Collection: St. Frances Cabrini

ARTIST: Br. Robert Lentz, OFM


Francesca Cabrini tried to enter two different religious orders in her native Italy, but was turned down by both because of her poor health. In 1880, she founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, which soon began to spread throughout northern Italy. She wanted to work in China, but the pope told her to help Catholic immigrants in the United States instead. She landed in New York City with six nuns in 1889 and founded her first American convent and orphanage.

Within 28 years she had established schools and other charitable institutions across the United States, including four major hospitals. Her order expanded into South America, France, Spain, and England. She became a citizen of the United States in Seattle, Washington, and is the first U.S. citizen to be canonized by Rome. She is considered the patroness of all immigrants, and is shown in this icon with two Italian children on Ellis Island.

Her feast day is November 13.

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Frances Xavier Cabrini was the first United States citizen to be canonized; she became a U.S. citizen in 1909. Her deep trust in the loving care of her God gave her the strength to be a valiant woman doing the work of Christ.

Refused admission to the religious order which had educated her to be a teacher, she began charitable work at the House of Providence Orphanage in Cadogno, Italy. In September 1877, she made her vows there and took the religious habit.

When the bishop closed the orphanage in 1880, he named Frances prioress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Seven young women from the orphanage joined her.

Since her early childhood in Italy, Frances had wanted to be a missionary in China but, at the urging of Pope Leo XIII, Frances went west instead of east. She traveled with six sisters to New York City to work with the thousands of Italian immigrants living there.

She found disappointment and difficulties with every step. When she arrived in New York, the house intended to be her first orphanage in the United States was not available. The archbishop advised her to return to Italy. But Frances, truly a valiant woman, departed from the archbishop's residence all the more determined to establish that orphanage. And she did.

In 35 years Frances Xavier Cabrini founded 67 institutions dedicated to caring for the poor, the abandoned, the uneducated and the sick. Seeing great need among Italian immigrants who were losing their faith, she organized schools and adult education classes.

As a child, she was always frightened of water, unable to overcome her fear of drowning. Yet, despite this fear, she traveled across the Atlantic Ocean more than 30 times. She died of malaria in her own Columbus Hospital in Chicago.

Born: 1850 at Lombardy, Italy

Died: December 22, 1917 at Chicago, Illinois, USA of malaria; buried in New York, New York, USA

Canonized: July 7, 1946 by Pope Pius XII