November 13, 2019
The Sister with the Suitcase
~excerpts from an article by Lucetta Scaraffia
This fragile, determined woman from the Lombardy region traveled extensively, having dedicated her life to helping the Italian immigrants who, filled with hope, made the trip to America. Francesca Cabrini had received this mission from Pope Leo III and to serve them, became an immigrant among immigrants.
She left Genoa with seven [of her Missionary] Sisters in 1889, unfamiliar with the sea, exactly like most of the women and men packed into Third Class, and during the crossing she began to comprehend the appalling conditions in which immigrants lived. Like them, she thought she would find a warm welcome and assistance when she arrived in New York, but bitter disappointment was what she found.
The Scalabrini Fathers, who awaited her arrival, told her they had not expected her so soon and that they had not yet prepared their accommodation. The next day, having rested in appallingly filthy conditions in a [rooming house], she went to see Archbishop Corrigan, where she discovered that the situation was even worse. The prelate ordered them to go back on the same ship that brought them. [Mother Cabrini refused.
This experience only confirmed to Francesca Cabrini that the presence of her mission here was necessity. Like other immigrants, without anyone to protect her and without knowing a word of English, she went to work immediately to find a dignified headquarters and wealthy supporters who would finance her schools and orphanages, even if she had to come up against enormous difficulties. Nothing seemed to work out the way it should have and everything seemed to conspire against her projects. But, because of this, she was able to see the difficulties and disappointments she encountered not so much as obstacles, but as spiritual tests to purify her intent and provide sound and solid foundations for her work.
She moved in two directions: visiting the poor and understanding their needs on the one hand, and seeking to understand American society with focused meetings on the other. Whether in mines or prisons, Mother Cabrini was not afraid to send her Missionary Sisters, armed only with their charity for protection, to terrible places where few women would have dared to go. With gentleness, and patient and sincere interest in their souls, their purpose was to provide dignity and hope to those fringes of desperate people for whom emigration had been a failure.
~ from 100 Years of Cabrinian Mission