Maria Frances Cabrini knew early in life she would make religious work her life’s vocation. Of her confirmation in 1857 she remarked, “…from that moment I was no longer of the earth…I knew the Holy Ghost had come to me.”
As an expression of her religious motivation, Cabrini began teaching and working in orphanages, taking formal religious vows in 1877. Since no missionary order admitted women at the time, she then founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1880. As superior, she saw the new order grow rapidly to seven convents in as many years. Pope Leo XIII wrote that he found her “a woman of marvelous intuition and of great sanctity.”
In 1889, Mother Cabrini relocated to New York City at the direction of the Pope to minister to the growing numbers of impoverished immigrants, many of whom were Italian, in American cities. For the next 25 years, she traveled thoughout the Americas and Europe, founding convents, schools, orphanages and hospitals. With amazing speed, she opened institutions in Panama, Argentina, Brazil, Paris, Madrid, Turin and London. Ultimately, she directed 67 houses, staffed by 1,500 nuns who aided the poor, the illiterate, the unskilled and the sick.
In 1909, Mother Cabrini became a naturalized citizen, and in 1910 she was named superior general for life over the order she had founded. Pope Pius XII canonized her, the first American to become a Saint, in 1946. In 1950, the Pope named her “the patron saint to immigrants.”