages despite tremendous odds. She was as resourceful as she was prayerful, finding people who would donate what she needed in money, time, labor, and support.[14] In New York City, she founded Columbus Hospital, which merged with Italian Hospital to become Cabrini Medical Center from 1973 until its closure in 2008.[15][16]

In Chicago, Illinois, the sisters opened Columbus Hospital in Lincoln Park and Columbus Extension Hospital (later renamed Saint Cabrini Hospital) in the heart of the city's Italian neighborhood on the Near West Side. Both hospitals eventually closed.[17][3] Their foundress's name lives on in Chicago's Cabrini Street.

She founded 67 missionary institutions to serve the sick and poor, long before government agencies provided extensive social services – in New York; Chicago and Des Plaines, Illinois; Seattle; New Orleans; Denver and Golden, Colorado; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; and in countries throughout Latin America and Europe.[2] In 1926, nine years after her death, the Missionary Sisters achieved Cabrini's original goal of becoming missionaries to China.[18]

Cabrini was naturalized as a United States citizen in 1909.[2]


Mother Cabrini died from chronic endocarditis at age 67 in Columbus Hospital in Chicago on December 22, 1917,[9]

Her body was initially interred at what became Saint Cabrini Home, the orphanage she founded in West Park, Ulster County, New York.


In 1933, her body was exhumed and divided as part of the process toward sainthood. At that time, her head was removed and is preserved in the chapel of the congregation's international motherhouse in Rome. Her heart is preserved in Codogno, where she founded her missionary order. An arm bone is at her national shrine in Chicago. Most of the rest of her body is at her major shrine in New York.[19]

Cabrini was beatified on November 13, 1938, by Pope Pius XI, and canonized on July 7, 1946, by Pope Pius XII.[14][3] Her beatification miracle involved purportedly restoring the sight of a day-old baby who had been blinded by a 50% silver nitrate solution instead of the normal 1% solution in the child's eyes. The child, named Peter Smith (1921–2002), would later be present at her beatification and become a priest.[20] Her canonization miracle involved the purported healing of a terminally ill member of her congregation. When Cabrini was canonized, an estimated 120,000 people filled Chicago's Soldier Field for a Mass of thanksgiving.[21]

In the Roman Martyrology, her feast day is December 22, the anniversary of her death, the day ordinarily chosen as a saint's feast day.[22] Following the reforms in Pope John XXIII's Code of Rubrics, the United States since 1961 has celebrated Cabrini's feast on November 13, the anniversary of her beatification, to avoid conflicting with the greater ferias of Advent.

In 1950, Pope Pius XII named Frances Xavier Cabrini as the patron saint of immigrants, recognizing her efforts on their behalf across the Americas in schools, orphanages, hospitals, and prisons.[23][24]

Cabrini is also informally recognized as an effective intercessor for finding a parking space. As one priest explained: "She lived in New York City. She understands traffic."[25]


Chicago, Illinois (National Shrine)

National Shrine in Chicago

Main article: National Shrine of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini

After Cabrini's death, her convent room at Columbus Hospital, in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, became a popular destination for the faithful seeking personal healing and spiritual comfort. Due to the overwhelming number of pilgrims after her canonization in 1946, the Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Samuel Stritch, commissioned a large National Shrine in her honor within the hospital complex. He dedicated the shrine in 1955.[26]

The hospital and shrine closed in 2002 to be replaced by a high-rise development on North Lakeview Avenue. Still, the shrine and Cabrini's room were preserved and refurbished during the long demolition and construction period. They were solemnly blessed and re-dedicated by Cardinal Francis George on September 30, 2012, and reopened to the public the next day. The shrine is an architectural gem of gold mosaics, Carrara marble, frescoes, and Florentine stained glass, functioning as a stand-alone center for prayer, worship, spiritual care, and pilgrimage.[26]

Golden, Colorado

Stone House in Golden, Colorado

Main article: Mother Cabrini Shrine

In 1904, Cabrini established Denver's Queen of Heaven Orphanage for girls, including many orphans of local Italian miners. In 1910, she purchased a rural property from the town of Golden, on the east slope of Lookout Mountain, as a summer camp for the girls. A small farming operation was established and maintained by three of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. The camp dormitory, built of native rock and named the Stone House, was completed in 1914 and later listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[27]

Where Cabrini had once located an underground spring on the mountainside, a replica of the Lourdes Grotto was built in 1929, later replaced by a simpler sandstone structure. After Cabrini's canonization, the campsite officially became a shrine. Extensive additions in 1954 included a long Stairway of Prayer for pilgrims following her footpath up the mountain, marked with the Stations of the Cross, leading to a 22-foot (7 m) Statue of Jesus at the highest point of the site.[28]

Queen of Heaven Orphanage closed in 1967, replaced by a system of foster care. The summer campsite became a year-round facility for retreats and small prayer gatherings. A new convent building, completed in 1970, includes housing for the resident Sisters, overnight accommodations for visitors, a chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart, and an exhibit of artifacts and clothing once used by Cabrini.[27] The statues and stained-glass windows of the chapel came from Villa Cabrini Academy in Burbank, California, a former school founded by the Missionary Sisters.[28]

Upper Manhattan, New York

Cabrini Shrine in Manhattan

Main article: St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Shrine

The St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Shrine in the Hudson Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan overlooks the Hudson River, the George Washington Bridge, and the New Jersey Palisades.

As Cabrini's cause for sainthood accelerated in 1933, the Missionary Sisters moved her remains from the Sacred Heart Orphanage she had founded in rural West Park, New York, to the chapel of Sacred Heart Villa, a Catholic school she had founded in Manhattan, freshly renamed Mother Cabrini High School. When it became a popular pilgrimage site with her beatification in 1938, the Sisters enshrined the major portion of her body in a glass-enclosed coffin under the altar of the school chapel. Her 1946 canonization brought a further sustained level of public interest, so in 1957–1960 a larger shrine was built adjoining the school.

When the new shrine was near completion in 1959, her remains were transferred to a large bronze-and-glass reliquary casket in the shrine's altar. She still rests in perpetual display for veneration, covered with her religious habit and a sculpted face mask and hands for more-lifelike viewing.[29]

In addition to accommodating the public, the new shrine also served Cabrini High School students as a place for their liturgies and prayer services until the school closed in 2014.[30] Today, the shrine continues as a center of welcome for new immigrants and pilgrims of many nationalities who come to pray and reflect.[31]

Other shrines

Shrine in St George's Cathedral, Southwark


Churches and parishes

St. Frances Cabrini Church, Omaha, Nebraska


United States







Other countries


Cabrini Medical Center, New York City



Other tributes

Cabrini Boulevard and Cabrini Woods, New York City

See also




Children and Young Adults


  1. ^ Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first-canonized saint born in what is now the United States. She was born in 1774 in New York, which was then a British colony, and canonized in 1975.


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Further reading