Our story begins with St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. Born in northern Italy in 1850, thirty nine years later, in 1889, she would sail for the United States, the first of many voyages she would make in her sixty seven years of service to the Lord. She is the first American citizen to be raised to the Communion of Saints, a member of the Church Triumphant. The story of Mother Cabrini, as she has been called throughout the Twentieth Century, is very simple. The Lord asked her to do something; she said yes. Although it sounds simple, it was by no means an easy task. Someone had to take care of the Italian brothers and sisters in the United States; she saw the need and filled that need. The living out of that commitment is what made her a Saint.
We travel to the northern part of Italy, east of Turin and south of Milan, to the little farming village of Sant’ Angelo Lodigiano to find the birthplace of our future Saint, Frances Xavier Cabrini. She was born in that small rural community on July 15, 1850, the thirteenth in a family of thirteen children. She was the youngest and the last of the family of Stella and Agostino Cabrini, saintly parents. She was baptized the same day or the following day, given the name Maria Francesca, and in later years when she became a religious, she added Saverio (Xavier) to her name, after her most special Saint, Francis Xavier, who evangelized in India.
There were many unusual, unexplainable, or what we would term miraculous occurrences in the life of Mother Cabrini. The very first one happened on the day she was born. On the modest little farm of the Cabrinis, a flock of doves settled in the back yard of their home. This was extremely unusual because doves never settled in this area; pigeons yes, doves no. Her father, Agostino, a simple man, had no idea what it signified, so he tried to shoo them away. They wouldn’t budge. This was the beginning of many special gifts and signs given to this selfless servant of God. Humble, she never gave any importance to these gifts. But she never denied them either.
Her mother and father were holy people. They taught their children everything they knew about the Church and their Faith. The children especially looked forward to their father reading them stories on the Lives of the Saints. They all gathered around him, as he spun tales of these brothers and sisters in Christ who had passed the test of time, had been washed in the blood of the Lamb, and were part of the Church Triumphant. This was the family into which this future Saint was born.
Frances was frail all her life, which accounted for her father rushing her off to Church to be baptized right after her birth. He feared she might not live. Isn’t it just like the Lord to choose someone who’s weak to do the work of ten strong people? She was in good company. Most of our powerful women in the Church have been sick all their lives, like St. Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Mother Angelica, just to name a few. People were amazed at her remarkable energy.
Frances was the youngest; what with her mother having so much to do and because of the toll that years of caring for the family had taken on her, little Frances was assigned to Rosa, the oldest girl, who was fifteen years old. It was a good choice in that Rosa had dreamed of becoming a nun, as well as a school teacher. She taught little Francesca, or Cecchina, (as she was called because she was so delicate), everything she knew. Rosa was an excellent teacher, and so Francesca had the gift of private tutoring. She received an excellent education – gaining both secular and religious values from her sister.