Frances Xavier Cabrini, 1850-1917

  • Frances-Xavier-Cabrini-WWP

Woman Category: Religion & Ethnic CultureWoman Tags: NYC Women, Saint, and Spiritual Leader

  • HerStory

    An Italian-American Roman Catholic nun, the founder of the female religious congregation Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the first US citizen to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.

    Born as Maria Francesca Cabrini in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano, Italy, to a family of cherry tree farmers, the youngest of the thirteen children, and one of the four to survive past adolescence. She was born two months premature and was a small and weak child who remained fragile as an adult. At 13, she started attending the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, from which, five years later, she graduated with high honors and a teaching certificate.
    Cabrini applied for admission to the same congregation that runs the school she just graduated from but was turned down due to her health issues. Instead, she was offered a position as a teacher and the headmistress of an orphanage in Codogno. While teaching at the orphanage, Cabrini encouraged other young women to help her, and they established a women’s religious community.
    At age 27, Cabrini took religious vows and became “mother Cabrini”. She added Xavier to her name to honor Francis Xavier, the patron saint of missionary service. Cabrini and six other women founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, where she served as the superior general of the institute until her death.
    The sisters of the congregation took in orphans, and to pay expenses, they opened a day school, taught needlework lessons, and sold their own embroidery. In its first five years, the institute established seven homes, a nursery, and a free school.
    Frances Xavier Cabrini wanted to establish a mission in China, but when seeking the approval of Pope Leo XIII, he suggested her to go to the US to help the increasing population of Italian immigrants. And so, at the age of 39, Cabrini, along with six other sisters arrived in NYC. At first, they encountered difficulties from the local Archbishop, but they obtained permission to found an orphanage. Cabrini organized catechism and offered classes for the Italian immigrants, and afterward, she opened a school, a hospital, and more orphanages. During the 35 years of living in the US, she founded 67 missionary institutions throughout the country, as well as in Europe, South America, and South Africa. At 59, she was naturalized as a United States citizen.
    Cabrini died at the age of 67 due to complications of dysentery. Her body was buried at an orphanage she founded in West Park, Ulster County, NY, but it was exhumed as part of the canonization process – her head was removed and is preserved in Rome, her arm is at the national shrine in Chicago, while the rest of the body is at a shrine in New York. 21 years after she passed away, Pope Pius XI beatified her, and on July 7th, 1946, she was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church and became the first US citizen to be canonized and to be declared as a saint. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini is the patron saint of immigrants, religious institute, Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará.

    “The impressions of childhood are never obliterated”

    “The impressions of childhood are never obliterated”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • Two miracles are attributed to her – the restoration of sight to a blind child, and healing a terminally ill member of her congregation.
    • Three shrines are dedicated to her – in NYC, Chicago, and Golden, CO.
    • The Cabrini Mission Foundation is named after her.
    • November 13 is St. Cabrini’s Feast Day.
    • She is also recognized as an intercessor for finding a parking space.
  • More About Her Legacy
    Creations By and About Her:

    * Books about her
    * Films inspired by her story


    * Inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • The Immigrant Saint: Mother Cabrini

    James Martin, S.J. visits the shrine of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini in northern Manhattan. Part of an ongoing series of videos on local pilgrimage sites.

  • Photo credit - LOC