'Cabrini,' the Movie and the Saint

We will be hearing a lot about Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini when a movie about her life premieres on March 8. Titled “Cabrini,” the movie depicts the life and work of St. Frances in America at the turn of the last century.

I am hopeful that people will fill the theaters as they have for other enterprises by Angel Studios (The ChosenSound of Freedom). This type of entertainment is moving in the right direction, and we should support it – and, in the case of “Cabrini,” we should also educate ourselves on the full story of this remarkable saint.

Judging by the trailer, this cinematic portrayal tells only part of the incredible story of St. Frances, the first American canonized saint and patron saint of immigrants. St. Frances (also known as “Mother Cabrini”) was a woman whose primary motivation in life was her Catholic faith. Because of this, she was able to achieve great changes in America and throughout the world. Mother Cabrini was many things: a woman, a religious sister, an Italian, an educator, and a businesswoman, but most importantly, she was a Catholic missionary.

I applaud Angel Studios for their astute marketing, as the movie opens on International Women’s Day, and the trailers clearly emphasize Mother’s strong personality in her dealings with important men of her time. This, along with themes of social justice and the immigrant experience, will attract many people to the movie, both religious and secular.

And it is true that St. Frances was a very strong woman and that she accomplished many things during her life. By the time of her death in 1917 at age 67, she had founded a religious order that numbered over 1,000 sisters, as well as 67 schools, hospitals, and orphanages in the U.S., South America, and Europe – all in a time when women did not typically or easily conduct business in a man’s world. Her accomplishments are extraordinary and should be recognized, but the deeper and potentially more important message from the life of Mother Cabrini is this: her tireless missionary work was fully inspired by her desire to serve God and save souls.

No matter where Mother Cabrini traveled in the world, she was a missionary for God. Every school, orphanage, and hospital founded was a means to an end that was entirely spiritual. As she said,” I will go anywhere and do anything in order to communicate the love of Jesus to those who do not know Him or have forgotten Him.” The religious order that she founded, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was thus named because of her tremendous devotion to Christ, and this devotion gave Mother the strength to minister to the needs of the poor throughout her lifetime.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was an enormous exodus of people from Italy to the U.S. The newly arrived Italian immigrants who were far from home and family were drifting away from God. Their lack of knowledge of English and inability to find a respectable place in American society (due, partly, to the then -widespread prejudice against Italians) led to their horrific treatment. In response to their loss of faith, the Pope Leo XIII dispatched Italian sisters and priests to America, including Mother Cabrini and six of her sisters in 1889, to bolster support and spread Christ’s message among the Italian community.

Upon her arrival in America, Mother Cabrini walked into a nightmare. No one wanted to venture into the Italian ghettos, full of stench, crime, and disease. But the Missionary Sisters went to work immediately: visiting Italian households, bringing food and clothing, and speaking to the people in their native language. Mother Cabrini saw that her fellow countrymen had indeed drifted away from God (as the Pope had forewarned). She understood that catechesis would save these people's souls and that learning the English language (as well as the history and culture of their adopted country) would help lift them out of their poverty and make them better American citizens. For these reasons, Mother Cabrini set up schools wherever she went. She also insisted on instruction of the Italian language, music, and art in her schools, to preserve the culture of the people’s native country. She wanted them to be proud and faithful Italian-Americans.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini was a true pioneer in the areas of catechesis and education. She was also a woman of strong character and a champion of immigrants. But I believe that the saint’s true legacy is her total commitment to God and His Church as a Missionary Sister of the Sacred Heart. Despite many setbacks and chronic illnesses, she persevered because of her belief in her mission.

Mother Cabrini’s motto was: “Omnia possum in eo qui me confortat” — I can do all things in him who strengthens me (Phil 4: 13). She lived this motto throughout her life.

I consider it a positive sign that films like “Cabrini” are in theaters and that there is a desire for this type of entertainment. I commend Angel Studios for making movies that expose audiences to positive role models, and so I not only encourage everyone to support “Cabrini,” but also to learn more about St. Frances Cabrini’s life and service to her beloved Church.

M. Monica Speach is the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, a teacher of ESL (English as a Second Language) in the Allentown Diocese, and a parishioner of Cathedral Church of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown. Her Confirmation saint is Frances Xavier Cabrini.

Theaters in the Diocese Showing ‘Cabrini’

Theaters in the Diocese that will be showing “Cabrini” are:

AMC Center Valley 16, 2805 Center Valley Parkway, Center Valley.

AMC Classic Allentown 16, 1700 Catasauqua Road, Allentown.

AMC Dine-In Berkshire 8, 800 Berkshire Blvd., Wyomissing.

AMC Fairgrounds 10, 3050 N. Fifth St. Highway, Reading.

AMC Tilghman Square 8, 4608 Broadway, Allentown.

R/C Reading Movies 11 & IMAX, 30 N. Second St., Reading.

Regal Northampton Cinema & RPX, 3720 Easton-Nazareth Highway, Easton.

For showtimes, go to https://www.angel.com/tickets/cabrini.

In addition, Holy Guardian Angels, Reading has reserved AMC Fairgrounds for a private showing of “Cabrini” on Sunday, March 10 at 2 p.m. To reserve a seat, go to www.hgaparish.com and click on “View more news and events.”

Photo: OSV News photo/Angel Studios