The Condemned: Mother Cabrini’s “Dear Friends”  

Often overshadowed by the building of hospitals, orphanages, and schools, prison visitation was a prominent ministry of Mother Cabrini and her Missionary Sisters. In New Orleans, Seattle, Denver, Los Angeles, Scranton, Brooklyn, Chicago, and Philadelphia, Mother Cabrini and her Missionary Sisters routinely visited inmates in county and state prisons.

They were so welcomed by inmate and jailer alike that in New Orleans “the sisters had the captain’s permission to come to visit the imprisoned when they wished and remain as long as they liked.” In 1906, Italian men in Sing Sing published a poem dedicated to Mother Cabrini. In 1907, they published a pamphlet of letters of gratitude to the future Saint and a chaplain that she secured for them.

Even less known than her prison ministry was Mother Cabrini’s fierce opposition to the death penalty and the death row ministry of her Missionary Sisters. From “Mother Cabrini: Italian Immigrant of the Century,” Mary Louise Sullivan, MSC, ’63, Ph.D.,  says, “Cabrini was repulsed by capital punishment and moved deeply to compassion for those sentenced to die in the electric chair.”

In fact, her Missionary Sisters went to the governor on behalf of Antonio Moretti and had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment. Afterward, via Sullivan’s biography, “Mother Dositea Maspoli said ‘the young man cheered up, frequented the sacraments, learned to be a nurse, and behaved well in prison, which made Mother Cabrini very happy.’”

For those they couldn’t save from state-sanctioned murder, the Missionary Sisters did their best to ease the suffering of the condemned. From Sullivan’s biography:

She [Mother Ignatius] related that another prisoner, Antonio Priori, had trampled on the crucifix and was to be put to death the next day. Mother Ignatius obtained a stay of execution for one month ‘and with exhortations he became resigned and went to his death giving an extraordinary example of tranquility and conformity to God’s will.’

And later, another example:

On Tuesday, Mother Ignatius arrived in the morning and remained with the prisoner until 8:30 p.m., conversing and praying with him…he died in the electric chair clasping the crucifix Mother Ignatius had given him.

When Sing Sing prisoners sent Mother Cabrini a letter in 1902 welcoming her back to America, she replied with a letter where she addressed the criminals as “Miei Buoni Amici,” or “My Dear Friends.” The inmates—her Dear Friends—published Mother Cabrini’s letter in its entirety in the Sing Sing biweekly newspaper, Star of Hope.

By Christopher Grosso, Senior Writer, Cabrini College 


Posted in Mother Cabrini's Philosophy of Living

Reflecting on an Education of the Heart: Courtney Smith

When asked to describe what the phrase “Education of the Heart” means to her, Courtney Smith, Associate Professor of History said: “I think a person with an ‘Educated Heart’ has the ability to hold multiple perspectives at the same time. This person is a juggler who can appreciate the co-existence of different opinions and perspectives and who can look at the world through others’ eyes.”

Submitted by Lisa Ratmansky, Director, Center for Teaching & Learning

Posted in Community Reflections, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mother Cabrini Meant Missionary

Merriam Webster defines the noun ‘Missionary’ as, “a person who is sent to a foreign country to do religious work (such as to convince people to join a religion or to help people who are sick, poor, etc.).”

The term “religious work” is broad and bland enough that this definition is not in opposition to Mother Cabrini’s own definition—at least to her mature definition, defined with experience and time.

Her definition, or expectation, of missionary life was not, however, always so mature. Famously (and perhaps apocryphally) young schoolgirl Francesca Cabrini (before becoming Frances Xavier) would play a “missionary game.” In their biography written for a young audience, “Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini: Cecchina’s Dream,” Victoria Dority, MSC, and Mary Lou Andes, MSC, recount this game:

One day, when she was nine, Francesca was down on the riverbank playing her ‘missionary game.’ She would make paper boats and fill them with wild violets, pretending that the flowers were her ‘missionary sisters’ and that she was their ‘mother superior.’ It was a game she never tired of.

