Movie renews interest in the life, work of Mother Cabrini

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, March 13, 2024

“Cabrini” movie poster. (Photo provided)

A new movie about St. Frances Xavier Cabrini is driving renewed interest in the woman who founded hospitals, schools and institutions around the country, including Columbus Hospital, Columbus Extension for the Poor at Lytle and Polk, and Assumption School at 319 W. Erie St., in Chicago.

“Cabrini,” produced by Angel Studios, was released in theaters on March 8, International Women’s Day, and focuses mostly on the saint’s work in New York City.

By the time the movie came out, Missionary Sister of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Laura Baldini from the National Shrine of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, 2520 N. Lakeview Ave., had seen the movie four times in prescreenings held around the archdiocese.

“I believe that is the best human portrait of Mother Cabrini that I have ever seen,” Baldini said. “I thought the actress captured her spirit very well and embodied that.”

Mother Cabrini founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1880.

Through the movie, viewers get a glimpse into the humanity of the saint and the significance of all that she did to serve the poor, especially immigrants.

“It’s like something that raises questions for your own life in the sense of what was the source to do everything she did. That leads you to her faith in Jesus,” Baldini said. “Because other people, in her condition in the time she did it, if God was not with her she would have broken.”

Mother Cabrini was born in Lombardi, Italy, in 1850. She was one of 13 children in her family. At 18, she said she wanted to become a nun, but was refused because her health was poor.

One day a priest asked her to teach in a girls school. She stayed there for six years, and then, at the request of her bishop, founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart to care for poor children in schools and hospitals.

She came to the United States with six nuns in 1889 to work among the Italian immigrants at the urging of Pope Leo XIII. She spoke no English and had no funds. Filled with a deep trust in God and endowed with administrative abilities, she founded schools, hospitals and orphanages.

She became a U.S. citizen in 1909 and died on Dec. 22, 1917, in Chicago.

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.

Pope Pius XI beatified Mother Cabrini in 1938 and Pope Pius XII canonized her in 1946. She became the first American citizen to be canonized.

“Cabrini” also highlights the saint’s ability to build bridges between the different immigrants in the United States, Baldini said.

“Other things that really touched me is how she brought the sisters together,” Baldini said. “You see her as a community leader. But above all it just highlights her humanity. A saint is someone like us who has physical weakness and experiences moments of joy but at times we can feel like we’re drowning.”

Everything goes back to her relationship with Christ.

“She was in love with Jesus and she wanted him to be known and loved,” Baldini said.

While the film was being made, Executive Producer Eustace Wolfington contacted Father Ramil Fajardo, rector of the national shrine, for a conversation.

“They wanted to tell the story about someone inspired. They didn’t, per se, want it to be religious. In fact, if anything they were scrupulous because they wanted the experience to be an entrée into motivation,” Fajardo said on a recent episode of Chicago Catholic’s podcast “Beyond the Headlines.” “And also as a woman, she had so many issues she had to work against and coming out on International Women’s Day they wanted to be challenging to people of all faiths.”

Above all they wanted people to be inspired to question who Mother Cabrini was, he said.

“It is an opportunity to see what can be done when one is inspired by God’s love,” he said.

Mother Cabrini continues to inspire people today.

“She relates to us because she was, first and foremost, someone who wanted to do something,” Fajardo said. “I think our issues today revolve around the fact that we want to do something. We want to make a difference. For all of us, following God’s love for us inspires us to do something.”

For more information about the National Shrine of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, visit


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