Celebrating St. Frances Cabrini’s Chicago roots

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A fresco of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini as seen on the ceiling of the National Shrine of St. Frances Cabrini, 2520 N. Lakeview Ave. The shrine to the first U.S. citizen to be canonized features a piece of Mother Cabrini’s arm bone under the altar. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

On July 15, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini would have been 167 years old. To mark the occasion, hundreds gathered with Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee, a Chicago native, for Mass at the saint’s shrine on July 9. 

The saint, known by many as Mother Cabrini, had strong ties to Chicago and died here on Dec. 22, 1917. Throughout 2017, her shrine is celebrating the centennial of her death with special events like Mass with Archbishop Listecki. 

Located across from the Lincoln Park Zoo at 2520 N. Lakeview, the shrine is tucked beside a luxury condominium development. It was originally part of Columbus Hospital, which was founded by Mother Cabrini and located where the condo building now stands. Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, founded by Mother Cabrini, staff the shrine. 

“It is a place where people come from the outside for peace and comfort,” Sister Regina Zanin, director, said of the shrine. “A lot of people who come here tell me, ‘What took me so long to come here?’ They feel like it’s a heavenly place.”

The Chicago shrine is the only national shrine honoring Mother Cabrini, who was the first canonized U.S. citizen. 

Taking into consideration the 100th anniversary of Mother Cabrini’s death and the 125th anniversary of Chicago Catholic, I went back into our archives to see how we covered her death and canonization. 

It was no surprise that her death made the cover of the Dec. 28, 1917, issue of the New World, as it was then named. She died at 1 p.m. on Dec. 22 from heart disease, we reported. It was a Saturday.

Archbishop George Mundelein celebrated her funeral Mass in the chapel of Columbus Hospital the following Thursday at 9:30 a.m. Her body was then taken to West Park, New York, where she founded her first U.S. institution. 

At the time of her death, she had founded 67 institutions around the world including  Columbus Hospital, Columbus Extension for the Poor at Lytle and Polk, and Assumption School at 319 W. Erie St., all in Chicago.

No further news stories appear in the New World around that time, which shows that often we don’t know saints lived among us until sometime later.

On the other hand, the New World had a great deal of coverage of the announcement of her canonization in 1946, the canonization itself and the subsequent celebrations in Chicago. Some of the highlights were: 

  • Mother Cabrini was a woman of modest stature who often suffered illness. She was savvy in business and strong in prayer. When obstacles arose, she is often quoted as telling her nuns not to worry, that God would take care of things. Her sisters reported that they often found her in deep prayer and she couldn’t be shaken awake. 
  • Cardinal Samuel Stritch did not personally attend the canonization in Rome but sent priests to represent him, including Msgr. George Casey, a sub-postulator for her cause and president of the New World. 
  • In a cable sent from Rome reported in the July 5, 1946 issue, Msgr. Casey reported that for the canonization Mass Pope Pius XII “announced that the cross atop the gigantic dome of St. Peter’s basilica will be lighted electrically and that there will be a row of lighted torches at the base of the dome. Previously the pontiff had banned all other external lighting for the ceremony because of the shortage of available fats and oils.”
  • Our July 28, 1946, issue reported that Italian Catholics in Chicago would gather the day of her canonization at Blessed Mother Cabrini Church, 743 S. Sacramento, for Mass and a procession with her image. NBC broadcast the canonization ceremony in Chicago. That same day Mother Cabrini would be honored at Columbus hospital during Benediction with Auxiliary Bishop Bernard Sheil.
  • Mother Cabrini’s canonization was the first after World War II. 
  • Special dispensation was given for Mother Cabrini’s canonization. At the time, the Code of Canon Law stipulated that 50 years had to pass after a person’s death before a cause could be opened. Mother Cabrini died less than 30 years prior to her canonization. Apostolic nuncio to  the U.S. Archbishop Amleto Giovanni Cicognani appealed to the Vatican for special consideration of her cause. 
  • Writing about Mother Cabrini’s life in the July 5, 1946, issue, Muriel S. O’Neill reported that people often asked the saint where she got her money to found institutions, and she replied, “We spend millions but haven’t a cent. We draw from the Bank of Providence. Its funds are inexhaustible.” 
  • Mother Cabrini considered Chicago her “home” in the U.S., O’Neill wrote. 
  • In the July 12, 1946, issue, the New World reported that on the day of her canonization WGN Radio aired pre-recorded remarks from Cardinal Stritch during which he said of the new saint: “She loved us. She was our benefactress. She rode our street cars. She went begging in our streets. Through alleys she went in search of little hungry children who were homeless and friendless. The very day she died she had been wrapping candy for Christmas gifts for poor children.” Cardinal Stritch ended his address with, “Today we pray to her and beg her to be the special patron of our city. She loved Chicago. She served Chicago’s best interests. She is a benefactress of Chicago. Mother Cabrini, pray for us.”  
  • The archdiocese’s celebrations of Mother Cabrini’s canonization culminated in a Triduum of Masses at Holy Name Cathedral in the fall and a Holy Hour at Soldier Field on Sept. 22 attended by more than 100,000 people, including a young Francis George, future archbishop of Chicago. The Holy Name Society sponsored the event. 
  • During the Holy Hour 2,000 high school girls formed a human rosary on the field while everyone prayed the rosary around them. Also, 112 local priests who served as chaplains in World War II were honored and men who served and died in the war were also remembered. 

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