Mother Cabrini the Eccentric?

Saints are not normal people. Being notable is how saints get noticed for sainthood in the first place. The few exceptions to this rule proves the rule.

Normalcy has never been a Catholic virtue. The Church does not call people to be torchbearers of social convention, heartedly backslapped by an accepting world. Why would it, when the world’s social dimension is so hostile to faith, negligent of the poor, and so convinced eschatology is delusion.

Christ Himself—the man—was prickly, often chastising his twelve companions for some perceived shortcoming and riddling them with parables that alluded them till His death. Equally, if the famed Saint Francis of Assisi was preaching to the birds wearing sackcloth in 2014, he’d know Brother Judicial Remand and be forced Brother Thorazin. Saint is often synonymous with eccentric.

In her biography of our Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, Mary Louise Sullivan, Ph.D., ’63, says, “Mother Cabrini also became a canonized saint. History points out the saints are not always the easiest people with whom to live because of their constant pursuit of perfection.”  She goes on to point out that Mother Cabrini understood human nature and was capable of “gently and on occasion not so gently calling forth individuals without violating their personalities.” I.e., Mother Cabrini could be nice and she could be tough. Her Missionary Sister today could be called the same, which is how they (like Cabrini) continue to accomplish so much.

Was Mother Cabrini eccentric? Sullivan doesn’t say and her biography doesn’t imply as much.  Instead, Sullivan focuses instead on the Saint’s charisma. While eccentricity and charisma are often siblings, they are not always related.  “Complex personality factors combined to make Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini an outstanding woman of her era,” Sullivan said. That sounds like code, but Sullivan is honest enough throughout the biography to accept that she is being literal. She goes on: “Without a doubt she [Mother Cabrini] possessed the intangible element known as charisma. Only a charismatic personality could have attracted so many followers and captivated the attention of both the powerful and lowly of this world.”

Her next paragraph’s opening lines are codeless. “Cabrini was a modern woman,” Sullivan writes, going on to explain that, “She certainly did not adapt readily to the role expected of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century women religious.” She next says that Cabrini “was an entrepreneur” who “…foresaw the twentieth century as one of revolution” though a revolution of “intrinsic value and dignity of each human being.”

To return to the original question: Was Mother Cabrini eccentric like Saint Francis and the majority of other Saints? A young Missionary Sister novice named Anna Lawrence Infante—who became Sister Ursula—perhaps summed-up Mother Cabrini best, writing:

Hers was a life for God alone… No task was too great, no labor was too hard, no journey too long and fatiguing, no sufferings were unbearable when the saving souls and succoring of suffering humanity were in question.”

In imitation of Christ, she was “a noble heroine of charity,” as she was described at her death in the simple death notice issued by the Missionary Sisters.  Eccentric? Indeed, in all the best Christian ways.

By Christopher Grosso, Senior Writer, Cabrini College

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