Sister Frances Cabrini and seven other sisters arrived in New York in the spring of 1889 bearing a letter from Archbishop Michael Corrigan, who had invited them to come from Italy and start an orphanage in Manhattan. When they arrived, though, they found that the Archbishop had changed his mind. Since he had concluded that they weren’t really needed, he coldly informed her, she and the nuns should return to Rome. “No, Your Grace, that is impossible. I have come here with permission of the Pope,” said Francesca sweetly.
Studying this thirty-nine year old woman, the archbishop, one of the Church’s more nimble politicians, had the good sense to back off. He issued another order: She could stay, but she couldn’t start the orphanage. He had received letters complaining about it because it was to be located in one of New York’s tonier neighborhoods.
As they say in the paratroopers, Francesca hit the ground running. Her order, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, went straight for the orphanage, starting it right where the archbishop didn’t want it to be. They went on to found 66 other institutions, a string of hospitals, schools and orphanages that ran across the United States, Central and South America, and Europe.
Most of the men who played these imperious games with sisters are now minor footnotes in the history of the American Catholic Church, which has produced four saints. Three of them are nuns. One is Francesca, more formally known as Mother Frances Cabrini.
Sisters: Catholic Nuns and the Making of America—John J. Fialka.
St. Martin’s Press. New York, NY. 2003
Those who wish to read more about these incredible women and their gift of service to the church and the world can do so in John’s book, which you can order from Amazon.com or receive directly from SOAR! for a donation of $50. This donation will support retired religious sisters and brothers through the work of SOAR! To receive the book for your donation, please contact Danielle Bell directly by email or by phone at 202.529.7627.