Let us remember…
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini was born at Sant’ Angelo Lodigiano, Lombardy, in northern Italy, on July 15, 1850, the youngest of thirteen children. She studied (1863–68) with the Daughters of the Sacred Heart in nearby Arluno, and she completed her teacher’s certification course at the age of eighteen years. She then returned home and taught for several years, first in her town’s elementary school and then in Vidardo. She then transferred (1874) to Codogno, where she taught in an orphanage known as the House of Providence, operated by the Sisters of Providence. In 1877 she entered that religious congregation, but by 1880 the orphanage was closed and the sisters had to disband. Shortly thereafter, the Bishop of Lodi, Dominic Gelmini (1807–88), suggested that she found her own religious community. So, with seven girls from the orphanage, she founded (1880) the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, and within a few years, convents of her congregation were established in northern Italy and in Rome.
In the 1880s, many Italian immigrants were on their way to the United States, and fearing that they would lose their faith, if they had no Italian priests and sisters with them, Pope Leo XIII (1878–1903), together with Bishop John Baptist Scalabrini (1839–1905), asked Mother Cabrini to adopt the United States as her mission field rather than China. Together with six of her sisters, she arrived in New York on March 31, 1889, and they immediately began their work. They started schools, opened hospitals and orphanages, and taught catechism to children. Wherever there was an Italian community, the sisters went there to serve. St. Frances died in Chicago—the cause being malaria—on December 22, 1917, and was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1946. The prayer in today’s Mass speaks of her leaving Italy to work with the immigrants and how, in her charity, she cared for the sick and the frustrated.1
Today, in Denver, we celebrate St. Frances Cabrini even though her liturgical feast day is Nov. 13th in the US. As you may know, just a couple of years ago we began celebrating Cabrini day here instead of Columbus Day. Now, occasionally civil holidays and church holidays line up – like Christmas and Easter. Valentine’s day, on the other hand, Feb. 14th is not the day we celebrate st. Valentine in the Church calendar. This year, exceptionally, we are celebrating St. Frances Cabrini liturgically on the same day as the civil holiday because Nov. 13th falls on a Sunday. Sundays – always devoted to the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection – replace any other feast day that might be happening.
The motivation for celebrating St. Frances Cabrini are different, however, between the state of Colorado and the Catholic Church. Both institutions recognize the incredible good she did for the poor and immigrants, however, secular society will not acknowledge the importance of faith in God as a motivator. What should interest us more than the fact that Mother Cabrini did so much good, so unselfishly, is the reason behind it. The Church was not concerned that the immigrants would have a difficult life in the United States, the Church was concerned that immigrants would lose their faith – and that’s why Mother Cabrini did the work she did. Faith in the presence of God and bringing people the good news of salvation is what lies beneath our concern for the poor and social justice.
I was reminded of this last week as we were reading through the timeline of important texts from the Magisterium of the Church in social justice class. Evangelii Nuntiandi from 1975, or “On the new Evangelization,” reminds us that the first people who deserve to hear the Gospel, our priority in evangelization, are the poor – the first ones to whom the Good News has been addressed. We cannot simply deliver the Gospel message without taking care of the people to whom we deliver the message, but it is only the Gospel that provides the strength needed to not give up once we’ve begun. What we admire in the saints is the heroic courage to do good in the face of extreme obstacles or resistance – we ought to learn from them what gave them such firm purpose and make it our own. Let us make the Gospel our own and allow the Spirit to inspire us to do the good that needs to be done around us.
Saint Frances Cabrini
Saint Jean Baptist de la Salle
Live Jesus in our Hearts.