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Posted by on Nov 13, 2007

Saint of the Day – St. Frances Cabrini

Saint of the Day – St. Frances Cabrini


November 13 is the feast day of St. Francis Cabrini (1850 -1917), the patron saint of immigrants. She was born in northern Italy, in the province of Lombardy, and was one of 13 children. Her desire to become a nun was put on hold because of health problems. St. Frances devoted herself to caring for her parents and working with her brothers and sisters on the farm. She was asked to teach in a school by the local bishop. After six years, the bishop asked her to start the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart to care for poor children. St. Frances was known for her administrative and leadership abilities and Pope Leo XIII asked her to extend her work to the United States for the care of Italian immigrants.

There is a lot more to the story of a woman whose frail health put her in the circumstances of founding her own order at the age of 30. She established orphanages, hospitals, and schools in the United States, Central America, South America, Spain and France. The complete story is available at St. Frances Cabrini never made it to China, which had been a long time dream. She made it as far as Seattle and California and had hopes of setting up programs in Alaska. At age 67, her health finally gave out and she died on December 22, 1917, in her room at the Columbus hospital in Chicago, while preparing candy for children.

Italians were forced to migrate for economic reasons. As displaced rural farmers, they brought little money, skills, or education with them. Their intention was to make money and return home. About 25% of Italian immigrants did return to Italy. For the most part they lived in dire poverty, in the worst of living conditions, and worked as manual laborers. By 1890, 90% of New York City’s public works employees were Italian, as were 99% of Chicago street workers. There were no social, health, or educational services for immigrants. They also encountered ethnic bigotry and religious prejudice.

The parallels with the current Mexican immigration to the United States are striking. In fact, St. Frances Cabrini opened programs in California for Mexican immigrants. The major difference is that Italian immigrants were documented and had a legal status. Although legal status is an issue for many Mexican immigrants, according to the San Jose Mercury News, 70% of persons of California’s Mexican community – 7.6 million of the state’s 36 million people – are United States citizens. While more social programs are available to immigrants with legal status, there are still great needs in housing, health care, employment protection, and nutrition.

In today’s global society, similar situations exist all around the world. The feast of St. Frances Cabrini is a good day to remember that prayer, work, and the desire to help the less fortunate can turn a person of frail health into a giant of Christ’s charity.

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