Today the Church commemorates Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917). Born in Italy, she founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart in 1880, of which she remained Superior General until her death. When she asked Pope Leo XIII's approval to establish a mission in China, he advised her to go "not to the east, but to the west" - to the United States to serve the immense needs of the hordes of poor Italian immigrants who were then flooding the cities of the United States. So she and six other sisters came to New York. Like so many of the Italian immigrants, she was less than enthusiastically received at first by the Irish Catholic establishment – in her case, New York’s Archbishop Michael Corrigan. But she persisted in her mission and over time founded some 67 institutions in major cities in the United States and in South America. In their day, those institutions served Italian and other immigrants and made a notable impact in their communities. She died in Chicago in 1917. Having become a naturalized American citizen in 1909, she became the first American citizen to be canonized in 1946.
In 2018, a She Built NYC commission conducted a survey 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. Last year, New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo announced "we are going to build a statue to Mother Cabrini,” whom he called "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.”
So last month, on Columbus Day, Governor Cuomo unveiled a new Mother Cabrini Memorial located in lower Manhattan with a direct view of both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, a fitting location to pay tribute to the patroness of immigrants. The Memorial includes interpretive panels highlighting Mother Cabrini's service to Italian-American immigrants and the poor in New York. The plaza is surrounded by seating and a mosaic created from stones from Mother Cabrini's birthplace of Sant'Angelo Lodigiano, Italy.
"This Columbus Day, the celebration of Mother Cabrini is even more appropriate than when we announced it last year because of the difficulties that we are facing. We all know that these are challenging times, but we also know that in the book of life, it is not what one does when the sun is shining that tests our metal - it's what one does in the fury of the storm, and that's where we are today," Governor Cuomo said of the new memorial. "In this complex world, may this statue serve to remind us of the principles that made us great as a country and as a people and the principles that keep us special on this globe - the values of Mother Cabrini: compassion, acceptance, community, freedom, faith, hope and love."
Mother Cabrini's statue is 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 what that must mean for a nation seeing to rediscover and revive whatever is left of its heart and its soul.
(Photo:©Kevin P. Coughlin/State of New York)t York