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Dig Deeper: Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini

By Darren Poley

Image of Cristianna Dell’Anna, as Mother Cabrini in the film “Cabrini,” Angel Studios, 2024 (

There is a new movie about Mother Cabrini. In her review of it in the Black Catholic Messenger, Samantha Smith wrote, “The film highlights Cabrini’s resilience, which is truly inspiring even centuries after her death.” John Anderson said in America: The Jesuit Review, “The sad fact is, many films with a fervent religious message stress the message and fail to be good movies; ‘Cabrini,’ while certainly a hagiography, is dramatically and cinematically sound and even, now and then, visually breathtaking.” Joseph Pronechen points out in his article in the National Catholic Register, “Overall, the film focuses on Mother Cabrini’s entrepreneurial skills more than her prayer life.”

So, who then exactly is Mother Cabrini?

Frances Cabrini, born in Italy in 1850, went on to be the first U.S. citizen to be canonized by the Catholic Church and declared a saint. Having attended a convent school, she dedicated herself to Christ at a very young age and studied to be a teacher. Her initial petition to join a religious community was denied because of her frail health. Her devotion to charitable works and service to the poor did not go unnoticed, however.

After teaching for several years, she eventually was appointed to be the supervisor of an orphanage for girls. Cabrini eventually professed religious vows in 1877 and took the name Xavier in honor of St. Francis Xavier. She founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which established orphanages and schools throughout Italy. It became a religious order and officially recognized by the Vatican in 1888.

Praised publicly for her work by Pope Leo XIII, in 1889 he sent Mother Cabrini, as she was then known, to the United States to work with Italian immigrants. During the 1880s and ’90s when there was an enormous influx of Italians to the U.S. Mother Cabrini established an orphanage, a hospital, and countless parish schools. She became an American citizen in 1909 and was widely known for her benevolence.

In her lifetime she established 67 charitable institutions throughout the world. Mother Cabrini died in 1917 after which more than 100,000 miracles occurred, which were attributed to her intercession. Her sainthood was recognized by the Vatican in 1946. The Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus are still active in 15 countries globally.

Books in Falvey for digging deeper into the life of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini:

Too Small a World: The Life of Francesca Cabrini

Francesca Cabrini: Without Staff or Scrip

Immigrant Saint: The Life of Mother Cabrini

Mother Cabrini, Italian Immigrant of the Century

See also:

American Catholics: A History

An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York’s Irish and Italians

Catholics in New York: Society, Culture, and Politics, 1808-1946

Profiles of Italian Americans: Achieving the Dream and Giving Back

These Splendid Sisters

Darren G. Poley is Associate Director of Research Services and Scholarly Engagement, and Theology, Humanities & Classical Studies Librarian at Falvey Library.



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Last Modified: April 3, 2024

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