St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

The Lord was St. Frances Xavier Cabrini’s unfailing strength.  She credited Him with all she accomplished, including the establishment of St. Donato School in 1912. 

Just as Jesus was her divine inspiration and divine benefactor in all she attempted and achieved, she was a source of power and strength to St. Donato parish and its people, and remains so today--especially on Wednesdays when a Novena dedicated to her is recited in her honor after morning Mass.

Mother Cabrini, as she was known to all, was born Francesca Saverio Cabrini on July 15, 1850, youngest of her many brothers and sisters, in the small village of Sant’Angelo Lodigiano near Milan in the Lombardy Region of Italy.  She was a charitable and constant presence on the streets of the St. Donato neighborhood and in the homes of many parishioners; and was a light of hope to Italian immigrants and to all immigrants.

In fact, St. Frances was proclaimed the Patroness of Immigrants by Pope Pius XII in 1950, and named the Italian Immigrant of the Century by the American Committee on Italian Migration in 1952.  She was the first U.S. citizen (she had been naturalized in Seattle in 1909) to be declared a saint formally.

A number of St. Donato’s parishioners were among the thousands who attended her canonization by Pope Pius XII at the Vatican on July 7, 1946.  

While slight and small in stature, with bright blue eyes guiding her mannerism of walking quickly, she had an immense capacity for good.  In living the kind of life and being the kind of light to the world that Jesus told all of us to be, Mother Cabrini, in her lively faith, loving trust and lasting obedience, founded the Order of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

With the Order and her Sisters as a firm foundation, she established 67 missionary institutions, that included, of course, St. Donato School, and other schools; as well as hospitals and orphanages in the U.S., South America and Europe.  She died on Dec. 22, 1917 at the age of 67--averaging remarkably one institution for every year of her life!

Her missionary zeal was directed by Pope Leo XIII toward the West, the United States and the New World, not the Far East as she had wanted.  “Not to the East, but to the West,” the Pontiff instructed.

Upon arriving in New York in 1889, she took up parish work immediately in Lower Manhattan where she visited families, arranged youth groups and founded an elementary school.  Also, she established an orphanage on 5th Avenue that proved to be unwanted ultimately by her wealthy neighbors.  

Never one to rest when the welfare of the souls in her charge was at stake, Mother Cabrini relocated the orphanage to the banks of the Hudson River.  She appreciated the natural beauty of the river, including The Palisades, a line of steep cliffs on the New Jersey side of the Hudson, even though she’d had a brush with death in a river in Italy when she was a child.  And, if she harbored a fear of water, she didn’t let that dampen her spirit and numerous travels by ship across the Atlantic Ocean.

By the banks of the Hudson, Mother Cabrini enjoyed most certainly the presence of  violets--her favorite flower.  

By the time she arrived in Philadelphia and at St. Donato, Frances Cabrini was a well-known international figure, who was sought out by Popes, statesmen, journalists and business people for her knowledge of Italian immigrants and their needs.

Her missionary work here included our school, and the purchase of two houses at 307 and 309 N. 65th St.  One became an orphanage; the other a convent.  And, of course, Cabrini College, Radnor, Pa., bears her name.      

In the early days of St. Donato School students were given a bilingual education (English and Italian), with emphasis on English.  History and culture were also taught.  As the curriculum expanded, little time was left to study Italian but she insisted that Christmas plays and spring programs include songs and poetry in Italian.

In 100 years, much has changed at St. Donato Parish and with the approach of the 100th anniversary of St. Donato School in 2012 much has changed at the school also.  But one thing remains the same at our church and at our school: we are a people of faith, hope and charity.  And because we are we turn to St. Cabrini, Mother of Immigrants, and St. Donato’s own saint, and ask humbly that she pray for us.