Diocesan News

‘Cabrini’ Shows Patron Saint of Immigrants Living ‘Life in Hope’

“Cabrini” is the story of St. Mother Francesca Xavier Cabrini (inset) — patron saint of immigrants in Manhattan. She is also revered for her charitable work in the Diocese of Brooklyn. For more information, including showtimes, visit angel.com/movies/cabrini. (Movie stills: Angel Studios)

MIDTOWN — Mention the word “masterpiece” and one could get eyed for exaggeration, yet one group of filmmakers believe they hit the mark with their biopic about Francesca Xavier Cabrini, patron saint of immigrants. 

“Cabrini,” distributed by Angel Studios, opens in theaters on March 8, International Women’s Day. 

It tells how, in the late 19th century, a diminutive Italian-born religious sister fought for the health, safety, and happiness of immigrant orphans in the Five Points slums of Manhattan. 

The film’s title role is played by Italian actress Cristiana Dell’Anna, who visited with Tablet and Currents News staff on the red carpet before the film’s Feb. 26 premiere showing. 

Cristiana Dell’Anna, who has the film’s title role, expressed pride in Mother Cabrini for giving hope to children, even while she struggled with tuberculosis, a hostile New York City mayor, and unsupportive Vatican officials. (Photo: Currents News)

“She was so much more than anything imaginable,” Dell’Anna said. “Every time I find myself in a situation where I don’t know what to do, or what to say, I’m just thinking, ‘Okay, what did I say in that scene?’

“That’s very helpful because, yes, she was a very strong-willed person who inspires me every single day.” 

The new film focuses on Mother Cabrini’s work in the crowded squalor of Five Points. 

Although stricken with lifelong respiratory ailments, she used entrepreneurial savvy plus sheer grit to win the support of a hostile mayor (played by John Lithgow), businessmen, and reluctant Church leaders, like Archbishop Michael Augustine Corrigan. 

Director Alejandro Monteverde presents blighted New York in the late 1880s — imagery that ranks with scenes of 1920s Little Italy in “The Godfather Part II” and the mid-1860s Five Points in “Gangs of New York.” 

In “Cabrini,” a boy struggles behind the weight of a wheelbarrow toting his dying mother, people sidestep livestock — living and dead — in the muddy streets, orphans slip down manholes seeking shelter in the city’s underworld, and a prostitute absorbs a pimp’s punches. 

Facing this misery is Cabrini’s countenance, shifting from fierce advocacy to total exhaustion and then to a joyful mother loving motherless children. At one point she reminds the sisters that they can do all things through Him who empowers (Philippians 4:13).

Her “empire of hope” — orphanages, schools, and hospitals — spreads from New York to major cities in the U.S. and abroad. Her centers, all run by women, eventually reach China — her original destination for mission work.

“The world,” she says, “is too small for what I intend to do.”  

Mother Cabrini is especially revered in the Diocese of Brooklyn — the “Diocese of Immigrants” — which helped raise money for the film at the request of Bishop Emeritus Nicholas DiMarzio. 

The saint taught catechism and established a Catholic school for the Church of St. Stephen, now Sacred Hearts and St. Stephen’s Parish in Carroll Gardens. The site of the original church building at Van Brunt and President Streets is now Mother Cabrini Park. 

In “Cabrini,” director Alejandro Monteverde vividly presents the squalid blight of New York City in the late 1880s. (Photo: Angel Studios)

In 2020, the Italian Apostolate for the diocese worked to help install a Mother Cabrini statue in Battery Park City in Lower Manhattan. Sacred Hearts and St. Stephen’s Parish also set up its own monument to her in 2021. 

St. Frances Cabrini Parish, Bensonhurst, was named for her when it was founded in 1963. She was canonized 17 years prior — the first U.S. citizen to become a saint, having been naturalized in 1909. 

Regal Times Square Theater on 42nd Street was the venue for the New York premiere. Joining Dell’Anna on the red carpet were director Monteverde, producers, and other cast members.

Veteran actor David Morse, who plays Archbishop Michael Augustine Corrigan, tells Christine Persichette, Currents News anchor, that “Cabrini” is the “kind of Hollywood movie that they don’t make anymore.” (Photo: Bill Miller)

Producer Johnathan Sanger, whose film credits include “Elephant Man” and “Vanilla Sky,” said he grew up in Brooklyn, so he knew about Mother Cabrini, even though he is not Catholic.

He called the film a women’s empowerment story, but one everyone can appreciate.

“I will say that of all the movies I’ve made, I think this movie is the best,” Sanger said. “People will leave it thinking, ‘What can I do to make a difference?’” 

Veteran actor David Morse, who plays Archbishop Corrigan, praised everyone involved in the production. He noted Dell’Anna’s performance is “spectacular,” and Monteverde’s direction conveys Cabrini’s world with authenticity and inspiration. 

He further explained that he learned Mother Cabrini’s legacy was not so much a message, but an example. 

(Photo: Angel Studios)

“She wasn’t trying to preach anything,” Morse said. “She’s out there doing the work. And that’s what she does. She’s standing up to everybody who says no to her, and she still gets it done. 

“I’ve done a lot of movies. But this is really an old-time kind of Hollywood movie that they don’t make anymore. You’re going to get a great experience from that.”

Monteverde, himself an immigrant from Mexico, said he believes there are many modern-day Cabrinis at work today, especially during the current immigration crisis. 

“I just think there is too much noise, that we don’t get to see them,” the director said. “But I do feel that there are a lot of people fighting for justice and protecting human dignity.” 

Monteverde, a Catholic, said Mother Cabrini still inspires him. 

“The spirit of Mother Cabrini shows that you can live your life in despair, or in hope, and she lived her life in hope,” he said. “I go one day in despair then the next day in hope. And I got to tell you, it’s more fun to live life in hope than in despair.”

Alejandro Monteverde tells Christine Persichette, Currents News anchor, about his vision for directing “Cabrini.” He also directed “Bella,” “Little Boy,” and “Sound of Freedom.” Jordan Harmon, president of Angel Studios, called Monteverde “the next Frank Capra.”(Photo: Bill Miller)

2 thoughts on “‘Cabrini’ Shows Patron Saint of Immigrants Living ‘Life in Hope’

  1. Another great entry by senior reporter Bill Miller! I have already bought tickets to see this movie and I’m more inspired after seeing the excerpt and reading this article. I was one of the Prinicpals of Mother Cabrini HS in Manhattan. She founded it in 1899 and her body/Shrine is still there. I was heartbroke when we had to close the schoool in 2014 and her hospital in downtown Manhattan also had to be closed. I was able to visit her shrine in Golden Colorado at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Her impact was felt around the world. The Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus continue her work. I recommend that you visit her Shrine at 701 Washington Avenue New York 10040. Mother Cabrini pray for us!

  2. There’s a really awesome book that has over a dozen of Mother Cabrini’s letters. They are beautiful to read and really expose the heart of this amazing saint! It’s called “Letters From the Travels of St. Frances Cabrini” and it’s put out by a little indie publisher, though Amazon has it too.