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Mother Cabrini's Life Story
The Beginning
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St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, foundress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Influences in her early life
Frances Cabrini was born in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano in the province of Lombardy, northern Italy, two months prematurely, on July l5, 1850. Her father, Agostino, was a farmer and her mother, Stella, stayed at home with the children. Frances was the tenth of eleven brothers and sisters, only four of whom survived beyond adolescence. Small and weak as a child, these characteristics influenced her entire life.

Her Spirituality
Her parents’ strong faith was transmitted to her by word and example. Her father would read to the family from the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith, telling stories of the great missionaries. The stories of the missions in China made a particularly strong impression on Frances and at an early age, she desired to travel there as a missionary.

At the time of her youth, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was at its peak and provided a spiritual foundation to the work of the missions.

When she was old enough she applied for, but was refused, admission to several religious orders because of her frail health.

In 1863, Frances registered as a boarding student at the Normal School in Arluno, some distance from Sant’ Angelo. Her purpose was to graduate as a school teacher. The school at Arluno was run by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart who prepared and educated future teachers. Frances lived there for almost five years until 1868, the year she graduated. According to the custom of the time, boarding students lived in the convent with the religious sisters. For Frances, this was like a dream come true: for all practical purposes she was living as a religious among religious. Moreover, she shared the Christian life of a convent where the Sacred Heart was the center of devotion.

Upon completing her coursework, she petitioned to join the Daughters of the Sacred Heart. Although Mother Giovanna Francesca Grassi saw in Frances a chosen soul full of virtue, she decided not to accept her fearing that her poor health would not permit her to endure the rigors of religious life. Nonetheless, perhaps to soften the blow, or perhaps out of intuition, Mother Grassi encouraged her saying “You are called to establish another Institute that will bring new glory to the Heart of Jesus.” Her words were prophetic indeed.

In 1868, Frances received her teacher’s diploma and returned to Sant’Angelo where she taught in the private school established by her sister, Rosa, and dedicated herself to works of charity and to serving the poor. In 1871, at the request of her pastor, when a substitute teacher was needed immediately, she moved to the nearby village of Vidardo to teach in the public school.

A Crucial Move
In 1874, the diocesan authorities asked Frances to move to Codogno, a larger town further away from home to take over the direction of the House of Providence, a girls' orphanage, being unsuccessfully administered by Antonia Tondini and Maria Calza, in order to organize it with the structure and spirit of a religious institute. In complying with this request, Frances renounced forever the position of public school teacher and entered on a path of consecration to God. Five young women who were teaching at the House of Providence wanted to become religious sisters. She and the five women began their novitiate with Frances Cabrini as their novice mistress.

At the age of 27, in 1877, when she and her companions made their profession of religious vows, Frances added Xavier to her name, in tribute to the Jesuit, Francis Xavier, who evangelized the Orient. The bishop named her superior of the community. In 1880, due to many difficulties, the diocesan authorities recognized that the House of Providence could not be formed into a religious community.

Next Page: Founding of the Institute

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