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Cabrini, Frances Xavier, St.


Foundress; b. Sant' Angelo Lodigiano, Lombardy, Italy, July 15, 1850; d. Chicago, Ill., Dec. 22, 1917. She was the last of 13 children of Agostino and Stella (Oldini) Cabrini. She completed the primary grades under her sister Rosa, the village schoolmistress, and at 13 Francesca went to the Daughters of the Sacred Heart in Arluno where, at 18, she secured a teacher's license with highest honors. At this time the annual, private vow of virginity, which she had taken for six years, became permanent. Having been a victim of smallpox in 1872, she was refused entrance to the Daughters of the Sacred Heart because of frailty and taught at Vidardo, where, in 1874, Don Antonio Serrati persuaded her to begin charitable work at the House of Providence orphanage in Codogno. Here she took the religious habit and made her vows in September 1877.

When Bp. Domenico Gelmini closed the orphanage in 1880 he made her prioress of an Institute of missionary sisters of the sacred heart formed from seven of the orphanage girls. The foundation was formally approved by Rome on March 12, 1888. Between 1882 and 1887 seven houses had been opened in northern Italy, and in the latter year a free school and nursery were founded in Rome. Although she had hoped from childhood to do mission work in China, Mother Cabrini nevertheless surrendered to the insistence of Leo XIII and Bp. Giovanni Battista Scalabrini of Piacenza that she go to the U.S., and on March 23, 1889, she sailed for New York with six sisters.

In New York Mother Cabrini worked among the Italian immigrants for whom she established orphanages, schools, adult classes in Christian doctrine, and Columbus Hospital, which gained state approval in 1895. In 1909 she became a naturalized citizen and in 1910 was elected superior general for life. She founded convents, schools, orphanages, and hospitals throughout the U.S. and in South America and Europe. Always frail in body, she nevertheless crossed the sea 30 times and within 35 years established 67 houses with more than 1,500 daughters. She died of malaria in Columbus Hospital, Chicago; her body is preserved in the chapel of Mother Cabrini High School in New York City.

On Nov. 8, 1928, Cardinal George Mundelein ordered an informative hearing on the merits of her cause; it was introduced by Plus XI on March 30, 1931. She was pronounced venerable on Oct. 3, 1933, and was beatified on Nov. 13, 1938. At her canonization on July 7, 1946, Pius XII said, "Although her constitution was very frail, her spirit was endowed with such singular strength that, knowing the will of God in her regard, she permitted nothing to impede her from accomplishing what seemed beyond the strength of a woman."

Feast: Nov. 13 (U.S.).

Bibliography: f. x. cabrini, Entre una y otra ola: viajes de la Madre Francisca Javier Cabrini (Madrid 1973); To the Ends of the Earth: The Missionary Travels of Frances Cabrini (New York 2000). g. dall'ongaro, Francesca Cabrini: La Suora che Conquisto' L'America (Milan 1982). m. l. sullivan, Mother Cabrini: Italian Immigrant of the Century (New York 1992).

[a. m. melville]

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