Excusing the biographers for ending that sentence on a preposition, “a game she never tired of” is nonetheless perfectly indicative of the romantic notion of missionary activity—a notion that, it seems from the ‘missionary game young Francesca Cabrini indulged. The romantic notion says that missionary work is an alluring game-like adventure, complete with travel, exoticness, and spiritual battle. What’s more, missionary work has a hint of danger. After all, godless heathens are capable of the unspeakable, so being a missionary becomes tantamount to being a martyr-wanting James Bond with a license to convert. Or even a chivalrous crusader, minus the wholesale slaughter of “Mohammedans.”

The Church, too, held fast to the romanticized and dangerous notion about missionary work. In “Mother Cabrini: Italian Immigrant of the Century,” Mary Louise Sullivan, MSC, says,

There were difficulties with incorporating the word ‘missionaries’ into the title of the sisters. In the 1880s it seemed unsuited to women—at least in some clerical minds. However…Bishop Gelmini …was unwilling to refuse her the consolation of at least being one in name, if not in fact.

We can assume that Francesca too harbored this romantic notion even into early adulthood when she first established her Missionary Sisters and became Mother Cabrini. Her ardent wish for her first mission was to take her Sisters to China—the exotic, heathen “orient.” When she was famously told by the Pope, “not to the East, but the West,” she must have felt deflated. Where was the alluring adventure, exoticness, and danger in America? That spiritual battleground had enough soldiers.

We know now that Mother Cabrini and her first Missionary Sisters encountered an America that was a seething minefield of poverty, capitalist secularism, negligent immigrant healthcare, vehement anti-Italian racism, and much worse. Mother Cabrini found more than enough in America to warrant the title ‘missionary,’ in both “name” and “fact” (to quote Biship Gelmini).

The romantic myth of the missionary hasn’t died, even today. Merriam Webster still gets it somewhat-wrong (or incomplete) by defining a missionary as “a person who is sent to a foreign country to do religious work.” If an American-born missionary went into West Baltimore, East Saint Louis, or Appalachia in West Virginia, would they not discover adventure, exoticness, the need for conversion, and especially danger?

Drive the 10 short blocks from the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia to the Kensington section. Those 10 blocks are like traveling across the first-world to the third-world. Bountiful becomes bleak.

American cities still need Mother Cabrini and her Missionary Sisters. America needs American missionaries.

Mother Cabrini’s own definition of what is a ‘missionary’ undoubtedly changed during her life and from her own missionary experiences. Lest we forget, Francesca Cabrini grew into Frances Cabrini, who became Mother Cabrini, and eventually Saint Cabrini. So to pinpoint her definition is tricky. However, Sullivan’s biography gives us perhaps the clearest answer:

We have in Cabrini’s own words what she saw that duty as a missionary to be: “To love Jesus, to seek Jesus, to make Jesus known…this will be my main interest, the purpose of all my steps, my comings and goings, all my preoccupations, of all that comes my way in work.”

By Christopher Grosso, Senior Writer, Cabrini College

Posted in Mother Cabrini's Philosophy of Living

Our Catholic Faith: The Holy Rosary

The month of October is dedicated to the Holy Rosary. The prayers of the Holy Rosary have come directly from Our Lord Himself, from Inspired Scripture and from the Church. The Holy Rosary is very dear to our Blessed Mother. No form of devotion to Mary is more widely practiced among the faithful or found by them to be more satisfyingly complete than the Rosary, which has come to be regarded as the very badge of Catholic piety.

The Rosary is Christocentric, meaning centered around Christ, setting forth the entire life of Jesus Christ, the passion, death, resurrection and glory. Many Popes have recommended the praying of the Rosary with numerous encyclicals devoted to this subject.

Mary received a great mission from God. Her life is closely linked with the mysteries of the Rosary. She was there to follow Jesus as He lived His life. The mysteries of the Holy Rosary show the cycle of the Liturgical Year. Through meditation on the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous Mysteries we see the life of Christ. These Mysteries serve as a brief summary of the Gospels.

The Rosary has seen powerful effects through the years. Many favors have been granted to those who pray it. History will tell of great triumphs of the Rosary. Today, when great dangers seek to destroy our world, we are encouraged to pray the Rosary. Our Blessed Mother urges us to turn again to the Rosary for help.

