My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
It seems incongruous that after a public information campaign began for “She Built NYC” to nominate women for statues to be erected in the City of New York, since women are unrepresented in our statuary, that the woman who received the most votes, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, was not chosen as worthy to be honored for her contribution to our City.
It is my understanding that there was no concerted campaign to send in nominations for her recognition. But certainly, Mother Frances Cabrini was one of the women who did build New York City. Beginning in the late 1800s until her death in 1917, Mother Cabrini worked to establish orphanages, schools, and a hospital right here in New York City. How important it is that we recognize the genius of women and their fortitude in a time when women were not easily recognized.
She battled both ecclesiastical and ethnic prejudices in order to carry out her mission to the Italian immigrants in New York City. Little is it known that Mother Cabrini did not limit her efforts only to New York. Not only did she travel throughout the United States, she even traveled to Central America, where her congregation still remains working with those who are truly in need. Frances Cabrini certainly was a woman of foresight, fortitude, and courage. For her immense contribution to New York City, a statue should be erected in her honor.
Not wishing to enter into the politics of our complicated city, I am beginning our own campaign through our Catholic Foundation for Brooklyn and Queens to have a statue of St. Francis Cabrini erected someplace in Brooklyn; hopefully in front of Borough Hall. We have been in contact with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and he agrees that Mother Cabrini is worthy of city recognition with a statue. The statue itself should be built with the voluntary contributions of those who honor the memory and seek the intercession of St. Francis Cabrini; not only as a woman of courage but also as a saint. Should you wish to contribute you may do so at www.cfbq.org/cabrinistatue .
On Sunday, October 6, I will lead a procession for our Italian Apostolate to honor Mother Cabrini and celebrate Mass for the intention of all immigrants. The procession will begin at 3 pm at Mother Cabrini Park, 41 President Street in Carroll Gardens, and make its way through the very same streets Mother Cabrini walked to Sacred Hearts – St Stephen Church, at 125 Summit Street, where Mass will begin at 4 pm.
Additionally, on Monday, October 14, we will have a statue of Mother Cabrini on the Diocese of Brooklyn float at the New York City Columbus Day Parade, so that all those watching the parade will plainly see this Italian heroine who should be notably honored in our great City. Certainly, there are many statues of her, mostly in our churches, that are prayed before by today’s immigrants. As we know, Mother Cabrini is buried near the Cloisters in Manhattan in a church dedicated to her memory on land she, herself, purchased for an orphanage.
Not to recognize Mother Cabrini in this way truly would be an affront to Italian-Americans who see her as one who deserves recognition. We Italian Americans have a certain penchant for erecting statues of heroes and heroines. The magnificent work of Michelangelo depicting the Pieta and his other magnificent works such as the David, are recognized as the height of Italian artisanship which is seldom matched. But it is not just a statue of marble or bronze that makes a person important. It is what they accomplished in their life, especially on behalf of others. There is no doubt that Mother Cabrini is one of these female heroines who needs to be recognized here in the City of New York.
The story of her life is a complex one, but one which mirrors the immigration situation of today. Mother Cabrini worked for those immigrants of their time who were relegated to the margins of society; without education or proper assistance. In the time that she lived, there were many orphaned children and she cared for them. There were many sick people with no place to turn as the hospitals of that time would not take them in. Many were ignorant and could not read, and she established schools for them. Mother Cabrini did this all with the volunteer work of her Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which she founded in 1889.
Mother Cabrini ministered with immigrants in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn, where she walked the very streets we walk. In 1892, while working at Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary Church, originally located on President Street, Mother Cabrini with the assistance of Bishop Charles E. McDonnell, the second Bishop of Brooklyn, established St. Charles School to serve the children of the newly arrived Italian immigrants. The school was located on Van Brunt Street, around the corner from the church.
In August of 1987 the historic President Street church building was demolished following a roof cave-in, as were a majority of the buildings on the surrounding blocks. While some items were salvaged from the building by the local parishioners, much was lost. This site, where Mother Cabrini first ministered to the poor immigrants of the Italian community of Brooklyn, today is the location of Mother Cabrini Park. The second of the parish’s two chapels, Cabrini Chapel, located on Degraw Street, was closed in 1997 after this building too was found not to be safe enough for the celebration of the Eucharist.
Beyond Carroll Gardens, this saint’s connections run deep in other parts of the Brooklyn Diocese, which has an academy in Bushwick and a church in Bensonhurst named for her.
The Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary School opened its doors under the direction of Mother Cabrini’s order, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, in September 1922.
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini truly put out into the deep with her devotion to and caring for those who were most in need. Today, we too should look upon our present-day immigrants with the same love that Mother Cabrini had in her day for those who she served, so that we too perhaps will become the heroines and heroes in our society today.