Italian immigrants faced many hardships in the United States. They worked at the most menial labor and experienced discrimination. Uprooted, without pastoral care, they were strangers in their own church and the systematic targets of Protestant proselytism. Despite all, the great majority of Italians maintained an eagerness to return again to the Catholic faith and devotions.
Seeking the help of religious women, Bishop Scalabrini asked Mother Cabrini to go to New York to work with the Italian immigrants. She hesitated because she planned to go to the Orient to evangelize.
Bishop Scalabrini was persistent and showed her a letter from Archbishop Corrigan of New York, formally inviting the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to establish a house there.
Italian Immigrants 1900
Pope Leo XIII
New York Harbor 1889
Mother Cabrini sought an audience with Pope Leo XIII and posed her missionary dilemma to him. His response was: “Not to the East, but to the West”, exchanging her dreams of going to China for the reality of going to New York. Upon arrival, she learned that Archbishop Corrigan did not expect her so soon. When they first met, he suggested that she return to Italy. She refused, saying that the Pope had sent her and here she would stay.
Since the Archbishop had sent his letter thinking that would dissuade Mother Cabrini from coming to America, no one was there to meet them when they arrived in New York on March 31, 1889.
Mother Cabrini and her companions spent the first night in the United States in dingy tenement in the heart of the Italian ghetto. They could not sleep and stayed awake, tired, yet peacefully engaged in prayer. Afterwards, the Sisters of Charity gave them hospitality and guided their first steps through the city.