This saint, the first United States citizen to be canonized, was born in Italy of parents who were farmers. She was the thirteenth child, born when her mother was fifty-two years old. The missionary spirit was awakened in her as a little girl when her father read stories of the missions to his children. She received a good education, and at eighteen was awarded the normal school certificate.
For a while she helped the pastor teach catechism and visited the sick and the poor. She also taught school in a nearby town, and for six years supervised an orphanage assisted by a group of young women. The bishop of Lodi heard of this group and asked Frances to establish a missionary institute to work in his diocese. Frances did so, calling the community the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. An academy for girls was opened and new houses quickly sprang up.
One day Bishop Scalabrini, founder of the Missionaries of Emigration, described to Mother Cabrini the wretched economical and spiritual conditions of the many Italian immigrants in the United States, and she was deeply moved. An audience with Pope Leo XIII changed her plans to go to the missions of the East. “Not to the East, but to the West,” the Pope said to her. “Go to the United States.” Mother Cabrini no longer hesitated. She landed in New York in 1889, established an orphanage, and then set out on a lifework that comprised the alleviation of every human need. For the children she erected schools, kindergartens, clinics, orphanages, and foundling homes, and numbers of hospitals for the needy sick. At her death over five thousand children were receiving care in her charitable institutions, and at the same time her community had grown to five hundred members in seventy houses in North and South America, France, Spain, and England.
The saint, frail and diminutive of stature, showed such energy and enterprise that everyone marveled. She crossed the Atlantic twenty-five times to visit the various houses and institutions. In 1909 she adopted the United States as her country and became a citizen. After thirty-seven years of unflagging labor and heroic charity she died alone in a chair in Columbus Hospital at Chicago, Illinois, while making dolls for orphans in preparation for a Christmas party. Cardinal Mundelein of Chicago officiated at her funeral and in 1938 also presided at her beatification by Pius XI. She was canonized by Pius XII in 1946. She lies buried under the altar of the chapel of Mother Cabrini High School in New York City. — A Saint A Day, Berchmans Bittle, O.F.M.Cap.