A large statue of St. Cabrini was placed in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on December 8, 1946, five months after her Canonization. It is located in the central nave. Here, marked by mighty pillars, are 39 niches with the figures of the Founding Saints of Religious Orders and Congregations. In one of these, twelve meters high beside the papal altar, was placed the statue of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, foundress of the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was one of the few niches then available, and it was Pope Pius XII, who a few months earlier, on July 7, 1946, had canonized Mother Cabrini, who decided to pay homage to the saint.
The marble group, depicting the missionary and an angel, was commissioned from sculptor Enrico Tadolini (1884-1967), a descendant of a family of Roman artists whose progenitor, Adamo, had been a favorite pupil of Antonio Canova.
Carved from a fifty-ton block of indigo-colored marble from Gubbio di Querceta in the Apuan Alps, it boasts record numbers: the statue of Cabrini is five meters high, two and a half meters wide, and weighs more than twenty-five tons; the angel at her feet measures two and a half meters high and weighs seven tons. The total weight of the marble group is about thirty-three tons, including the base. It is logical, therefore, that a special railway wagon equipped with sixteen rubber wheels was used to transport the enormous monument to St. Peter’s Square, and that access to the interior of the Vatican basilica required the use of three hundred meters of large ropes and a gigantic winch, the same one that had been used to raise the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square in the 1500s.
The marble group, donated in gratitude for a grace received from the American architect Thomas Le Roy Warmer, who was later entrusted with the construction of the Cabrinian shrine in Chicago, was inaugurated and blessed by Cardinal Federico Tedeschini. In his speech, the cardinal recalled that he had known Mother Cabrini and had an intense correspondence with her. The ceremony saw the presence of cardinals, bishops, members of the Catholic Council for Emigration, the U.S. Ambassador and groups of Cabrinian sisters who had come from all over the world. There was Mother Antoinette della Casa, in whose arms Mother Cabrini had died on December 22, 1917, and there was, of course, a large representation of Santangiolinians led by Fr. Nicole de Martino.
“…The Pope is the light of the world, the guide of peoples, he is the ark of salvation for all.”
Between waves of St. Frances Cabrini
Two historical and unpublished images of the difficult transportation of the marble statue, from St. Peter’s Square to inside the Basilica. The first photo, left, shows donor Thomas Le Roy Warmer in front of the train carriage; the other photo shows workers as they slide the statue into the Basilica using large ropes and a winch that was used to raise the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square in the 1500s.