“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.”
The first American citizen to be canonized as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church was born on July 15, 1850 in Saint Angelo Lodigiano, in the Lombardy region of a then disunited Italy. One of 13 children, Francesca Cabrini was born to her mother, who was then 52 years old, two months premature, and it was touch and go for a while as to whether the new baby would live. Her health would be precarious all of her life, which, considering what she accomplished, should be a standing rebuke to those of us blessed with good health.
She studied for five years at a school run by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart. Her hearts desire was to be a missionary. When she applied to enter a convent at age 18, however, she was turned down due to her health. Nothing daunted, she returned to her home to help her parents on their farm. A terrible small pox epidemic took the lives of her parents and almost took hers, but she was nursed back to health by her sister Rosa. Almost miraculously she suffered no disfigurement from the small pox.
Taking a job as a substitute teacher at a nearby village, she taught with such skill and with such obvious love and concern for her pupils, that the rector of her parish, Father Antonio Serrati, who was to become a lifelong friend and advisor of hers, placed her in charge of an orphanage for girls in the parish, the House of Providence. She was twenty-four at the time and she was presented with no easy task. The orphanage was known as the House of Providence. It had been set up by two well-meaning, but incompetent, laywomen, and it was badly organized and visibly failing. In six years Francesca turned it around, winning the affection of the young girls in the orphanage through the care she showed to them. While at the orphanage she took vows as a nun, and seven of her girls followed her example and became nuns and helped her run the orphanage. Here for the first time we see the managerial skill with which Mother Cabrini, as she became universally known, was so gifted.
The House of Providence was ultimately dissolved due to the increasingly erratic behavior of the foundress, and Mother Cabrini and her seven nuns were contacted by the Bishop of Lodi. He wished her to found a new order of missionary nuns. Her heart’s desire offered to her, Mother Cabrini gratefully accepted. Her new order was situated at an abandoned Franciscan friary located in Cadogna, Italy, the same town where the House of Providence had been located. Mother Cabrini and her nuns opened an orphanage and a school. Her new order, Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart had two patrons chosen by her: Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Francis Xavier, the great saint to Asia. When she became a nun, Mother Cabrini had chosen as her name Francesca Xavier Cabrini, and her choice of the Apostle of the Indies as one of her Order’s patrons indicated that her eye was still on the East. Continue reading