Tag Archives: Mother Cabrini

Mother Cabrini

Mulberry Street, New York City, ca.1900

From 1880 to 1920 more than 4 million Italian immigrants came to the United States, mostly from rural southern Italy. Many were poor peasants escaping the chaotic political situation and widespread poverty of a recently united Italian peninsula.

Almost all the new immigrants came through Ellis Island; many settled in the crowded tenements of the New York region, where men found work in the subways, canals and buildings of the growing city. The women often worked in the sweatshops that multiplied in New York at the time. Almost half of the 146 workers killed as fire consumed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911, were Italian women.

Over time, the Italian immigrants moved elsewhere and became a prominent part of American society, but at first large numbers suffered from the over-crowding, harsh conditions, discrimination and cultural shock they met in cities like New York. Many returned to Italy with stories of the contradictions and injustices lurking in “the American dream.”

Mother Maria Francesca Cabrini

Mother Maria Francesca Cabrini (1850-19170), founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, an order of women missionaries , came to America in 1889 at the urging of Pope Leo XIII to serve the underserved poor. Her work is succinctly described on the website of the Cabrini Mission Foundation.

“She proceeded to found schools, orphanages, hospitals and social services institutions to serve the needs of immigrants in the United States and other parts of the world. Despite poor health and frailty, Mother Cabrini crossed the ocean 25 times during 29 years of missionary work, and with her sisters founded 67 institutions in nine countries on three continents – one for each year of her life.

Mother Cabrini was a collaborator from the start of her missionary activity. She was a woman of her time, yet beyond her time. Her message – “all things are possible with God” – is as alive today as it was 110 years ago. Mother Cabrini lived and worked among the people, poor and rich alike, using whatever means were provided to support her works. She was a progressive, strategic visionary, willing to take risks, adaptable to change, and responsive to every opportunity that arose to help others. In recognition of her extraordinary service to immigrants, Mother Cabrini was canonized in 1946 as the “first American saint,” and was officially declared the Universal Patroness of Immigrants by the Vatican in 1950.”

Be good to have leaders like her today in the church, as well as in society, wouldn’t it? “… a progressive, strategic visionary, willing to take risks, adaptable to change, and responsive to every opportunity that arose to help others.”

Her feastday is November 13th. “Mother Cabrini, pray for us.”

The Amos Principle

In our Sunday reading from the Old Testament (Amos 7, 12-15) the priest Amaziah tells Amos, a poor shepherd, uneducated and without training, not to speak up in the temple at Bethel. In fact, he should leave there right away. He doesn’t have the credentials.

But the Prophet Amos replies:  God calls him to speak out. That’s all the credentials he needs. Obviously, the reading is meant to support Jesus’ call of his twelve apostles in our gospel. (Matthew 6, 7-13) They’re not educated either, but God calls them.

The example of Amos can be applied to more than the twelve apostles, however. Let’s call it “The Amos Principle.” It can be applied to us all. We’ve all been called to live our faith and bring it to others.

Now Amos the prophet was a man; the apostles were all men. How about women? Let’s not  forget what part they played in Jesus’ life and the part they play in the church today.

Consider some recent statistics from Rome. There are about 460,000 priests and men in religious orders in the church worldwide today. There are over 740,000 religious women. In many unsung ways, these women represent our faith to others. Do they get  much recognition?

Though the gospels pay more attention to men, my guess is that more women than men supported Jesus in his lifetime.

Look at the gospels. Who was the closest to Jesus through his life? Wouldn’t it be Mary his mother? She was with him from the beginning, at his birth, in the years at Nazareth, as he suffered on the cross. She buried him in the tomb and saw him risen. St Luke says, “ She treasured all these things and kept them in her heart.” So much of what we know of Jesus comes to us from this woman.

The gospels tell of other women who believed in him. As an infant, Anna, the prophetess, sung his praises when he’s brought into the temple. The Samaritan woman (John 4,1-39) came to believe in him at the well and then brought her whole village to see him. The Syro-phoenician woman (Mark 7,24-30) calling him to help her daughter, the woman who touched his cloak in the crowd (Matthew 9,20-22), the woman who came looking for pardon for her sins represent the many women who believed in him.

When he came to Jerusalem for the feasts, Jesus must have stayed in nearby Bethany with his friends Martha and Mary and Lazarus. When Mary poured perfume on him in Bethany before his burial, Jesus says she will be remembered forever for her love, when that story is told.

In his parables you can see the high regard Jesus has for women. He praised the poor widow who gave her little coin in the temple, the woman who searched so earnestly for her lost money, the widow who looked for justice from the unjust judge.

St. Luke in his gospel speaks of the many women who followed Jesus from Galilee and actually supported him from their means. Luke names some of them: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and “many others,” (Luke 8, 2-3)

All the evangelists say that women were with Jesus during his last hours. They did not abandon him when he was taken prisoner, condemned and was crucified. His twelve disciples fled, but they didn’t. Mary Magdalen, one of his staunchest disciples, stayed with him during his passion and was the first one to go to his tomb on Easter morning. He meets her and sends her as witness and announcer of his resurrection the others. She’s called “the apostle to the apostles,” because of her faith.

The picture didn’t change in the early years of the church. True, Paul and Peter are featured in that early history, but look closely and you can see there were women with them. They were there at the beginning of the church and they have been with the church ever since.

A few days ago I took some visitors to the shrine of Elizabeth Seton on State Street in lower New York City, near the Staten Island Ferry. She is one of the founders of the Catholic Church in this country, the foundress of our system of Catholic schools and of a religious community of women, one of many, that worked tirelessly to establish the immigrant church. Not far from her shrine, Mother Cabrini cared for poor Italian immigrants who came to this country and sought their livelihood in a strange land.

We should not forget these women from our past, and we should not forget the women who belong to our church today. They have been called.

Learning like children, part 2

Sometimes you hear that religious formation is nice, but other things are too. It’s  more important that kids take ballet lessons or learn to play soccer. There’s not time for everything.

Think about that. What’s one of the most important issues of our day? I think health care might be one of them. Where do children learn about health care, an issue that will affect them all their lives?

From parents? In a social studies class in school? From a talk show on the radio or television?

I think our own religious tradition has a lot to say on this matter. Look at Jesus. The gospel says clearly that he reached out to those in need, and taught his followers to do the same. It was one of the most important lessons he taught. He cured the sick and sent them home again. The gospels we hear every Sunday tell stories again and again of his concern for those in need.

We don’t have to go back to the times of the bible, however, to see his teaching.  Look at the strong tradition our church in this country has in health care. There are over 2,000 Catholic health systems, facilities and related organizations in the United States now.  Almost 13% of the hospitals in the United States are sponsored by the Catholic Church.

It was especially for the needs of the poor that so many of them were begun. Think of great Catholic figures who founded these hospitals and charitable works. Mother Cabrini, for example, an Italian immigrant woman who came to this country in 1889 and by the time of her death in 1917 had founded 67 institutions for the poor, among them a number of hospitals.

They say that when she went to visit a bishop looking for money in one of the many cities where she wanted to founded a hospital,  the bishop said to her, “Mother, what am I going to tell the bankers.” She said to him, “You talk to the bankers, I’ll talk to God.”

I think our children should learn about health care from Jesus Christ, from Mother Cabrini, from Mother Teresa rather than from some loud-mouth on the radio. They need to learn about this more than they do ballet or soccer.