She was a woman who admired St. Francis Xavier so much that she added his name to hers when she became a nun. She was a religious who dreamed of imitating her namesake by traveling east to China as a missionary. Instead, she would go west to the United States as soon as she understood that this is where God wanted her to go.
She was the foundress of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who crossed an ocean in the expectation of staffing an orphanage, a school and a hospital. Instead, she arrived in New York to find a rat-infested tenement and many Italian immigrants who were not only living in horrible conditions, but who had lost their faith because there were almost no clergy or religious who spoke their language to help them.
She was Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first American saint and the subject of a fascinating EWTN Original Movie, “Mother Cabrini,” which premieres at 8 p.m. ET, Saturday, Nov. 10, with an encore at 1:30 a.m. ET, Monday, Nov. 12.
Daniela Gurrieri of CRISTIANA Video, who wrote, directed, and co-produced the movie with her husband Fabio Carini, says she and her husband were not interested in simply chronicling the more than 67 schools, orphanages, and hospitals Mother Cabrini founded in America and around the world. Instead, the filmmakers wanted to tell the audience about the way Mother Cabrini overcame all the unexpected obstacles that she encountered.
That decision is what makes the film so dramatic and what makes Mother Cabini such a compelling figure. Gurrieri says her problem was not in finding obstacles, but in editing them down to a manageable few.
One of the big obstacles – the Italian immigrants’ crisis of faith – was something with which Mother Cabrini and her nuns were familiar. The nuns came to the U.S. from northern Italy, where the scourge of freemasonry was rampant.
“In that period in Italy, the people felt this big clash, the opposition of ethics, of the freemasons against the Pope,” Gurrieri said. “She witnessed, on one hand, the growth of atheism and also of this attitude of hate against the Church, against Jesus Christ, against God and against the priests and the nuns. On the other, she witnessed great love and support of the Church, which had been so attacked. She was used to this kind of opposition. She felt a great danger in the growth of a culture against faith, against the Church, and against life.”
As the film shows, Mother Cabrini and her nuns would be responsible for bringing many people back to the Faith.
Another reason Gurrieri was interested in doing a film on Mother Cabrini is that her life was so adventurous and challenging.
“She was the first to found [a group of nuns who were] independent of any institution or congregation,” Gurrieri said. “Women in Italy didn’t have any freedom at that time. They were not allowed to have a job. They were not allowed to sign contracts. They were not allowed to manage any kind of property. She did all these things. She traveled alone. She bought houses and hospitals. She was very much in relationship with the Pope, many Cardinals, and the bishops, but she was never dependent on them.”
Mother Cabrini was inspired by the love of God for her brothers and sisters in need — whatever their ethnic background – and always sought to show respect for the dignity of each person, no matter how badly they treated her or her nuns. Following her death on Dec. 22, 1917, Gurrieri says, “the Pope received more than 150,000 reports of miracles from people all over the world.” She was canonized on July 7, 1946.
“I will feel satisfied if this movie inspires great confidence in God and in making the gifts that God gives us bear more fruit,” Gurrieri said. “I will feel satisfied if [this movie helps people understand] that even if society tells us we are weak — because we are women, or weak because we are immigrants, or weak because of whatever does not make us comfortable – that can be overcome. The only thing we need is God, [who taught us in the person of Jesus] to live our life at the service of others.”