Empire of Hope: A Review of ‘Cabrini’

Brad Miner | January 21, 2024

In 1850, a small and sickly girl, the youngest of thirteen children, was born two months prematurely to a farm family in the Italian region of Lombardy. Francesca Cabrini would suffer from poor health her entire life.

When in her teens she decided to give her life to Christ, she was rejected by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, who considered her too weak to endure convent life. But she persisted and became a nun in 1877, taking the name by which we know her now: Frances Xavier Cabrini.

Years before, while visiting her uncle, Fr. Don Luigi Oldini, she placed violets into paper boats, dropped them into a stream, and imagined they carried her and other missionaries to China, where the great St. Francis Xavier had journeyed 300 years before.

When she founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1880, she told Pope Leo XIII of her wish to travel with her small group of Sisters to Asia to bring the Lord’s love to the suffering poor there. But the pope had a better idea and sent her to the United States.

Pope Leo expressed skepticism even of that journey and its challenges, given her weakness (a worry compounded when people met her by the fact that she was barely 5 feet tall), but she told him, “We can serve our weakness, or we can serve our purpose. We can’t do both.”

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