Today is the feast (okay, the memorial) of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (aka Maria Francesca Cabrini, Cecchina Cabrini, and Francesca Saverio Cabrini), a religious sister who founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and emigrated from Italy to the mission fields of the United States. Along with her sisters, she gave tireless care to the American poor of every denomination, as well as setting up many Catholic schools, parishes, hospitals, orphanages, etc. After untiring service that stood in contrast to her tiny frail body and extremely high, cute soprano voice, she died on December 22, 1917, from the after-effects of catching malaria in Rio de Janeiro, ten years before.
As a legal immigrant who became a citizen of the United States, she was the first US citizen to become a saint, in 1946.
Cabrini and her sisters were wonderworkers with their prayers, which isn’t proof of sainthood but doesn’t hurt to show good fruit in their lives. This was seriously downplayed in the last half-century and more, particularly by those putting forward Cabrini as a saint of “social justice.”
Well, sorry, but you don’t get a St. Martin de Porres without the supposedly-embarrassing signs and wonders. The more practical and hands-on the saint is in charity, the more likely that signs and. wonders will happen.
(Activism doesn’t seem to produce saints or wonders, as it is a side-activity to charity, or even a way of blocking ordinary citizens from helping their brothers and sisters, calling on government to replace neighborliness. There are government-bureaucrat-type saints, but not many. Usually martyrs.)
The sad truth is that a lot of the secular products of Cabrini’s hard work have been closed down and destroyed. Orphanages have been decentralized into foster care, which has been good for most kids but has promoted abuse of others. Charity hospitals were closed down for lack of personnel and lack of vocations, or lack of interest by dioceses, or changes in the law and liability; or they have been sold off to businesses, which then often closed them down for being in unprofitable areas of cities. Inner city parishes are bare of parishioners, because everybody moved out to the suburbs. Parochial schools are no longer owned by the sisters and are no longer free to the poor, or no longer in existence.
But that’s not Mother Cabrini’s fault, is it? The same people who want her as a saint of social justice are the ones who have largely turned Catholic charities and action into “make the government do everything” activists, and who have no problem with government regulations that have largely outlawed traditional forms of charity. Making the poor jump through government hoops isn’t very charitable, and doesn’t fill people’s needs in anything but the roughest way. And Catholic adoption services are not allowed to match Catholic babies with practicing Catholic parents, even though matching by “race” is apparently the most important thing in the world.
Mother Cabrini lived and worked in New York, Chicago, Denver, New Orleans, Seattle, and many other cities that were once prosperous, but have now collapsed, or been damaged by riots. We should invoke the prayers of our friend and neighbor (and fellow voter), St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. But we also should start to give and pray and do more, ourselves, without waiting for some agency to do it.
Cabrini was once reluctant to start running charity hospitals and medical ministries, because she thought that wasn’t her order’s job. She would just help raise money, and help another order to do it. Then she had a dream where she saw Our Lady dressed as “Consoler of the Afflicted,” but nursing the sick in a hospital, with her dress pinned up to give her freedom of movement. Mary sternly told Cabrini, “I am doing what you refuse to do!” Cabrini took the hint.
Are we refusing to do God’s work, refusing to help our neighbors directly?
In a move that went largely unnoticed due to riots and COVID restrictions, in 2020 the state of Colorado renamed Columbus Day “Cabrini Day.” I can’t decide if that was stupid or smart, in current year. Regardless, I think it’s pretty funny to have a secular US saint’s day, especially one set up by SJWs; and personally I would push it as far as it would go.
(No offense to Columbus, who suffered great obloquy in his own time and today for trying to stop abuses of Native Americans. Why do you think he lost his government jobs and got imprisoned?)
She was a farmgirl, and never lost that practicality. Cabrini earned her own teaching license and thought she was going to live a single, secular life or would marry, much like most girls today. But God had other ideas; the saint teaches us to listen. Cabrini is also a model for today because she was refused entrance to two religious orders, once because of her health and once because she was considered to be “too useful to spare” by her parish priest, who was a friend but also got it wrong. Cabrini had to found her own religious order in order to follow God’s will, another activity discouraged today. But the good side was that she did gain a lot of administrative experience in her own hometown.
The super-freaky thing was what happened next. Her pastor asked her to help out for a few weeks at a charitable orphanage. He thought she would make a good fixer. She ended up stuck there for six years — first with three jerks supervising her, who all thought they were Cinderella’s stepsisters; and then as boss to those same jerks, who suddenly thought they were Cinderellas. Yeah… become a saint or break. But again, this shows Cabrini’s sympathy for those who are governed badly. She learned to look out for herself and others, to have a strong will, and to understand the dark side of human nature.
And then her bishop looked into the sitation, got her out of it, and suggested she found her own order — a missionary order, since she had a missionary heart.
Which she did, and then didn’t put up with any of that crud which other people had put her through. (She seems to be one of the few modern foundresses of religious orders who didn’t get mistreated by mean girls and would-be Iagos in her old age.) Even though her bishop and her old pastor both thought her order should be missionaries to Italy, she knew that her order was called to go out far away. Without defying anyone, her will to follow God’s will for them remained adamant. The same thing happened when various bishops told her she should not go to Rome and get his permission to send sisters to foreign parts. She did not defy them, but she consulted a canon law expert, learned her rights, and went to Rome. (And was told in a dream to go, by Baby Jesus. And got her permission, even though Pope Leo XIII told her that she was needed in America, not in Asia as she had planned. And then she used her papal permission to trump other bishops… very politely.)
As was said about her by Mons. Aristeo V. Simoni, in his introduction to The Life of Mother Cabrini, American Saint by Mabel Farnum, “God sometimes leaves His children in the dark so that they may see His [guiding] stars.”
But she took a more cheerful view. Cabrini’s idea was that we take the good things God gives us, use them as best we can at the moment, identify the problems and fill in the gaps when we can, but not worry too much about what is currently lacking. Her prayer when things were needed was, “Sacred Heart of Jesus, we thank thee.” She also insisted that “Missionaries are joyous! They have every right to be, because they are Christ’s.” Even when the seas were rough on the sisters’ voyage to America, she took it as both a test from God, and a sign of God wishing to bless them when they passed the test.
When she needed more sisters, she asked the religious order that had run her school to send them any sisters who weren’t fitting in or who were unhappy with the life. In her house, these “misfits” became valuable sisters, and holy. Her Rule insisted that there was no need for ascetic penances beyond the common life of Catholics and sisters, because “Religious life in itself offers every chance for sacrifice. There is no need to seek further for crosses.”
But whenever the sisters had nothing left of some supply, and no money to buy more, Mother Cabrini would ask them just to check the cupboard one more time — and there it would be, even though the cupboard had been completely bare. Or there would be money in the desk drawer, once or twice.They were not begging sisters, though they did beg when it was needed. But most of all, they always lived in dependence on God.
If you can get access to hathitrust.org, follow the link to Farnum’s book. It is charming and not too rose-colored.
And it also tells the story of how she surprised and conquered the archbishop of Buenos Aires, and got her way for her order…. Her Colegio Santa Rosa is still at work.