Do justice for the weak and the orphan,
defend the afflicted and the needy.
Rescue the weak and the poor;
set them free from the hand of the wicked.
Psalm 82: 3-4
Today the church in the US honors the first US citizen – a naturalized citizen in fact – to be canonized, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, who died in Chicago on December 22, 1917. She is the patroness of immigrants.
But her life is really an example of God working straight with crooked lines.
She grew up in a town south of Milan, Italy. Orphaned at 20, she became a school teacher. She wanted to join a religious order, but was refused by two different orders because she was considered too frail.
Asked by a bishop to help with an orphanage, she ended up founding a religious order, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, whose rule was approved when she was only thirty years old.
Her hope had been to follow in the footsteps of her patron, St. Francis Xavier, and go to China. However, the pope told to go to the west, instead of the east, to respond to the spiritual needs of the Italian immigrants to the US.
She went with several sisters, only to find that the bishop didn’t want sisters. He wanted priests. She firmly but gently told him that they would stay and work among the abandoned Italians in New York and other cities.
The sisters were well received among the Italian immigrants and Mother Cabrini – as she would be called – founded houses for sisters in many US cities.
She also traveled back to Italy for more recruits as well as to several Latin American countries. In Nicaragua she thought that they were making inroads among some indigenous people until she caught yellow fever and they all fled.
That didn’t stop her.
She was asked to take over a hospital but resisted until she had a dream where Mary was nursing people in a hospital. in the dream, Mother Cabrini asked her why. Mary responded. “Because you won’t.“ That, of course, changed things altogether and she helped found Columbus Hospital in New York City.
She died at the age of 67, wrapping candies in Chicago, after a full life given to poor immigrants in the Americas.
This woman who was refused entry into two orders, founded an order that cared for the weak and the afflicted. This woman who was considered too frail for religious life, traveled throughout the US and the Americas for many years to defend the afflicted. Despite rejection by a bishop (who later relented) she and her sisters were welcomed and sustained by poor Italian immigrants.
So God works – making the crooked straight.
This morning I found this quotation from Mother Cabrini in Daily Gospel 2013, that reflects how she could do all this – placing her heart with the Heart of Jesus:
“We must pray without tiring, for the salvation of [hu]mankind does not depend on material success, nor on sciences that cloud the intellect. Neither does it depend on arms and human industries, but Jesus alone.”