Nominate This Missionary Saint Through Aug. 1
Visionary and inspiring women have shaped the diverse history of New York City – and now, the city wants to celebrate these trailblazers with a public monument.
Launched last month, “She Built NYC” is an effort to commission public artwork honoring women’s history in the city.
And New Yorkers are being asked to nominate women, groups of women or events involving women with a significant connection to the city. The criteria states that individuals must be no longer living and events must date back at least 20 years.
Online submissions are being accepted at women.nyc/she-built/nyc through Aug. 1.
‘The Story of America’
When Brooklynite John Heyer heard about the initiative, one name immediately came to mind: St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first U.S. citizen to be canonized.
“Her story is the story of America,” said Heyer, a lifelong member of Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen parish, Carroll Gardens, which has close ties to the saint.
“She came to this country – a woman, an immigrant, who did not speak English – and she made an impact.”
Italian-born Mother Cabrini and other members of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, the order she helped to found, came to New York in 1889. Their mission was to help the thousands of newly arrived Italian immigrants – and that’s exactly what they did.
Mother Cabrini ministered with immigrants in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn, where she founded her first school in the northeast – St. Charles School, named for Brooklyn Bishop Charles E. McDonnell, at President and Van Brunt streets in 1892. (A park named for the saint now stands on that site.)
At the time, she was living and working among Italian immigrants at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Church, and she opened St. Charles School to educate their children. It was the forerunner of the larger Sacred Hearts School, administered by her Missionary Sisters through the 1990s.
“The sisters were walking images of Mother Cabrini,” recalled Sister Bernadette Anello, a Missionary Sister of the Sacred Heart, who grew up in the parish.
Sister Bernadette now sits on the general council of the Missionary Sisters in Rome, and spoke to The Tablet during a trip home to New York.
Devotion to Mother Cabrini permeated her upbringing and education. She came to know Frances Cabrini as a role model, a woman who “had the chutzpah to follow her dreams.”
Mother Cabrini founded a total of 67 schools, orphanages, hospitals and parish ministries on three continents – all aimed at helping the poor, uneducated and immigrants – before her death at age 67. She was canonized in 1946 and named the patroness of immigrants.
Though her mission and ministry took her beyond New York during her lifetime, her physical remains – with the exception of her head, which is in Rome – permanently reside at a shrine in Washington Heights, and a first-class relic is on display at Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen Church.
“When she came here, she had nothing. She came with the desire to be a missionary and trusted in the Providence of God.
“She stayed and she struggled, as did the immigrants,” Sister Bernadette said. “Immigrants recognized in her a mother.”
Missionary of the New Evangelization
Not only is she the patron saint of immigrants, Heyer noted that St. Pope John Paul II named her a missionary of the New Evangelization.
“The New Evangelization is about trying to get the message of Christ and His Church into regular society,” said Heyer, who feels a monument to Mother Cabrini would allow “other people to learn about her and what she did because of her faith.”
He has been spearheading an effort at his parish and in his community, through flyers and Facebook, to encourage locals to vote for Mother Cabrini.
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.
Mother Cabrini is also the patron saint of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara community of religious sisters at SS. Peter and Paul parish in Williamsburg.
“Prayer was the secret behind all her actions, the fountain of all her strength,” Mother Maryja Wspomozycielka, S.S.V.M., religious education director at SS. Peter and Paul, said of Frances Cabrini. “This saint is a great example and role model for us all!”
By giving herself fully to God, Sister Maryja explained, Mother Cabrini was able to give herself to others as evidenced by “the many tireless works of mercy and charity she practiced towards our people here in New York and around the world.”
Kathie Addeo Bistreich, children’s choir director at St. Frances Cabrini Church, Bensonhurst, was proud to vote for her parish’s patron saint.
Addeo Bistreich’s grandparents came to New York from Italy in the 1920s. Like Mother Cabrini, they faced obstacles but had faith and hope in divine providence.
“Although our Church of St. Frances Cabrini was not built until over 40 years later, they were proud to belong to the parish of the wonderful woman who helped the Italian people coming into the United States,” Addeo Bistreich said.
“I feel very strongly that St. Frances Xavier Cabrini should be chosen for this honor,” she added, “as she was extremely important to the history of New York City and to the lives of so many of the American people.”
Good Will for All
Though more than a century has passed since she walked the streets of New York City, Mother Cabrini remains a role model to immigrants, the poor, sick and uneducated – and all those who labor to aid and uplift these groups.
“The thing that’s universal was her desire to wish the good for the other. She had good will for all of her brothers and sisters,” Heyer noted, regardless of their gender, ethnic origin or creed.