Although Frances Xavier Cabrini was born in Italy in 1850, she is still considered the first American canonized saint of the Catholic Church because she became a citizen in 1909. Her story mirrors that of a number of valiant women religious who came to this country in the 19th century to serve the poor and the needy at the request of Church officials. Mother Cabrini was a “stand-out” in this group, however. Having worked tirelessly at a House of Providence orphanage in Italy, the bishop who closed that institution in 1880 named her prioress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Following on that, Pope Leo XIII himself (whose encyclical on the condition of workers inaugurated the social teaching of the Church) called her personally to go to New York City to work with Italian immigrants. Although in her youth she desired to work in China, she obeyed the call to the USA and spent the rest of her life in New York City in spite of constant difficulties to her efforts for the poor, the sick, the abandoned and under-educated. In 35 years she founded 67 institutions for the aforementioned groups as well as schools and adult education classes for adults who, far away from the world they knew, seemed to be losing their faith.
The stories of women like Mother Cabrini always make me grateful for those pioneers who have shown us courage and faith in adversity as well as the possibility of accomplishing what many see as impossible. It reminds me of a quote that is on our desk at the Sophia Center that says, Those who see the impossible should get out of the way of those who are doing it. Let that be our lesson for today.