Monday, November 13, 2006

Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini: A Saint for All (American) Cities

"I paid for it with three treasures:
my love, a dream, and a glass of water
in His Name."
-Mother Cabrini describing how she "purchased" a house
for a Seattle orphanage

When I was a young man, an old priest named Fr. Flannery would sometimes miraculously transform from a feeble elderly man who could barely talk or stand into a booming, Irish preacher when he hit the pulpit and the spirit (and subject) moved him. On one such occasion, he recalled being a young lad playing ball with his buddies in front of a hospital when an old but vibrant Sister came out to scold the boys for using the emergency entrance as a backstop. He always remembered that brief encounter, for along with those correcting cries were a pair of strikingly compassionate eyes. That nun was none other than Mother Francis Cabrini.

I've always thought of Mother Cabrini as a Chicago Saint (indeed she spent considerable time there and died in the Windy City in 1917), but apparently the people in New York, Seattle, New Orleans and countless other New World cities felt the same Mother Cabrini (holding books, seated) with her earliest sisters.way. Born the youngest of thirteen children, it often appears that Mother Cabrini was everywhere (except in Butler's Lives, for despite the volume's 1,000-plus entries, its English/Anglican prejudice nets the first American citizen to be canonized a saint nary a mention) for in 28 years in America, the Saint, with the help of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart (an order she had started back home in Italy), founded 67 schools, hospitals, orphanages and missions - one for every year of her life. And all this from a nun who had wanted to be sent to China!

Mother Cabrini's methods reminded me much of Mother Teresa's - how she would begin at each place with absolutely nothing and then prayed, begged and cajoled 'til she got her way. Almost from the moment Pope Leo XIII made the fateful decision to send her to America instead of China, his vision proved prophetic.

Just off the boat, Cabrini informed New York Archbishop Corrigan she would establish an orphanage nearby, and when he told her it was impossible, she started one anyway. She somehow managed to purchase 450 acres fairly near the Hudson River, but when the site proved too far from the river to haul water to, she prayed and a natural spring "sprang" up right on the site.

Perhaps the best Mother Cabrini story is how she managed to obtain land for an orphanage in Seattle. Having been there a short time with no success, Mother Cabrini had a dream one night of a beautiful house on a hilltop. The next morning Mother and her sisters managed to hitch a ride in a limo, and when she told the receptive rich lady inside the vehicle about her dream and described the house in detail, the stunned passenger told Mother that that was her house - and despite the fact she had never planned to sell it, discerned the dream meant that she was supposed to donate it to the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

The frail woman with boundless energy, the penniless nun who bought 67 buildings, the forceful sister with the eternal soft spot in her heart for kids, Mother Cabrini was a holy parodox to everyone, except of course Her Savior. Christ never did give Mother Cabrini the gift of bilocation -- it only seemed that way.

1 comment :

JimAroo said...

My Mother Cabrini story- my Italian-American father was born on the south side of Chicago.His parents were immigrants from Sicily. When he was 4 (in 1917), he developed a festering sore on his leg. His parents took him to Mother Cabrini's
Columbus Hopspital. The sore would not respond to then current medical tratment. Mother Cabrini visited him while his mother was visiting. She prayed for him and touched his bandages....the sore was gone within a day and never returned. Mother Cabrini, Pray for us!