Mother Cabrini's Jubilee Celebration: 75 years of holiness for America's first saint!

Interview by Mary Kovach, Ph.D. 

Mother Cabrini was born Maria Francesca Cabrini in 1850 near Milan, Italy. She was the youngest of thirteen children, dedicated her life to Christ, and became Sister Frances Xavier Cabrini. She emigrated from Italy to the United States to aid the sick, support the orphaned, assist the less fortunate, and also to facilitate the process of integration with many immigrants’ transition from Italy to America. Over the course of her life, she established 67 charities, fought for social justice, and became the first American to be canonized by the Catholic Church. Mother Cabrini was later bestowed the designation Patroness of Immigrants.

I had the privilege of interviewing Sr. Bridget Zanin, MSC from the National Cabrini Shrine in Chicago to learn more about the celebration of Mother Cabrini in her Jubilee Year. She is the Director of the National Shrine and a joy to speak with. Her knowledge and excitement around Mother Cabrini is contagious. In this interview, Sr. Bridget shares details of Mother Cabrini’s passion for immigrants, orphans, her relationship with God, and her journey to becoming the first American saint.

Frances Xavier Cabrini was truly a remarkable woman. She emigrated from Italy, specifically on orders from Pope Leo XIII to aid in the transition of many Italians from Italy to the United States. Can you please share why Pope Leo XIII selected her and some of her accomplishments up to that point?

There was a war in Italy in the late 1800s. As a result, many Italians left Italy to look for a better life elsewhere. Countless Italians moved to the United States. It was common for these immigrants to become coal miners and hold other labor-based jobs. Unfortunately, large numbers of miners were often trapped inside the mines and many died, leaving their children as orphans. Others were lost souls without a shepherd. Mother Cabrini dreamt of going to China. However, Pope Leo the XIII told her to go, “Not to the East, but to the West.” She was to go the U.S. to care for the orphans and the Italian immigrants. Cabrini obeyed Pope Leo XIII and left for America in 1889 with six of her sisters. She went in search of the immigrants, and not only tried to restore their faith, but she united many of the broken families. Mother Cabrini created schools and established orphanages for children. She encouraged the immigrants to learn the English language and the culture, but without losing their own identity and ethnicity.

Once Mother Cabrini arrived in the United States and obtained U.S. citizenship, her passion to assist others was beyond honorable. She started 67 charities and touched so many lives across the nation, especially in Chicago. Can you share what she did, specifically in Chicago where the National Cabrini Shrine is located?

After opening schools and orphanages in New York, New Jersey, California, and Colorado, Mother Cabrini went to Chicago where she opened the Assumption school and wanted to open an orphanage for children. However, the chancellor in Chicago said they needed a hospital for the immigrants and the poor. Cabrini’s dream once again was challenged. She searched for a place near Lake Michigan and opened Columbus Hospital. She had a tremendous impact in Chicago in the area – she positively impacted the health of the community and continued to perform acts of social justice by serving the vulnerable and modeled (for all), how to put faith into action. On December 22, 1917, Mother Cabrini died at the age of 67 in her private room at Columbus Hospital, after having opened 67 various charities including hospitals, orphanages, and schools all over the world.

Mother Cabrini was canonized a saint on July 7, 1946. This year on her Feast Day, November 13, 2021, begins the Jubilee Year Celebration of Mother Cabrini’s 75 years of sainthood! For those who aren’t familiar with Catholic traditions, can you explain what the qualifications for sainthood are as well as what Mother Cabrini did to earn such an honor?

Mother Cabrini lived a heroic life of faith and virtue, doing small ordinary things in an extraordinary way. Her faith in God was unshakable. Her cause for sainthood went through the Church’s careful and lengthy process. A person’s designation changes as the cause moves along through all the channels, first being declared a Servant of God and then Venerable. For the next step, beatification, it must be determined that a miracle has been granted by God through the intercession of that person, who can now be called Blessed. A second miracle must then be granted after the date of beatification, and then the Pope can canonize the person, who is now officially called Saint. There are four reported miracles through Mother Cabrini’s intercession, the most dramatic one was on baby Peter Smith (1921-2002). He was accidentally blinded by a solution containing 50% silver nitrate and was healed after two days of prayer. He later became a priest and attended her beatification. The second miracle required for her beatification was of that of Sister Delfina Grazioli (1925) who was a Missionary Sister suffering with stomach issues and after numerous surgeries, was read her last rites. After receiving her last rites, she had a vision of Mother Cabrini who told her to “get up and eat.” She was healed nearly immediately and served as a Missionary Sister for another 40 years. Two other miracles occurred in 1939.

