She was born prematurely, the daughter of Italian farmers, and battled frail health all her life. But that didn’t stop Maria Frances Cabrini from forging a life in America and ultimately becoming the first U.S. citizen to be named a saint.
Maria Frances was born on July 15, 1850, the youngest of the 13 children of farmers Agostino Cabrini and Stella Oldini in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano, Lombardy. Sadly, only three of her siblings survived until adulthood.
Frances was an honor student, and graduated with her teaching certificate from a school run by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart. After her parents both died, she expressed a great desire to join that order, but was turned down because of her frail health. Instead,
she took a job headmistress of House of Providence Orphanage in Cadagono. She worked there for six years, taking care of the orphans, teaching, and holding needlework classes. She had developed a group of women friends who were devoted to religious life and in 1877, Frances took religious vows and began calling herself Mother Cabrini, adding the name Xavier to hers in honor of St. Francis Xavier, patron of missionaries. In 1880, she formally founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She wrote the Rule of Life for the order, and was the superior, serving in that capacity until she died.
In 1887, Mother Frances sought papal permission to expand the order and become a missionary to China. Instead, the pope told she should go to America to help the influx of Italian immigrants who lived in poverty there.
Mother Cabrini and six other sisters arrived in New York City on March 31, 1889. They were immediately disappointed to find out the building they intended to use as an orphanage was no longer available. The archbishop of New York proved to be unsupportive as well. He insisted they return to Italy but eventually came around and found housing for the sisters. Mother Cabrini and the sisters first project in America was the Sacred Heart Orphan Asylum in West Park, N.Y. (now known as Saint Cabrini Home). They held catechism classes and provided much-needed education for the immigrant community.
Mother Cabrini was very resourceful and had wonderful administrative abilities. She was always able to find supporters and resources to further their mission. She became a naturalized American citizen in 1909. The order expanded their work from New York to Chicago, where they opened two hospitals. The work of the sisters continued to grow: All told in her lifetime, Mother Cabrini founded 67 institutions in eight states, Latin America and Europe. And after her death, the order sent missionaries to China, fulfilling her desire to be a missionary in that country.
She died on Dec. 22, 1917 at age 67 from complications from malaria. At the time, she was organizing Christmas treats for local children.
Mother Cabrini became a naturalized American citizen in 1909.
Her feast day is Dec. 22.
She is the patron saint of immigrants and hospital administrators.
There are two shrines dedicated to St. Frances Cabrini.
One is in Golden, Colorado, where she founded an orphanage.
and the other is in Chicago.
Find a prayer to St. Frances Cabrini here: