“She lived the devotion to the Sacred Heart”
CARROLL GARDENS — It was a long time coming for the Diocese of Brooklyn to have its own Mother Cabrini statue, but the faithful finally got to see the final figure.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio unveiled and blessed the statue and shrine of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini — also known as Mother Cabrini — outside her Brooklyn parish, Sacred Hearts & St. Stephen Church on June 11.
Members of Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, founded in 1880 by Mother Cabrini, were also in attendance. Once the sisters removed the red fabric from the monument, applause, Italian music, and red, white, and green confetti filled the air.
The statue features Mother Cabrini standing on a cobblestone street with two young children on either side of her. She is depicted at the age she was when she arrived in Brooklyn — approximately 40 years old — and wearing the habit of her order.
The design of the statue includes a variety of historical references, including on the brick base on which the statue will stand. The base also contains the cornerstone of the original church.
Mother Cabrini worked in Brooklyn after she and six other Cabrini Sisters arrived in the U.S. from her native Italy in 1889 and tended to immigrants in the original Carroll Gardens church, which is now the site of Mother Cabrini Park.
“The decision was that the statue should be placed in the parish where she worked here in Brooklyn first,” said John Heyer II, pastoral associate at Sacred Hearts & St. Stephen Parish. “She founded the first school for Italian immigrants here on all of Long Island, quite frankly, and the first for the Diocese of Brooklyn.”
“Mother Cabrini, in her writings, always referred back to the love of Christ and her job of transmitting and trying to translate that love to others,” he continued. “It was because of her relationship to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to our Blessed Mother that she was able to do so much.”
Bishop DiMarzio — who celebrated the Mass before the unveiling on June 11, the Feast of the Sacred Heart — echoed Heyer’s sentiments.
“Mother Cabrini’s spirituality of the Sacred Heart was more than a devotion,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “She lived the devotion to the Sacred Heart.”
“She had that courage to do, basically, miraculous things,” he continued, “way out of the way for a woman in her day to accomplish.”
Donations totaling $40,000 poured into the diocese to pay for the monument following the controversial 2019 results of She Built NYC — a public-arts campaign that honors women through the installation of monuments that recognize and celebrate their historical impacts on and contributions to New York City.
Mother Cabrini received the most nominations from residents — 219 nominations to urban writer and activist Jane Jacobs’ 93 nominations. However, when it was later announced Cabrini was not one of the four chosen women, diocesean members rallied and raised money to create their own statue.
Given her impact across the city, many people have a great devotion to Mother Cabrini. But, some have connections to the saint that go much deeper.
Louis Pepe, 61, was taught by the Cabrini Sisters when he attended Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary School. But, when he needed a liver transplant in 2017, he looked to Mother Cabrini and Father Michael McGivney for prayers of intercession.
“They helped me through my miracle and gave me the liver I needed,” he said. “Ten months later, I’m working and running around — still thanking God and praying for the Blessed Mother Cabrini and Father McGivney.”
Laura Eng, a lifelong parishioner of Sacred Hearts & St. Stephen Church and product of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary School, couldn’t wait to see the statue.
“She walked these very streets and ministered right here in our parish, helping many of our immigrant ancestors and laying the foundation for generations to come, including my own,” Eng said. “So many of us have a devotion to Mother Cabrini carried down from our parents and grandparents, and I so wanted her to be recognized with her own statue in the City of New York.”
Ann Troiano, whose mother attended Sacred Heart School when Mother Cabrini was still in Brooklyn, recalled hearing about the Italian saint growing up.
“[My mother] talked about her often. She told me she was a very small lady,” Troiano said. “It was second nature to us, knowing about Mother Cabrini.”
Born-and-raised Brooklynite Sister Antonina Avitabile, MSC, attended Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary School as a child and taught there as a religious sister.
“There’s a big connection,” Sister Antonina said. “Walking these streets, I meet my friends that I went to school with and other people I know. I even went to Mother Cabrini High School in Manhattan and, after that, I entered the community.”
Sister Antonina was also a member of the committee that helped bring the diocese’s statue to fruition.
“I think the parish and the Italians in the Brooklyn diocese will love it,” she said before the unveiling. “We put a lot of work into choosing it.”
Msgr. Guy Massie, pastor of Sacred Hearts & St. Stephen, noted the important messages the monument sends.
“It makes a statement to all immigrants that the church is with them and for them, particularly at this time in the history of the United States where there are such anti-immigrant feelings,” he explained. “And it is a great statement of the devotion that people have to Francis Cabrini, who lived right here in our parish.”