By Allyson Escobar, Wandy Felicita Ortiz & Tim Harfmann
BENSONHURST — New York City’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, is facing backlash after ignoring public calls for a monument to be built in honor of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the patroness of immigrants who once lived in Brooklyn.
Calls for a statue of St. Cabrini, commonly known as Mother Cabrini, began as part of the She Built NYC project, a public arts initiative that aims to increase the number of statues of women in New York City.
More than 320 women were nominated online, and Mother Cabrini received 219 votes, the most of any nominee.
Only five of the current 150 statues throughout the city pay homage to women. She Built NYC aims to erect monuments throughout the five boroughs that will bring that number to an even 50 percent male-female ratio.
The project is being spearheaded by McCray, who last summer called upon New Yorkers to name influential women they would like to see honored citywide.
Even though Mother Cabrini received the most votes, McCray didn’t choose the saint among the seven women to be honored with a statue in the first phase of the initiative.
The new monuments will be built using about $5 million in taxpayer funds.
“I am dismayed by a seemingly undemocratic process for arriving at these choices,” City Councilman Justin Brannan, a Democrat from Bay Ridge, wrote in a letter to McCray’s office.
“I feel the will of the people was denied. Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, who received more nominations from New Yorkers than any other woman during the process, has been completely ignored,” Brannan wrote.
“Many people involved with the Roman Catholic Parish of St. Frances Cabrini, a church in my district, organized and sent in nominations. They are very disappointed. My simple question is this: why open this up for a public vote and then ignore the results? I would hate to see a wonderful campaign undermined by a process that tries to appear to value public opinion without actually doing so.”
Mother Cabrini moved to New York City from Italy in 1889, and established 67 schools, hospitals and orphanages throughout the U.S. She died in Chicago in 1917 at the age of 67 and was canonized in 1946.
Father Guy Sbordone, pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Church, Bensonhurst, told The Tablet that his parishioners were “very disappointed” and “taken aback” to hear that Mother Cabrini wasn’t chosen.
“If [McCray] opened it up for public voting, and we took the process seriously in terms of asking people to nominate and vote for St. Frances Cabrini, why is it not being honored if she got the most votes?” Father Sbordone said. “They’re thinking about their vote and what it meant and why it isn’t being honored.”
Father Sbordone said that his grandmother was also personally taught by Mother Cabrini in the early 1900s.
“All that she did is still very relevant for our city, and that’s why we felt that she would be someone who built New York, helped build New York and continues to have an influence in New York,” Father Sbordone said.
Joseph Sciame, president of the Sons of Italy Foundation, said that Mother Cabrini is “the heroine that New York City needs. She was one of the first in the city’s history to bring to the forefront the matter and concern of immigrants, not just for Italian-Americans, but for all who are migrating at the time.”
The Italian-American fraternal philanthropic organization, part of the Older Sons and Daughters of Italy in America, joined in a resolution to petition Mayor Bill de Blasio to look further into the matter.
“Letters and pressure must be exerted to convey to the mayor the importance of having Mother Cabrini so honored with a statue in our great city of New York … especially as she received the highest number of votes in the data collected,” Sciame said. “The people of the City of New York know of her importance and contribution/s to the entire issue of immigration.”
In Brooklyn, Mother Cabrini opened St. Charles School in 1892 at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary-St. Stephen Church, Carroll Gardens.
Dorothy Day, another prominent Catholic and a native of Staten Island, also wasn’t chosen. She received the eighth most votes.
The city-run Women.nyc, which is leading the statue project, and the mayor’s office didn’t immediately return requests for comment.
“I can think of only one other New York woman of note whose life made as much of a difference to the city as did that of Mother Cabrini, and that is Elizabeth Ann Seton. There are others, for sure, like Eleanor Roosevelt and Dorothy Day. But to bypass Mother Cabrini for whom a hospital has been named, as well as streets and a housing project, is to overlook the obvious,” said Father Michael Perry, pastor-emeritus of Our Lady of Refuge in Flatbush. “Or maybe it’s not. Maybe it is something, God forbid, more intentional — and if that is the case, the Mayor’s wife should be aware of her own limitations and be humble enough to admit and overcome then.”