Frances Xavier Cabrini

American Saints

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917)

Missionary and saint.  The first American citizen to be canonized a saint (1946).  Mother Cabrini came to the US in 1889 to help Italian immigrants.  She died at Chicago in 1917.  Together with her Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a religious community she had founded in Italy in 1880, Mother Cabrini established a network of educational, health care and social service institutions and programs for Italians across the United States.

Early Life-

Maria Francesca Cabrini was born in 1850 at Sant’ Angelo Lodiginano in the province of Lombardy in northern Italy.  From infancy she experienced delicate health and remained frail throughout her life.  Her father, a prosperous farmer, was able to provide a good education for his children.  In 1868 she became a licensed public education teacher.  Third Order Franciscan and active laywoman in parish ministry, she held in heart a dream to become a religious sister and a missionary to the Orient.

She realized part of her dream in 1880 when she established a new sisterhood dedicated to the missions. Mother Cabrini relinquished her desire to evangelize to the east when urged by Bishop John Baptist Scalabrini of Piacenzaa to go to the aid of the Italian immigrants in America, and mandated to do so by Pope Leo XIII who knew the needs of those who had gone West to the US to build new lives in a new land.

New York-On Mar. 31, 1889, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini and six missionary Sister companions arrived in Manhattan. The first works entrusted to them included an orphanage for daughters of Italian immigrants and ministry among poor Italians in St. Joachim’s Parish. Hearts aflame with love, she and her sisters cared for the poor orphans and began religious instruction for children and adults in the parish.  They also visited poor families in their homes, the sick in hospitals and the incarcerated in city jails.  Elementary education was started in the orphanage and the parish.   Additional sisters were called to help in the works.  An American novitiate was soon opened in West Park, New York.  New York city became the site of the first of Cabrini’s Columbus Hospitals, intended primarily for immigrants but opened to all nationalities.  It was also in New York that she took on the administration of additional parochial schools and industrial schools, where embroidery and other practical arts were taught.  She and her sisters assumed responsibilities for religious societies for boys and girls, retreats for women and begging expeditions among the poor to provide the wherewithal for the works on their behalf.

Missionary to America-

Mother Cabrini was not one to stay put.  Determined to be a bearer of the love of Christ to mankind despite a strong fear of water growing out of a near drowning accident as a child, would in her lifetime undertake twenty-three ocean voyages to Europe, North, Central, and South America bringing the Good News of God’s love to those in need.  Her main focus of attention was, however, the United States of America and her nine missionary journeys to the USA were marked by prodigious accomplishments on behalf of her beloved immigrants.  After New York, the outreach went to New Orleans, which followed a lynching of eleven Italian men.  They gave courageous service to two yellow fever epidemics, set up an orphanage and schools and visited immigrants in rural Louisiana.   In response to pleas from Italian clergy, parish schools were opened in Newark, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.  With fathers becoming victims in coal mining accidents while mothers were succumbed to tuberculosis, orphanages were set up in Denver, Arlington, New Jersey, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.

Additional hospitals were opened in Chicago and Seattle and included outpatient dispensaries and training for nurses.  To generate income for the medical care of the poor, private facilities were furnished for paying patients. Sisters assigned to the hospitals, like those associated with schools and orphanages, took on catechetics in Italian parishes and visited Italian prisoners.  Mother Cabrini made frequent visits to all of her foundations in the United States and paid careful attention to the details of administration and the expansion of facilities.

Education of the Heart-

While responsible for healthcare, childcare and social service institutions, Mother Cabrini remained first and foremost educator. Her philosophy of education was based on pedagogy of love.  Her profound religious faith gave her vitality to her educational ideals. All education was to be God-centered.  She adopted a holistic approach to education, advocating instruction in science, math, art, language, sports etc.  She did not separate intellectual education from what she termed “education of the heart”.  She characterized this by stating, “feeling for God in an environment of affective relationships in which education becomes an act of love.”  She wanted both her sisters and lay teachers to speak not just of values but to create an environment of love.  She was also an advocate to a degree for bilingual education. While English was to be a basis of all instruction, some time was devoted to learning to read and write in Italian. She wanted to give them a deeper sense of their cultural heritage.


The institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was founded to spread the reign of Jesus Christ by means of evangelization, which Mother Cabrini saw as inflaming all those with whom they came in contact with the love of Christ.  Italian immigrants who had little instruction in their faith were prepared for the sacraments of penance, Holy Communion, and Confirmation. Those who knew their faith were gently evangelized.  They encouraged baptism of children, regularizations of marriage in their church and the return to the practice of the Catholic religion. The sisters bought clothing, groceries for the poor and helped the unemployed to obtain jobs. They became advocates among the immigrants.

Later Life, Death and Glory-

During her years in the United States, Mother Cabrini extended her contacts throughout the country with members of the American clergy, hierarchy, civil leaders, and Italian American Communities, where she was much loved.  She took pride in the fact that graduates of her schools and orphanages were making their way in life.

Mother Cabrini brought hope and help to those in many countries, but her greatest achievements, and the ones for which history will remember her, are her pioneering missionary works among the Italian immigrants in the United States.

Following exhaustive Vatican processes of beatification and canonization, Mother Cabrini was declared Blessed on Nov. 13, 1938, only twenty-one years after her demise at Columbus Hospital, Chicago, and July 7, 1946, she became the first United States citizen to become a saint.  In 1950 Pope Pius XII formerly proclaimed St. Frances Xavier Cabrini the “Patroness of Immigrants.”

Related Resources

Mother Cabrini - Missionary to the World Mother Cabrini – Missionary to the World

In 1946, Francesca Cabrini was canonized as the first saint of the United States. This “Vision Book” for 9 – 15 year olds tells the exciting story of this missionary from Italy who came to America to spread the Faith. She founded a new order nuns, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, to teach the Faith and work with the poor in our country. She was a tireless missionary who crossed the ocean 37 times to expand her order across the world to France, England, Spain; in Central and South America; in the United States from coast to coast including New York, New Orleans, Denver, Seattle (where she took the oath of U.S. citizenship) and Chicago, where she died in 1917, a saint of our time. Illustrated. See also: See our entire Vision Books Series. Saints of the Church – Teacher’s Guide / Vision Books



  1. Feldmeier  •  Sep 11, 2010 @7:15 pm

    I wish more people would write blogs like this that are actually interesting to read and not boring like many others. With all the fluff floating around on the web, it is rare to read a websites like yours instead.keep updating your blog 4 times per day and will be more interesting.I like to visit your blog a couple times a week for new entries. I was wondering if you have any other niches you write about?

  2. Grant  •  Sep 12, 2010 @10:27 pm

    Great information. Thanks a lot!

  3. richard  •  Apr 28, 2011 @1:13 am

    Mother Cabrini, please intercede for my family.

    My great grandfather would have known of her.

Leave a Reply

Allowed tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

  • About This Site

    This Web site was founded in 2002 as a tribute to the Mother of Jesus. It was created with love to document the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints of the Catholic Church who hail from the United States.

    All For Mary's founder, Ron Venditti, passed away in 2007, but his legacy continues here in these pages.
    This site is dedicated to Ron.
    Ron Venditti