Five years after Columbus Hospital opened in Chicago Mother Cabrini planned an extension specifically designed for poor Italians. It was to be located on the densely packed West Side, close to Little Italy. A suitable property was purchased early in 1911.

Opposition to Mother Cabrini’s Plan

Chicago street scene, Little Italy

The neighbors wanted nothing to do with it. They feared a hospital would make their property values plummet. Their verbal protests gave way to malice, and one night when the temperature was -20 degrees and renovations were still in progress, the fire department phoned the Missionary Sisters.

Someone had cut the water pipes in the building and the place was flooded. They would have to cut off the water from the main conduit, break the ice encrusting the floors, repair the damage, and start again.

Mother Cabrini Does not Back Down

Mother Cabrini was certain God wanted the hospital and was not scared off. She concluded that the best way to stop the trouble was to open the facility as soon as possible. A woman of prompt action when it came to doing God’s will, she told the Sisters three months after the building had been purchased, “I don’t know why you take so long to open the hospital which has to serve the poor. It is like the Duomo of Milan which is never finished!” (The Duomo took 72 years to complete.)

Arson at the Hospital

This handwritten affadavit of death cites July 16 as Mother Cabrini’s date of birth. She was actually born on the 15th.

The dedication of the new hospital was scheduled for July 16, 1911. This was the day the Sisters traditionally celebrated Mother Cabrini’s birthday. Although Francesca Cabrini was born and baptized on the 15th, she didn’t arrive until after first vespers for the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel had already been sung. Thus the Sisters celebrated her birth a day later.

A few weeks before the hospital extension was due to open, the Missionary Sisters noticed smoke rising from the ground floor. Upon investigating, they found the floor covered with oil and a fire spreading rapidly. Fortunately, the flames were quickly extinguished.

To top it all off, one evening as the Sisters checked the locks before going to bed they heard footsteps in the basement. Thoroughly frightened, they raced across the street to call the police from a neighbor’s phone. But by the time police arrived the intruders had left.

A Bumpy Start but Quick Growth

Sixteen patients moved into the Columbus Hospital Extension on July 16, 1911. Three days later every bed in the place was filled.

The violence stopped.

After the Columbus Hospital Extension was expanded and Mother Cabrini died, West Gilpin Place was renamed Cabrini Street. You can still see the symbol of the Sacred Heart on the building today.

Resources were scant, but help came from many quarters. The poor held a “linen shower,” donating whatever worn pillow cases and cloth they could spare. The more affluent, moved by the generosity of the poor, held a second linen shower to supply fresh new sheets and towels. Soon an operating room had been furnished with seats for visiting doctors, electric elevators had been added, and a complete steam laundry was in operation.

A mere two and a half years after Mother Cabrini’s new Chicago Columbus Extension Hospital opened it had reached its full capacity of 100 beds and needed to expand.

“Shall I fear weather, privations, bad treatment and injustice? No, for the Missionary should fear nothing but sin, an offence however small against God.”

~ letter, 1894

“Supported by my Beloved, none of these adversities can shake me. But if I trust in myself, I will fall.”

~ Journal, 1892

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