By John L. Heyer II
Imagine growing up in Assisi, Italy surrounded by the legacy of St. Francis of Assisi, or in Lisieux, France where St. Theresa, the Little Flower, grew up. You would see the same sights these great saints saw, pray in the same churches, and, no doubt, be inspired by their life’s work to follow Christ as they had done.
Well, I don’t have to imagine finding inspiration in a Brooklyn saint. Growing up a member of Sacred Hearts & St. Stephen Parish in Carroll Gardens I have been touched by the example left by St. Frances X. Cabrini, who ministered in the parish over 100 years ago. She walked the same streets that I do today.
After nominating Mother Cabrini to have a monument dedicated to her in the city’s She Built NYC campaign, it was bittersweet to me when the news broke that she had received the most nominations yet would be denied a monument … but the Holy Spirit prevailed. The old saying is that you make lemonade when you’re given lemons, and what could have been a dismissal of Mother Cabrini’s life has instead turned into a groundswell of support and the blossoming of renewed public recognition.
The city denying her a single monument has led to a number of statues and tributes to Mother Cabrini, including an official state of New York monument in Battery Park, a Mother Cabrini U.S. Postal Service office in Dyker Heights, and a statewide Mother Cabrini Day in Colorado.
However, none of these honors are as moving to me as the Diocese of Brooklyn’s monument, dedicated last week on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This was done thanks to the generosity and work of the Catholic Foundation for Brooklyn and Queens, Italian Apostolate, and donors from the tri-state area. This monument is truly the result of the people, realized by the donations of faithful devotees including our own Bishop, Nicholas DiMarzio.
It was Saint John Paul II who gave Mother Cabrini her second title of Patroness of the New Evangelization. It is this title that resonates so much to me as a disciple of Christ, who seeks to respond to my relationship with Jesus through stewardship and the evangelization of others just as she did.
Mother Cabrini preached the gospel through the actions of her life and the grass never had time to grow under her feet. Furthermore, as the father of two young ladies growing up in today’s society, I hope the attention recently given to Mother Cabrini provides them and other young ladies with a great model to look up to on their journey of faith, social justice, and leadership.
The city never gave a reason for snubbing the saint who walked our streets. It could have been because she was Catholic, Italian, an immigrant, a religious sister, or the fact that she professed that her good works and abilities were only made possible through Him who strengthened her, the love of her life, Jesus.
While we may never know the reason, I know that Mother Cabrini would seek understanding and hope that the new Diocese of Brooklyn monument and all of the other honors bring more of us together to know the motivation for her life’s work, Jesus. May all those who see the Mother Cabrini monument in Brooklyn be inspired to make room in their hearts for the heart of Jesus. Amen.
John L. Heyer II is the Catholic Foundation Director of Parish-Based Stewardship, Sacred Hearts & St. Stephen Parish pastoral associate, and Italian Apostolate lay associate director.