A Second Journey to New York: 1890

The storm rolled in shortly before supper. Only six of the over 1,000 passengers on La Normandie made it to dinner that night because of the heaving seas. Mother Cabrini, of course, was one of them. Afterwards she retired to her cabin. Alert to the danger she remained half-dressed, prepared to save the Sisters and herself if need be. But fortunately “the Good Lord… lulled us all to sleep on a great seesaw, rocking us back and forth.”

Mother Cabrini Sees the Hand of God at Work

The next morning Mother Cabrini ventured out on deck. While the storm still raged she settled herself in a chair near the stern; the front end of the deck was unusable since waves crashed over the prow continuously. She began to add to a letter she’d begun a few days earlier.

“You should see how beautiful the sea is in its great movement, how it swells and foams!” Mother Cabrini wrote, enraptured, “It is truly a marvel! …If you were all here with me, daughters, crossing this immense ocean, you would exclaim, ‘Oh how great and wonderful is God in His works!’”

Two days before she had compared the tranquillity of the sea to the joy experienced by a soul abiding in the peace of God’s grace. No matter what the circumstances, she was able to see the love of Jesus shining through.

More Obstacles, More Grace

That evening, around midnight, “we felt a strong jolt and the ship stopped suddenly.” Alarmed, Mother Cabrini and the Sisters dressed quickly in case they needed to climb into lifeboats. But the passengers were commanded to remain motionless until the engine was repaired. Miraculously, “the sea became calm and beautiful.” The silent ship barely rocked. It took all night to repair the engine, and the ship only began to move forward around breakfast the next day.

Two days later, the distressing 11-hour delay took on new meaning. “Toward eleven we saw ourselves surrounded by icebergs on every part of the horizon… they were about twelve times the size of our ship.” The captain slowed the ship, carefully changing course multiple times to avoid colliding with the “immense, jagged fortresses.”

Mother Cabrini noted that though they had complained when the engine broke, the crisis was a great grace. Without that delay, the ship’s encounter with the icebergs would have occurred in the dark, most likely with dire consequences.

Postscript: This 1890 encounter with icebergs was not Mother Cabrini’s only near-miss. In April of 1912 the Sisters made arrangements for her to travel from London on the maiden voyage of a new, fast, and comfortable ship. A crisis at Columbus Hospital in New York forced Mother Cabrini to change her travel plans, with the result that she was not on the Titanic when it sank.

“The ocean of graces, daughters, which Jesus showers upon us at every instant of our life, infinitely surpasses any natural creation.”

~ St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

Mother Cabrini’s Good Humor

Many of the Missionary Sisters who accompanied Mother Cabrini came from rural backgrounds. Their encounters with the larger world sometimes led to humorous interpretations of events. On the 1890 voyage from Le Havre to New York, Mother Cabrini related with affection the confusion of Sr. Eletta.

“With her geographical explanations, Sister Eletta is our comedienne. She cannot understand how the navigators of this ship can be so ignorant. They always steer the ship in the middle of the ocean, while the others that we see from time to time are on the edge of the horizon and are therefore more secure. Some of them end up in paradise, or at least the sky.  Yesterday one tried to come to our aid when we were stopped, but this aid was refused because in an hour the engine was nearly repaired. Well then, that ship ended up in paradise; it was Sister Eletta who saw this. Now she maintains that it must be during the night that our ship changes its course because by day the circle is always at the same distance…”

“Now the horizon has grown much wider, resembling God’s grace that surrounds us on every side. It is like God’s love taking possession of a soul, enabling it to perform an immensity of holy works”

~  St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

Thanks to Saint Frances Cabrini Shrine Newsletter

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