Saint Francesca Cabrini was an Italian Religious Sister, who founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic religious institute that was a major support to the Italian immigrants to the United States. She was the first citizen of the United States to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church (July 7, 1946).
Francesca was born July 15, 1850 in Sant'Angelo Lodigiano, in the Lombard Province of Lodi. Her vocation was precocious: when she visited to her uncle, Don Luigi Oldini of Livagra, a priest who lived beside a swift canal, she made little boats of paper, dropped violets in them, called the flowers missionaries, and launched them to sail off to India and China. Francesca took religious vows in 1877 and added Xavier to her name to honor the Jesuit saint, Francis Xavier, the patron saint of missionary service.
In September 1877, Francesca went to seek approval of the Pope to establish missions in China. Instead, he suggested to her that she go to the United States to help the Italian immigrants who were flooding to that nation in that era, mostly in great poverty. "Not to the East, but to the West" was his advice.
Francesca left for the United States, arriving in New York City on March 31, 1889. She obtained the permission to found an orphanage, which is located in West Park, New York, and today is known as Saint Cabrini Home.
Cabrini organized catechism and education classes for the Italian immigrants and provided for the needs of the many orphans. She established schools and orphanages despite tremendous odds. She was resourceful, finding people who would donate what she needed in money, time, labor and support. In New York City, she founded Columbus Hospital and Italian Hospital. In the 1980s, they were merged into Cabrini Medical Center.
In Chicago, the Sisters opened Columbus Extension Hospital (later renamed Saint Cabrini Hospital) in the heart of the city's Italian neighborhood on the Near West Side. Both hospitals eventually closed near the end of the 20th century. Their founders' name lives on in Chicago's Cabrini Street.
She founded 67 institutions throughout the United States in New York, Chicago, Des Plaines, Illinois; Seattle, New Orleans, Denver, Golden, Colorado; Los Angeles, Philadelphia. Cabrini was naturalized as a United States citizen in 1909.