A Loan, Lies, and a Lawsuit

Mere weeks after the founding of the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1880, the bishop of Lodi generously lent them 6,000 lire. The loan came with the stipulation that all interest accrued was to go to three impoverished nuns of a different order for as long as those sisters lived.

Some years later the bishop died. Seeing an opportunity, the community to which the three poor nuns belonged filed a claim with the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars. They said they were entitled to receive the capital of the loan, too. There was no evidence to support this, and the case was dismissed.  Twice.

The mother house of the Missionary Sisters in Codogno, Italy

Accusations Against Mother Cabrini Begin

Angry at not getting what they wanted, the claimants began to harass Mother Cabrini and her supporters. Things quickly got ugly. Accusations were made, lies were circulated.

The matter escalated in legal terms as well. Appalled, Canon Ghigo of Lodi commented, “The whole proceedings remind me of when Our Lord was on earth, how the scribes and Pharisees united to produce, with the aid of money, false witnesses to condemn the innocent Jesus.”

Mother Cabrini is Tempted but Stands Firm

Mother Cabrini later said the situation “gave me so much work with so much stress that more than once I was tempted to yield to unjust demands. I would have surely done so if the affair concerned me personally. But I had to defend the rights of our Institute and would have been gravely at fault if I had surrendered under the moral and physical exhaustion that overtook me.”

Mother Cabrini’s biggest torment was that she had to remain in Italy to attend to the legal battle. There were more pressing matters she wanted to address, like helping orphans and establishing schools in the United States.  “To the missionary,” she said, “time is as precious as money.” Souls mattered more to her than the 6,000 lire.

Missionary Sisters with Orphans in NYC, circa 1890.

A Jesus-Like Response

Matters soon became even more painful when the local bishop began to side with Mother Cabrini’s opponents. This grieved Mother Cabrini deeply: she held all successors to the apostles in great respect. Still, she saw that the bishop was being manipulated and did not hold it against him personally. In a letter to a Sister she wrote, “Let us pray for all those who have banded together to persecute us. Let us pray for them as if they were our friends and protectors, as in the long run they really will prove to be. I pray for them from my heart, and I wish you to do the same.”

Finally, a Resolution

Later that year the cardinals met. Most read between the lines of Mother Cabrini’s simple “not guilty” and her opponents’ outrageous accusations. On Friday of Holy Week in 1898 they met to decide the matter. Mother Saverio de Maria wrote that the Missionary Sisters “knew that some of the cardinals whose votes would count were absent.” The Missionary Sisters spent the day with Mother Cabrini praying before the Blessed Sacrament.

But the vote was a tie. The cardinals deferred the case for further investigation. Finally, three months later – after two full years of legal battles and harassment — the lawsuit was finally dismissed as being without merit.

How did Mother Cabrini respond? With relief… and thanksgiving. “We must be grateful for all those persons whom God used as instruments to try us,” she wrote, “and we must sincerely pray for them.”

St. Frances Cabrini, pray that we have the faith to face injustice and difficulty with as much charity and determination as you.

Mother Cabrini’s Takeaway from the Trial

Desk set with ink pots belonging to Mother Cabrini

In a letter written shortly after the lawsuit was resolved, Mother Cabrini described the situation, and provided this wisdom to the Missionary Sisters:

“[Jesus] will always be with us in our trials, walking with us and sustaining us. He Himself promised us, calling us to follow him closely, and His word will never fail. Sometimes we may have to suffer along the way that leads to the holy mountain of perfection, but we will not be discouraged, because whoever ignores the purpose of Christian suffering does not recognize and know what is great and wonderful in her days. The science of suffering is the science of the saints.

“Let us then be glad when an unexpected cross presents itself, and we are afflicted with pain… With gentle sweetness always unite your suffering with that of Jesus Then your travail, suffered for Jesus and His divine heart, will become as many droplets immersed in the immense ocean of His Passion.”

St. Frances Cabrini, pray that we have the faith to face injustice and difficulty with as much charity and determination as you.

Thanks to St. Frances Cabrini Shrine NYC

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