Pope Benedict XVI in an address at the Basilica of St. Mary Major where he prayed the rosary with the faithful said:

“Today, together we confirm that the Holy Rosary is not a pious practice banished to the past, like prayers of other times thought of with nostalgia. Instead, the Rosary is experiencing a new Springtime. Without a doubt, this is one of the most eloquent signs of love that the young generation nourishes for Jesus and his Mother, Mary. In the current world, so dispersive, this prayer helps to put Christ at the centre, as the Virgin did, who meditated within all that was said about her Son, and also what he did and said. When reciting the Rosary, the important and meaningful moments of salvation history are relived. The various steps of Christ’s mission are traced. With Mary the heart is oriented toward the mystery of Jesus. Christ is put at the centre of our life, of our time, of our city, through the contemplation and meditation of his holy mysteries of joy, light, sorrow and glory. May Mary help us to welcome within ourselves the grace emanating from these mysteries, so that through us we can “water” society, beginning with our daily relationships, and purifying them from so many negative forces, thus opening them to the newness of God. The Rosary, when it is prayed in an authentic way, not mechanical and superficial but profoundly, it brings, in fact, peace and reconciliation. It contains within itself the healing power of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, invoked with faith and love at the centre of each “Hail Mary”.

The mysteries of the Rosary have developed through many centuries. In 2002, Pope St. John Paul II added the Luminous Mysteries to the Rosary. The Pope tells us that these are “the chief mysteries of the Christian religion, the mysteries of our Redemption, the great mysteries of Jesus and His Mother united in joys, sorrows, and triumphs.”

The Five Joyful Mysteries are traditionally prayed on the Mondays, Saturdays, and Sundays of Advent:

  1. The Annunciation
  2. The Visitation
  3. The Nativity
  4. The Presentation in the Temple
  5. The Finding in the Temple

The Five Sorrowful Mysteries are traditionally prayed on the Tuesday, Friday, and Sundays of Lent:

  1. The Agony in the Garden
  2. The Scourging at the Pillar
  3. The Crowning with Thorns
  4. The Carrying of the Cross
  5. The Crucifixion and Death

The Five Glorious Mysteries are traditionally prayed on the Wednesday and Sundays outside of Lent and Advent:

  1. The Resurrection
  2. The Ascension
  3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit
  4. The Assumption
  5. The Coronation of Mary

The Five Luminous Mysteries are traditionally prayed on Thursdays:

  1. The Baptism of Christ in the Jordan
  2. The Wedding Feast at Cana
  3. Jesus’ Proclamation of the Coming of the Kingdom of God
  4. The Transfiguration
  5. The Institution of the Eucharist

The rosary is devotion in honor of the Virgin Mary. It consists of a set number of specific prayers. An explanation of “How to Pray the Rosary” can be found on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website. Please take a look to refresh your memory or to learn for the first time.

In this month of October, let us consider this beautiful prayer of the Rosary as a means that we too can use in order to draw closer to Jesus and Mary by meditating on the great mysteries of our salvation.

Submitted by: Sharon Shipley Zubricky ’76

Posted in Our Catholic Faith

Reflecting on an Education of the Heart: Anne Schwelm

When asked to describe what the phrase “Education of the Heart” means to her, Anne Schwelm, Assistant Director of the Holy Spirit Library, said: “At Cabrini College we are not afraid to get our hands dirty. We seek to pitch in. We do whatever it takes to help others in large and small, sometimes invisible ways: from giving people rides to the local train station when the shuttle is not running, to making room for students to have quiet spaces to study, to walking people across campus to find their destinations to going to great lengths to return lost items. We are also encouraged to do whatever it takes to help ourselves grow, to pursue new avenues for growth in large and small, sometimes invisible ways. Our College is a place where students as well as staff grow intellectually.  Many staff have earned degrees, both undergraduate and Masters’ level and report how really welcomed into the varied classrooms they are. Joining students in the pursuit of life-long learning is one of the ways we build community. Learning with colleagues and students alike shines light on the skills and talents we have in common—fostering a deeper sense of community.  An Education of the Heart at Cabrini means: All hands on deck; all hearts on fire.”

Submitted by Lisa A. Ratmansky, Director, Center for Teaching & Learning

Posted in Community Reflections, Uncategorized | Leave a comment