Maria Francesca Cabrini was born July 15, 1850, at Sant’ Angelo Lodigiano, a small town on the plains of Lombardy some twenty miles south of Milan. Two months premature, she was, at birth and throughout her life, of delicate health. Maria Francesca was the tenth child born to Agostino and Stella Cabrini.
Her Early Years
Her family played an important role in the formation of her personality. The loving atmosphere of the home developed in her an affectionate nature and strong self-identity. In later years, Mother Cabrini showed great concern for family life as she tenderly reached out to immigrant parents in their homes. She opened schools for their sons and daughters in which she applied a pedagogy of love. She provided specific medical assistance to young children and reserved for them a special place in her heart and in her works, establishing, when circumstances necessitated, orphanages where they came to know that although deprived of one or both parents, they had a new home where they were loved.
Francesca’s father had his livelihood on the land. The young Francesca, who was raised close to the soil, became familiar with the region’s fruits and flowers and she learned early to value nature. Throughout her life she would be acutely sensitive to cloud formations, birds, and the variegated hues and aromas of harvest.
This daughter of a relatively prosperous farmer was astute in recognizing potential sources of water on land considered to be arid. In 1890, Mother Cabrini purchased property from the Jesuits in West Park, New York, to house orphaned girls in the immigrant ghettos of New York City, The apparent lack of an adequate water supply was remedied when she personally inspected the grounds and indicated where a well should be dug. The effort was successful and still provides an adequate water supply for the property. A similar incident occurred a few years later. Mother Cabrini wanted to build a summer home for her orphan children in the mountains above Denver, but there seemed to be no water on or nearby the premises in Golden, Colorado. On a visit to the mountain locale she pointed to a large red rock and directed that it be moved. As soon as this was done, a bubbling spring gushed forth. All these years later, this same spring is still furnishing water to the site. The farmer’s daughter may have used a divining rod or her intuition to locate water on the properties or, as some say, these discoveries may have been small “miracles.”
A Saint for All People
As a testament to her life’s work, an award, given in 1952 posthumously, by The American Committee on Italian Migration to the Italian Immigrant of the Century, Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini reads, “Mother of the Immigrant, Servant of the Poor, Consoler of the Sick, Guardian of the Orphan, Teacher of the Little Ones, Friend of the Laborer, Daughter of Italy, Citizen of the United States, Messenger of Peace, Handmaid of the Sacred Heart, who in her humble hidden life of prayer, work and sacrifice for mankind has merited the Crown of Sainthood in the Eternal City of God.
~Mother Cabrini, “Italian Immigrant of the Century” by Sr. Mary Louise Sullivan, MSC