This past October was a month of celebration for the first U.S. saint—St. Francis Xavier Cabrini—as the state of Colorado announced on October 2 that the first Monday of October would henceforth be known as “Cabrini Day” in the Centennial State. Ten days later, on October 12, New York City unveiled a new statue in her honor, recognizing her contributions to the poor and immigrants who flooded the Big Apple at the turn of the century.
In an October 2 article, Aaron Lambert of the Denver Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver, chose to honor the beloved woman religious and patron saint of immigrants for her great work with the poor around the nation—including Colorado.
“Each year in Colorado, the first Monday of October—Oct. 5 this year—will henceforth be known as Cabrini Day, named in honor of St. Frances Cabrini,” Lambert reported. “Mother Cabrini was a simple Italian woman who made an impressionable mark on American Catholic spirituality and was responsible for founding 67 different institutions in the U.S., including schools, hospitals and orphanages.”
A week later, New York City also feted the saint with a statue, the Catholic News Agency (CNA) reported in an October 12 article—although it also noted that controversy surrounded the statue project from the start.
“A new statue of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini now overlooks Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and other New York City landmarks associated with immigrants, concluding a long effort by Catholics and others who objected to her exclusion by a city commission,” the report stated.
“Bishop [Nicholas] DiMarzio [of Brooklyn] had co-chaired the Mother Cabrini Memorial Commission,” CNA reported, “founded after a New York City program drew strong criticism last year for not accepting the most popular nominee, Mother Cabrini, as a subject for a new city-funded statue series intended to raise the profile of women and minorities.”
“In response, Bishop DiMarzio organized a fundraiser and advocacy effort to build a statue of the saint,” the CNA article also reported. “In the 2019 New York City Columbus Day Parade, the bishop rode on a parade float with a statue of Mother Cabrini. When the parade finished, Gov. Cuomo said New York State would work with the Brooklyn diocese and the parade sponsor, the Columbus Citizens Foundation, to create a permanent memorial for the saint.”
The statue stands not as a reminder of the controversy; rather, according to CNA, it serves as a monument to a great woman and a great Catholic.
“We hope that people who visit this memorial will recognize that history should be repeated, that there was a care for the outcast and marginalized which Mother Cabrini understood, and we need that same care today,” said Bishop DiMarzio, quoted in the CNA report. “This is not just history, we want to make history with a new understanding of how we take care of people.”
Lambert provided details of Mother Cabrini’s life, noting her humble origins and struggles in her early life.
“Frances Xavier Cabrini was born July 15, 1850, in the small village of S’ant Angelo Lodgiano, Italy, just outside of Milan,” Lambert writes. “The youngest of 13 children, she was born two months premature, and would live her life in a fragile and delicate state of health. Despite her condition, it didn’t stop her from joining a religious order when she was of age.”
“She was an Italian immigrant, a loving servant of those in need and the very first American saint, who also happened to walk the streets of Colorado,” Lambert continued. “And now, to recognize the inimitable legacy she left behind in the Centennial State, she has a day named in her honor.”
According to Lambert, while Mother Cabrini’s first stop was New York City, she was encouraged to continue her work of witnessing to Christ among the poorest of the poor further west as well.
“She arrived to New York City in 1889,” Lambert writes. “It was difficult at first, but she founded an orphanage in what is now West Park, New York, known as Saint Cabrini Home. She eventually found her way to Colorado in 1902, where she would visit several times in the remaining years of her life. She ministered to the poor Italian mining workers and their families in the foothills west of Denver, an area she was particularly fond of.”
After Mother Cabrini established an orphanage in Denver, Lambert writes, she decided to open a nearby summer camp for girls. She secured some land for the project, purchased from the town of Golden, CO, in 1910, “after taking her oath as a U.S. citizen the year prior.”
“The land had no known reliable source of water, but as the story goes, in September 1912, Mother Cabrini told some of the thirsty, complaining sisters to lift a certain rock and start digging,” Lambert noted. “The sisters obliged, and uncovered a spring, which has not stopped running to this day. Many pilgrims to Mother Cabrini Shrine believe the water has brought about healing and peace in their lives.”
“Mother Cabrini died on Dec. 22, 1917, in Chicago,” Lambert writes. “The cause for her beatification, and her subsequent canonization into sainthood was opened shortly after her death. She was canonized on July 7, 1946 by Pope Pius XII.”