New documentary chronicles life of Mother Cabrini

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
February 21, 2018

Chicago audiences will recognize many of the settings in “Frances Xavier Cabrini: The People’s Saint,” a new documentary about the saint who died in Chicago 100 years ago. 

The 50-minute film, which will be screened March 10 at 7 p.m. at St. Ita Church, 5500 N. Broadway, focuses on Mother Cabrini’s early life and on her ministry, especially in Chicago. Mother Cabrini first came to Chicago and taught at Assumption School in 1899; she died in her private room at Columbus Hospital in 1917.

Writer-director Lucia Mauro made the film with her husband, producer Joe Orlandino. It was produced by their not-for-profit In My Brother’s Shoes, Inc. Mauro said she had the idea for a film based on Mother Cabrini in March 2017. The finished product had its premiere Nov. 11 at St. Cabrini Hospital in Montreal. 

One of the people interviewed in the film is Cabrini Sister Joan McGlinchey, former general councilor for her congregation and vicar for religious for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

McGlinchey said the film will help people get to know Mother Cabrini.

“It’s an accessible, useful tool to tell the story of Mother Cabrini’s life,” McGlinchey said. “A lot of people don’t know her. She was the first American citizen to become a saint, but people don’t know who she was or what she did.”

Mauro said her relationship with Mother Cabrini is personal.

“She’s certainly been a big part of my life.” Mauro said. “She has a way of touching people, and then you have this lifelong devotion to her.”

In Mauro’s case, it began with her mother telling her to pray to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Mother Cabrini founded the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, the congregation that came to the United States around the turn of the 20th century to minister to Italian immigrants living in poverty. She learned about Mother Cabrini when she and her husband lived in Lincoln Park, near the former Columbus Hospital, where the National Shrine of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini is located.

“I’m the grandchild of Italian immigrants, and Mother Cabrini often ministered to the newly arrived,” Mauro said.

She and Orlandino began worshipping regularly at the shrine, and during that time they began collaborating on films. One of them, “In My Brother’s Shoes” (2014), tells the story of a fallen Marine whose brother makes a pilgrimage to Rome in the Marine’s combat boots. That film, which Mauro and Orlandino tagged, “The Story of a Soul,” was screened at the shrine during Lent 2017. 
It was at that screening that Mauro began thinking of doing a film on Mother Cabrini.

Less than nine months later, the film, which includes reenacted scenes of Mother Cabrini’s life along with interviews with people who know her legacy, was done. It was filmed in Italy and Chicago, and emphasizes the saint’s early life and her ministry to immigrants.

“I always felt Mother Cabrini’s hand was guiding the process,” said Mauro. Over the months, what was planned as a 30-minute short documentary grew to 50 minutes. “It’s better that way.”

Water runs through the film, from the image of Mother Cabrini as a young girl setting paper boats to sail in a stream to Mother Cabrini’s missionary voyages — undertaken despite a well-established fear of the water.

“Despite that, she crossed the ocean many times to help those in need,” Mauro said.

Mother Cabrini traveled throughout the Americas, and founded 67 institutions, from schools to orphanages to hospitals, in her 67 years of earthly life. She was known for her business acumen and attention to detail.

At the same time, Mauro said, “she was deeply, deeply attached to prayer.”

Among the Chicagoans interviewed in the film in addition to McGlinchey are Father Richard Fragomeni, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, situated in the near West Side neighborhood where many Italian immigrants settled; Conventual Franciscan Father Robert Cook, pastor of St. Ita, which ministers to immigrants from all over the world.

“All the individuals interviewed are really living Mother Cabrini’s mission today,” Mauro said.

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