Frances Xavier Cabrini was the first United States citizen to be canonized. Her deep trust in the loving care of her God gave her the strength to be a valiant woman doing the work of Christ.
The youngest of 13 children, Frances Cabrini was born on July 15, 1850 in a small village called Sant'Angelo Lodigiano near the city of Milan, Italy. She grew up enthralled by the stories of missionaries and made up her mind to join a religious order. Because of her frail health, she was not permitted to join the Daughters of the Sacred Heart who had been her teachers and under whose guidance she obtained her teaching certificate.
Refused admission to the religious order, she began charitable work at the House of Providence Orphanage in Cadogno, Italy. In September 1877, she made her vows there and took the religious habit.
When the bishop closed the orphanage in 1880, he named Frances prioress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Seven young women from the orphanage joined with her to found the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She was as resourceful as she was prayerful, finding people who would donate what she needed in money, time, labor and support. She and her Sisters wanted to be missionaries in China and despite all obstacles; she visited Rome to obtain an audience with Pope Leo XIII. The Pope told Frances to go "not to the East, but to the West" to New York rather than to China as she had expected. She was to help the thousands of Italian immigrants already in the United States.
Since her early childhood in Italy, Frances had wanted to be a missionary in China but, at the urging of Pope Leo XIII, Frances went west instead of east. She traveled with six sisters to New York City to work with the thousands of Italian immigrants living there.
In 1889, New York seemed to be filled with chaos and poverty. The house intended to be her first orphanage in the United States was not available. The archbishop advised her to return to Italy. But Frances, truly a valiant woman, departed from the archbishop’s residence all the more determined to establish that orphanage. And she did.
Mother Frances organized catechism and education classes for the Italian immigrants and provided for the needs of the many orphans. She established schools and orphanages despite tremendous odds.
Soon, requests for her to open schools came to Frances Cabrini from all over the world. She traveled to Europe, Central and South America and throughout the United States. She made 24 trans-Atlantic crossings and established 67 institutions: schools, hospitals, and orphanages.
In 35 years Frances Xavier Cabrini founded 67 institutions dedicated to caring for the poor, the abandoned, the uneducated and the sick. Seeing great need among Italian immigrants who were losing their faith, she organized schools and adult education classes.
Her activity was relentless until her death. On December 22, 1917, in Chicago, she died. In 1946, she was canonized a saint by Pope Pius XII in recognition of her holiness and service to mankind.