Thanks should be given to the leaders of the She Built NYC initiative. Our readers may remember that the program, started in 2018 under New York City’s first lady Chirlane McCray, asked the public to nominate women to be honored with statues in New York City.
The goal was to create more statues of women around a city where only five of the 150 statues in public spaces honor them. Mother Cabrini received the most votes during the first phase of the program. However, the selection committee, led by McCray, didn’t choose the Italian-American saint as one of the seven women to be honored.
Many Catholics and Italian Americans in Brooklyn and Queens protested the decision as unfair, ideologically motivated, and even prejudiced. And they decided to do something about it. They held a march in March of 2019 and participated in a Mass to support a public statue of Mother Cabrini.
Bishop DiMarzio and Msgr. David Cassato, leader of the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Italian Apostolate, led more than 1,000 people in a march through the streets of Carroll Gardens and concelebrated the Mass that day. After the Mass, Msgr. Cassato announced that the Catholic Foundation for Brooklyn and Queens had started the Mother Cabrini Statue Fund to erect a statue in Brooklyn.
A few days later, Governor Cuomo announced his intention to establish the Mother Cabrini Memorial Commission to oversee the creation of another statue honoring Mother Cabrini in Battery Park. Bishop DiMarzio co-chaired the commission.
This year, on Columbus Day, the statue was unveiled in Battery Park City.
“This is a wonderful day,” Bishop DiMarzio said Monday at the ceremony. “She helped build this city.”
When her name was omitted from the list of women to be honored with statues in New York, it was not the first time Mother Cabrini had been rejected and excluded.
As a young woman, Francesca Cabrini was rejected due to her weak constitution by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, when she asked to become a nun. But she ended up becoming a nun, founding her own order, crossing the Atlantic Ocean 30 times, and traveling throughout the United States to establish new foundations, schools, and hospitals.
When she arrived in New York in March 1889 with six sisters from the order she had founded in Italy, they were advised to go back to Italy by Archbishop Corrigan of New York. He thought immigrants’ problems were too complicated for seven women religious with little money and little knowledge of English.
By the time she died in Chicago at the age of 67, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini had founded 67 schools, hospitals, and orphanages, which were staffed by 1,500 women religious.
You could say she had a knack for the impossible — and still does. Her statue is now in Battery Park while none of the monuments announced by She Built NYC have been built. You could say that it is a reminder that “the last shall be first,” as Jesus says in the Gospel.
We should also remember that the campaign to honor Mother Cabrini highlighted two important things. On one hand, it brought to public attention this amazing woman and Catholic nun that dedicated her whole life to the service of poor immigrants. And the campaign also brought to light the contributions of Catholics and Italian Americans to New York.
The campaign could have been focused on the suspicion of anti-Catholic bigotry behind the exclusion of Mother Cabrini. On the contrary, it was about taking charge, getting the resources needed, and erecting a statue. It was a celebration of Mother Cabrini’s extraordinary life.
Let’s hope that we will keep the same attitude when confronting the challenges life will always throw at all of us.