At the National Cabrini Shrine, what are some of the activities and events you plan to hold in honor of her Feast Day this year, as well as the months to follow for her Jubilee?

On Saturday November 13, 2021, at 3:30 p.m. CST, we will begin the “opening of the doors” ceremony to begin the year of jubilee, the 75th year of the Canonization of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. It’s a whole year of plenary indulgences for all pilgrims who comes to the Shrine. The jubilee will end on November 13, 2022, with a closing ceremony. Everyone is welcome to visit during open hours. We also offer tours for groups interested to visit the Shrine where Cabrini lived, walked, and died. We offer weekend Masses, confession, and weekly adoration on Friday. Please visit our website for additional information. The Shrine contains the room where Cabrini took flight into heaven, some of her personal items, and a first-class relic enclosed under the main altar in the chapel. All are invited to venerate the relic. The Shrine welcomes anyone who wishes to have private and personal prayers during the hours that the Shrine is open.

I personally admire the work of Mother Cabrini for years and use her as an example of a servant leader in some of the university courses I teach. What are some of her accomplishments that most impress you that most people wouldn’t know?

I was impressed about her kindness and sturdy leadership. Her accomplishment in less than 40 years where she established 67 missions all over the world before her death. She was born prematurely, and therefore, her health was frail. But her faith and trust in God was firm and unwavering. She had a strong spiritual foundation. Although she had multiple challenges, she turned those challenges into opportunities to grow and flourish in God.

Angelo Bianchi, Esq., is the author of the poem I Am an Italian American. He mentions Mother Cabrini in the poem, and Mr. Bianchi’s grandparents were also friends with her, having her over for dinner to celebrate their Italian heritage. What were some of Mother Cabrini’s favorite Italian traditions?

Italy is known for producing great thinkers, innovators, and writers. She was all of these, especially in the area of education. She had a great respect for life and life dignity! As far as cultural traditions, she drank wine with every meal!

What prompted the formulation of the National Cabrini Shrine and how does the Shrine now contribute to further her cause?

The Shrine was built in memory of Mother Cabrini, the first American citizen to become a saint. In 1950, Mother Cabrini was proclaimed Patroness of Immigrants. The Chapel began its foundation in 1950 and was opened in 1955. The chapel is now filled with frescos of her life, beginning with her mission in Chicago, along with miracles of her beatification and canonization. All the material in the chapel was transported from Italy to the Shrine, including the Florentine-stained glass windows, the Carrera marble, the way of the cross, the organ played every weekend and on special occasions, and more.

The footprint of Mother Cabrini left a ripple effect for generations to come. Most recently, an all-female lodge in the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America was chartered in 2020 in Hammonton, NJ, named Mother Cabrini lodge #3003. How do you foresee her legacy continuing into the future?

The Cabrini legacy is certainly for our time. Cabrini was very human with a golden heart that reached out to everyone. As I mentioned, she performed daily, ordinary activities in an extraordinary way. She faced many challenges in her life. But she turned the challenges to opportunities to grow in faith and the love of God. We at the Shrine strive to keep her legacy alive. Cabrini said, “Love mast is not hidden..., it must be living, active, and true.” In today’s world, it is just what we need. We are here to serve those who desire to grow spiritually. We also reach out to those who are less fortunate by collecting and sending material goods to our missions throughout the U.S., as well as other countries we serve. We are in fourteen countries and on four continents. We have pilgrims visiting from all over the world. We offer tours, adoration, confessions, Masses, and other activities in special occasions at the Shrine, such as the Sacred Heart Feast Day, the Cabrini Feast Day, Memorial Masses, and others. Her legacy will continue into the future through the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and our lay collaborators as the extended Cabrini family.

Where can people go for more information on Mother Cabrini and the National Cabrini Shrine?

Our website is where our most up-to-date information is kept and this link will take you through a quick video of her life and beatification in Rome:

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