1889
Francesca Cabrini, the Saint of Immigrants, first American citizen to be elevated to sainthood in Catholic Church.


When Maria Francesca Cabrini (1850-1917), the thirteenth child of hard-working Lombard Italian farm folk, she was so frail that she was not expected to live and was taken immediately to the village church to be baptized. She not only lived, she thrived thanks to the care and attention of her older sister, Rosa, who took her daily to church and also taught her to read and write. Francesca would eventually receive a teacher's certificate. Her first effort to join a convent was rejected because of her poor health, however, she persisted and in 1874 became a postulant in a local orphanage. When that institution closed, Francesca started a missionary order of nuns: the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. She was persuaded to bring her ministry to the United States where millions of Italian had emigrated and were in need of numerous works of mercy and social services. She arrived in New York in 1889, the first of nine transatlantic journeys, and immediately began heroic work in one Italian enclave after another traversing the country from the eastern seaboard to the west and from northern to southern cities. The result was the founding of numerous institutions that helped bring security, ethics and consolation to Italian Americans. For example, in New York City she and her nuns taught catechism classes to Italian children, founded orphanages for numerous homeless children, and founded what came to be Columbus hospital.

In Chicago Cabrini founded a hospital, even personally supervising construction of the institution to insure honesty in building costs. While in the state of Washington she established a sanatorium. She mingled with Italian American miners in Colorado to instill a sense of self-respect and otherwise condemned the ill treatment of Italians as expendable cheap labor. "Education of the heart" was a foremost pedagogical principle for Mother Cabrini as she originated and directed various schools that focused on a synthesis of culture, faith, and individual dignity.

In 1909 Mother Cabrini became a naturalized American citizen, however, she deplored rapid assimilation that resulted in a denigration of Italian language and culture. Most importantly she was concerned with the personal spiritual welfare of the individual. It is not surprising that she was called "The Saint of the Immigrants," for her role of leadership in behalf of the downtrodden immigrants. Long after her death in 1917 immigrants and children of the immigrants remained devotedly attached to her for her heroic efforts in their behalf. Interestingly, her designation as "the Saint of the Immigrants" continues to be extended to her by succeeding generations of recent immigrants long after the end of the era of mass Italian immigration. In 1946 Mother Francesca Xavier Cabrini was canonized, becoming the first American proclaimed a saint by the Catholic Church.






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