November 13th marks the feast day of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants. She is an integral part of the history of the Archdiocese of New York as well as the history of Italian immigrants in New York City. She arrived in New York in March 1889 with six of her fellow Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart at the request of Pope Leo XIII. The Missionary Sisters were tasked with caring for the poor while establishing schools and hospitals. The Sisters also worked closely with the Italian immigrants as they too were from Italy.
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini was born Maria Francesca in Lombardi, Italy in 1850 to a family of thirteen children. At first, her poor health prevented her from becoming a nun. However after having worked in numerous orphanages and schools, she founded the Institute of Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart in March 1888. A year later, Mother Cabrini and her fellow sisters were called to work in New York City.
The Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart were received by Archbishop Michael Corrigan, the leader of the Archdiocese of New York from 1885 to 1902. Their arrival and subsequent work has been documented by the correspondence between Mother Cabrini and Archbishop Corrigan. These letters are currently held in the Archbishop Michael Corrigan Collection at the Archives. Most of the letters are in Italian, with a few responses from Corrigan in English, and range in date from 1889 till her death in 1917 when Cardinal John Farley was Archbishop.
The ministry of the Missionary Sisters expanded beyond New York City. Eventually they began to work in other parts of the country, like Chicago, and even in South America. Based on the letters saved by Archbishop Corrigan, Mother Cabrini did not spend all her time in New York City, but also in Granada, Rome, Panama, Paris, and Buenos Aires. The sisters also established a convent and moved the Holy Angels Orphan Asylum to West Park, New York in Ulster County, from which many of Mother Cabrini’s letters are sent.
Upon her death in 1917, Mother Cabrini’s body was laid to rest in the chapel in Mother Cabrini’s High School Chapel at 701 Fort Washington Avenue, New York City. Her cause for sainthood was put forth in 1933 and she was canonized in 1946. She was the first American citizen to be canonized. The letters of Mother Cabrini are just one of the many highlights of the Archbishop Corrigan Collection. Additionally, she is one of the New York Saints that is highlighted in our current Images of Sanctity: Holy Cards of the Catholic Church, 1800 to the Present exhibit.