On November 13, the feast day of revered Italian American saint Mother Cabrini, a clay model sculpture of the cherished figure was displayed in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.
Created by New York City artist Scott LoBaido, long-noted for his Americana artwork, the sculpture measures 20 inches in height. LoBaido, who is a devout Catholic, is a fourth-generation Italian American. He plans to enter the model into the New York State “Call to Artists” competition for the creation of a larger statue commemorating the Saint’s life.
LoBaido feels an intense personal connection to Mother Cabrini, who saved his great-grandmother’s life. His family has considered her to be their patron saint, even prior to her canonization in 1946.
Scott LoBaido’s great-grandmother, nicknamed Nunie, met Mother Cabrini when she first arrived from Italy and would tell her family of the future Saint’s visits and walkthroughs of New York City tenements, checking on the conditions of the impoverished Italian immigrants. On one such visit, she knocked on Nunie’s door and found her to be deathly ill, suffering from consumption. Mother Cabrini knelt in prayer and helped her to obtain medical care. Nunie recovered and remained in awe of the extraordinary compassion of Mother Cabrini for the rest of her life; it was as though the Saint had been touched by the hand of God.
It is through the records of first-hand accounts, as well as stories that have been passed down through the generations that the Italian American community not only remembers, but reveres Mother Cabrini. This is why the outrage at the neglect of her inclusion in the ‘She Built NYC’ public arts program has been voiced throughout the Italian American community. The exclusion of Mother Cabrini from the program is an insult beyond measure; therefore, a short description of the life of the Saint is in order.
Francesca Cabrini was born July 15, 1850, in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano, located within the Lombardia Province of Lodi, Italy. She was the youngest of 13 children, of whom only four survived beyond adolescence. Born two months early, Francesca was small and weak as a child and remained in delicate health throughout her life.
She attended a school run by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart and graduated cum laude with a teaching certificate. After the deaths of her parents in 1870, she applied for admission to the religious congregation of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart at Arluno. Although the sisters were her former teachers, they reluctantly told her that she was too frail for their life. She became the headmistress of the House of Providence orphanage in Codogno, where she taught and drew a small community of women to live a religious way of life. She took her religious vows in 1877 and to honor the Jesuit saint Francis Xavier (the patron saint of missionary service), she became Sister Francis Xavier Cabrini.
In November 1880, Sister Francis Xavier and six other women founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (M.S.C.). She composed the Rule and Constitutions of the religious institute and continued as its Mother Superior until her death. The sisters took in orphans, opened a day school to help pay expenses, started classes in needlework and sold their fine embroidery to earn additional money. They established seven homes, a free school and a nursery during their first five years. The good works of the sisters brought Mother Cabrini to the attention of the Bishop of Piacenza, the Blessed Giovanni Scalabrini and of Pope Leo XIII.
Mother Cabrini had hoped to establish missions in China. Instead, Pope Leo suggested that she go to the United States to help Italian immigrants, many of whom were living in abject poverty. She arrived in New York City on March 31, 1889, along with six other sisters. In New York she initially encountered disappointment and difficulties. Archbishop Michael Corrigan was not immediately supportive, but due to her persistence, he ultimately gave Mother Cabrini permission to found an orphanage. It was located in West Park, New York and today is known as Saint Cabrini Home.
Catechism and education classes for the Italian immigrants were organized by Mother Cabrini and they also provided for the needs of many orphans. She established schools and orphanages despite tremendous odds. As resourceful as she was prayerful, Mother Cabrini found people who would provide what was needed for her mission, whether it was money, time, labor or support. She founded Columbus Hospital and Italian Hospital, which later merged into the Cabrini Medical Center. In Chicago, the sisters opened the Columbus Extension Hospital, later renamed Saint Cabrini Hospital, in the heart of the city’s Italian neighborhood on the Near West Side. Mother Cabrini founded institutions in cities including New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, Denver, Seattle and Los Angeles. She also established homes throughout South America and Europe.
Mother Cabrini became a naturalized United States citizen in 1909. She died at the age of 67 in Columbus Hospital in Chicago on December 22, 1917, while preparing Christmas candy for the local children. By that time, she had founded 67 missionary institutions to serve the sick and poor and train additional sisters to carry on the work.
Her legacy is as remarkable as the works that she accomplished while on this Earth. Frail of body, but imbued with the grace of God in spirit, Mother Cabrini’s works will be remembered by the Italian American community forever. Mother Cabrini showed the world what was possible when one’s heart and mind are devoted to the benefit and betterment of the less fortunate. In contrast, New York City politics has shown, in the form of its current administration, to have a skewed perception of history and a compass that is directed by opinion polls, rather than morality.