Thursday, October 17, 2019

A Much Merited New York Statue

The Church in the United States commemorates Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini as the patron saint of immigrants. Born in Italy in 1850, Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini became the founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Pope Leo XIII asked her to go to America to minister to the waves of Italians then immigrating to the US. So, accompanied by six sisters, she came to New York in 1889. She established schools, orphanages, and hospitals. All told, she made 23 Atlantic crossings in 35 years and established 67 houses. She became a naturalized American citizen in 1909. She died in Chicago on December 22, 1917. Her body is venerated in a shrine in Manhattan's Washington Heights. She was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1946 and named patroness of immigrants in 1950.

But in 2019 she became embroiled in an unexpected - but so very New York - controversy.

New York City has some 150 statues of historic public figures, only five of whom, however, are women.  To remedy this perceived imbalance, a She Built NYC commission conducted a survey last year, to identify female figures to honor with statues for their contributions to New York City’s history. Of the 320 women who were nominated in the 2018 survey, Mother Cabrini received the most support of all, but when final selections were announced for the first set of seven statues she was not included.

Italian-American New Yorkers reasonably recognized this as an affront. On October 6, more than 1000 people marched in Brooklyn in protest. The march was led by Brooklyn's Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and Monsignor David Cassato, the director of the Brooklyn diocese’s Italian apostolate. At Mass after the march, Bishop DiMarzio lauded the saint and said her statue would honor the memory of immigrants and remind New Yorkers of their responsibility to one another.

The controversy continued until Columbus Day, when as people were assembling to march in the day's great Italian-American parade, New York's Italian-American Governor Andrew Cuomo rectified this injustice and announced "we are going to build a statue to Mother Cabrini.” Cuomo called Mother Cabrini "a great New Yorker, a great Italian-American immigrant,” who “came to this city and she helped scores of immigrants who came to New York. She opened dozens of institutions, academic institutions, health care institutions.” And he committed the state to work on the project together with local Italian-American groups and Bishop DiMarzio. 

Mother Cabrini's statue, when finally erected, will be a fitting civic honor to a great immigrant to this country and a reminder to the rest of us - immigrants and descendants of immigrants - of our duty to honor the memory of past immigrants and to support contemporary refugees and immigrants everywhere, especially in this terrible time  when a detestable and odious anti-immigrant (and thus ultimately anti-American) ideology has established itself at the very pinnacle of political power in our country

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