Richard A. Capozzola's chronology of Italian American events tells of a time on July 15, 1850, in northern Italy, when a swarm of white doves settled in the wheat fields of the Cabrini family. Agostino Cabrini caught one and then set it free. At that very moment, the last of his 13 children, Maria Francesca Cabrini, was born and, legend claims, neither before nor since have white doves been spotted in the Lombardy region of Italy.
That child has come to be celebrated as the patroness of immigrants. Frances Xavier Cabrini was canonized and elevated to sainthood by Pope Pius XII in 1946. Becoming a U.S. citizen in 1909, she was the first American citizen to be canonized.
Filled with a deep trust in God, and with an exceptional administrative ability, she founded schools, hospitals and orphanages in England, France, Spain, the U.S., and South America.
Influenced by her sister, a school teacher, and her uncle, a priest who told her stories of missionary work, she decided to become a nun but, because of her poor health, admission to a religious order was refused. In the interim, she helped her parents work their farm in a small town in northern Italy. She then began charitable work at an orphanage in Cadogno, Italy and, in 1877, took her religious vows. Three years later, when the bishop closed the orphanage, she was named prioress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart and began an orphanage with seven young nuns.
Though she sought to be a missionary in China, she was convinced by Pope Leo XIII to go to the U.S. and live amongst thousands of immigrants in New York City where, despite difficult times, she established another orphanage.
In nearly three decades of service in the U.S., Mother Cabrini founded 67 institutions dedicated to caring for the poor, the abandoned, the uneducated, and the sick. Among Italians who were losing their faith, she organized schools and adult education classes. Her ever expanding work established missions and academies in Paris, Madrid, Turin, and London.