At the risk of sounding like I’m piling on, consider this my firm note of disapproval for New York City’s big-footed decision against erecting a statue honoring St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants.
You might remember that Mother Cabrini was the top vote-getter, by a 2-to-1 margin, in a poll of New Yorkers taken last year by the She Built NYC project, which is being overseen by New York City’s first lady Chirlane McCray. There were 219 registered votes for Mother Cabrini, more than double the number for the runner-up.
In all, more than 300 women were nominated. The idea behind the project was a good one—to increase the number of statues around New York City depicting women historical figures. The execution left a lot to be desired.
Sure, there were a few notable names such as Shirley Chisholm, America’s first black female member of Congress. Many of the figures, however, were of minor note, and some were marginal at best. Certainly, they were nowhere close to Mother Cabrini’s stature.
It’s easy to see why Mother Cabrini was a popular choice for New Yorkers, especially Catholic New Yorkers. Before her death in 1917, she was a force for good in so many ways here in New York and later in Chicago. She arrived in New York Harbor in 1889, with six Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, nine years after she founded the religious congregation in her native Italy.
She became the first U.S. citizen to be canonized, by Pope Pius XII on July 7, 1946. That was after she spent nearly 30 years opening schools, hospitals, orphanages and missions across her adopted land. She certainly left a mark in New York City where her mortal remains are displayed underneath the altar at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Shrine in Washington Heights, which is definitely worth a trip if you’ve never been.
One of the saddest Catholic school closures I can remember was when Mother Cabrini High School for girls, which was adjacent to the shrine, shut its doors in 2014.
By the time of her death, Mother Cabrini had founded 67 institutions, 37 of them in the Americas, according to a CNY story written to mark the 50th anniversary of her canonization. More recently, she has been lauded by many in the Church, including Pope Francis. Two years ago, Cardinal Dolan offered a Mass at the Cabrini shrine to commemorate the 100th anniversary of her death, and he remembered her with these words:
“We love her. We need her. We thank God for her…She herself became an immigrant in search of the immigrant.”
In this time when the news is filled with stories of the struggles encountered by today’s immigrants, it would have been fitting to honor someone like Mother Cabrini, who understood how to serve an immigrant population with care and compassion at a decidedly different time.
We know that Mother Cabrini doesn’t need a statue in her honor to proclaim what she did for the Church, or for New York City. There are already many statues and stained glass windows displaying her image at churches in the archdiocese and elsewhere.
I’m not the first to say it, by a long shot, but why would you solicit votes from the public and then disregard the results? It gives the appearance of a staged contest, where the fix was in before the votes were counted. The impression is that some votes, and perhaps some constituencies, don’t count, either.