UPPER MANHATTAN — Local Catholics interested in learning more about the life of Mother Cabrini can now view some of her never-before-seen belongings in a new pop-up museum at the shrine in her honor.
The St. Frances Cabrini Shrine has more than a dozen artifacts on display in its former music room, some of which are encased in glass and others that are out in the open, behind a roped-off section.
Some items, like a pen and inkwell, were things Mother Cabrini used often while she was in residence at West Park, N.Y., in the late 19th century. Others, like tailored coats for the five-foot-tall nun, were things she owned.
A number of pieces in the pop-up museum were inherited from the all-girls orphanage that Mother Cabrini founded in West Park, including the bed where the nun slept and a wooden carriage she traveled in when she visited the orphanage. The shrine received these items in early November, a week prior to the 82nd anniversary of Mother Cabrini’s beatification.
“What we’re trying to do with the exhibit is to help people know Mother Cabrini,” said Julia Attaway, executive director of the St. Frances Cabrini Shrine, “because saints can be very abstract to us.”
“You read about them or sometimes even read what they wrote, but here we see her and can see the things that she used,” Attaway continued. “So being able to tell the story of someone’s life with objects just makes it richer.”
Attaway’s favorite artifacts are the embroidered black socks that feature a small heart sewn in red thread (for the Sacred Heart of Jesus) and the number 1 that is also sewn in red thread (to signify that it was Mother Cabrini’s).
“Of course she wore socks, but who thinks about saints who wore socks?” Attaway rhetorically asked with a laugh and a big smile.
In a similar vein, Sister Catherine Garry, MSC, said a pair of Mother Cabrini’s worn-out shoes are an interesting part of the collection.
“I think they’re so cute,” Sister Catherine said. “They’re tiny because she was tiny, and they look pretty worn, so she must have done a lot of walking.”
Some other interesting items on display include Mother Cabrini’s gray coat from the time she lived in Argentina, her calling card, rocking chair, and even a canceled check made out for $1,000.
“She didn’t speak English well, so she really had to make herself understood,” Sister Catherine said, referring to the simple business card that displayed Mother Cabrini’s name and title.
Sister Antonina Avitabile, MSC, said the pop-up museum helps humanize the beloved patroness of immigrants.
“It’s almost like you’re in touch with that person,” Sister Antonina said. “Mother Cabrini walked, ate, went to bed, and slept like we do. She was a person just like us.”
Attaway echoed Sister Antonina’s sentiments, saying, “It’s important to have a story that people can learn and relate to, and helping people understand how important relics can be helping us grow spiritually.”
The pop-up museum will remain open on weekends and by request through the end of August. For more information on how to visit, go to cabrinishrinenyc.org.