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The First American Saint: St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

A tireless worker for immigrants and the poor


Image: Italian Sons and Daughters of America



THREE MINUTES WITH THE SAINTS by Paul Combs



It’s been quite a while since I did an article for my Three Minutes with the Saints series; while I covered various saints in the Not Many Mighty series and the recent Church Fathers series, I never really intended to stop these shorter looks at the lives of famous saints. Sometimes things just slip through the cracks, and today is the perfect day to correct that because today is the feast day of the first American citizen to be declared a saint. Her name is St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, better known to most simply as Mother Cabrini.


Frances Xavier Cabrini was born on July 15, 1850 in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano, Italy, roughly 20 miles southeast of Milan. She was the thirteenth child of a farming family, and from a young age dreamed of becoming a missionary, inspired by the lives of the saints her father often read to her and her siblings. She wanted to serve in the Far East like her namesake, the legendary Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier.


However, at the time such a missionary role was confined to men, and even her attempts to become a nun were initially rejected because of her poor health. Undeterred, she began living as a consecrated religious sister on her own while teaching girls at an orphanage school. She did this for six years, during which time other women joined her, attracted by the way of life she had chosen. In 1877, she was finally able to take her final vows as a nun.


Over the next several years, Frances established several schools and homes, and in 1880 her bishop named her prioress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. In 1887, she met with Pope Leo XIII to ask that he send her and her sisters to the Orient, but Leo replied, “Not to the East, but to the West,” sending her to New York to minister to the vast population of Italian immigrants living there.

She and six of her sisters arrived in New York in 1889, and over the next 28 years she founded 67 schools, hospitals, convents, and orphanages in New York, Denver, Cincinnati, Pittsburg, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Chicago; these institutions were focused on caring for the poor and uneducated, particularly within the immigrant communities. She also founded institutions in Nicaragua, Argentina, and Brazil.


In 1909, Frances became a naturalized United States citizen. She passed away on December 22, 1917 at the age of 67 at a hospital she founded, the Columbus Hospital in Chicago. She was beatified by Pope Pius XI on November 13, 1938 and canonized by Pope Pius XII on July 7, 1946, becoming the first U.S. citizen to be officially declared saint by the Church. Her feast day is today, November 13th, and she is the patron saint of immigrants, orphans, and hospital administrators.

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