The youngest of thirteen 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.
However, in 1880, with seven young women, Frances founded 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; 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.
In 1889, New York seemed to be filled with chaos and poverty, and into this new world stepped Mother Frances Cabrini and her sister companions. Cabrini 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 crossed the Atlantic Ocean repeatedly, rode on horseback in the Andes and crossed the lands of Central America, Brazil, Argentina, Europe and several of the United States by train and even on foot establishing 67 institutions: schools, hospitals and orphanages.
Her desire was to spread love and devotion towards Jesus’ Heart, through prayer, example and the work of her Missionaries, promoting solidarity, defense of life and the dignity of human beings.
Her activity was relentless until her death on December 22, 1917 in Chicago. In 1946, she was canonized a saint by Pope Pius XII in recognition of her holiness and service to humanity. She was named Patroness of Immigrants in 1950, and in 1999, Pope St. John Paul referred to her as the Missionary of the New Evangelization.