Today we honor Mother Cabrini who was the first canonized American citizen. Her family lived well enough off of a cherry tree orchard in a part of northern Italy that belonged to the Austrian Empire. She was the youngest of eleven children, of whom only three others lived to adolescence.
Francesca, born two months prematurely, was not expected to live. Still, she was able to attend secondary school with the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, graduating cum laude with a teaching certificate. But when she asked for admittance with those Daughters of the Sacred Heart her frail health moved them to deny her admittance.
Turning then to a nearby orphanage, she was hired as a teacher, but soon rose to be the headmistress. She must have had a winning, pleasant, way about her; because already at age twenty she had six young ladies who were calling her mother, and who were all eagerness to follow her lead in caring for dispossessed children and adults.
In 1877, when Francesca was twenty-seven, a dying Pope Pius IX recognized her band as the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. When they asked the Holy Father for permission to become missionaries to China, he turned them instead to minister to the millions of Italian immigrants who were struggling to stay alive and well in America. By age thirty-nine she had become an American citizen, by age fifty-nine she had founded sixty-seven hospitals and orphanages in New York and Chicago.
She was sixty-seven when she died in 1917. By then, her beloved Italians were moving up in the world. I found it amusing in 1961, that when a priest friend of mine was setting up a home for Korean immigrants, I helped him haul tables from a Mother Cabrini shelter where they were no longer needed.