The quote “you don’t know what you have till it’s gone” is playing on my mind as I write this piece. I have recently left Cabrini Health in Australia where I had worked for more than 30 years and I now work in a secular healthcare environment. My new workplace functions as part of the same healthcare system, is accredited under the same quality standards and has many passionate, dedicated, caring health professionals whom I enjoy working alongside. However, I acutely feel the absence of the shared understanding of Catholic social teaching animated by Cabrinian heritage and spirituality that motivated my work at Cabrini and gave it meaning. In short, I miss the heart and soul.

This experience and the approaching 75th anniversary of the canonisation of our foundress, has brought the Catholic and Cabrininan identity of the International Health Commission and the health ministries we support into sharp focus.

Over the last 15 years, I have been fortunate to participate in many meetings with lay representatives from across the Cabrini world. At my first meeting, we reflected on Mother Cabrini’s life and the Sisters who had been influential in our formation to draw out characteristics that resonated with us. I was surprised that despite coming from eight distinctly different countries and not sharing a language, culture or profession, our Cabrinian experience gave us much in common.

One image that captured our imagination was that of Mother Cabrini with a newspaper in one hand, and the Bible in the other. We felt the ability to read the sign of the times and respond in compassion to the emerging needs is the hallmark of a missionary congregation.

This characteristic is writ large in the International Health Commission, which was only established three years ago by Sr. Barbara Staley as an advisory body to support the health ministries. It is also reflected in the health ministries we support that have all been established since Mother Cabrini’s death. It is also reflected in the services they provide, which have changed – and are still changing – in response to the changing community needs.

For example, in the 1980’s, the Sisters considered withdrawing from Eswatini (Swaziland). They decided to remain, concentrating their efforts at St Philip’s Mission where they provided primary care, maternity care and material aid. In 2001, the Sisters handed over these services to the local Swazi congregation so they could respond to the emerging HIV-Aids epidemic that was devastating the country. They established community education, testing and counselling programs, initiated treatment, monitoring and follow-up, supported people dying in the community and care for the orphaned children. 

In 2020, Eswatini became the first country in Africa to achieve the United Nations HIV target and, despite having the world’s highest HIV prevalence, the target was achieved 10 years ahead of the 2030 goal.[1] However, five years prior to the target being met, Cabrini Ministries Swaziland had already recognised the crisis was easing and, determining it again had capacity to meet broader community needs, set about re-establishing a primary care clinic. Today, being a primary care provider has enabled Cabrini Ministries to lead the local community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I know these changes did not happen without many hours of prayer and discernment. As Sr Maria Barbagallo reminds us: “Faith was the distinguishing note of Mother Cabrini’s life. Faith infused her heart and mind with a tremendous capacity for decision-making.”[2] We observe this same steadfast faith in the Sisters who lead the Institute and health ministries today.

We lay collaborators must be equally unapologetic that our mission is to be the face and hands of Jesus, to heal the sick and so play our part in healing the world. Let us pray that we prove to be good stewards, leading organisations with heart and soul.

[1] WHO Africa How the world’s highest HIV-prevalence country turned around, and in record time accessed at on 19/06/21

[2] Maria Barbagallo MSC Maria Barbagallo, MSC Mother Cabrini and Her Abiding Faith in the Sacred Heart at

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