Mother Cabrini

Mother Cabrini, Creating a Vision for An Empire of Hope

I had the pleasure of watching a new movie (yes, at a theater like we did in the olden days) called Cabrini. Growing up Catholic, I was in grade school when Elizabeth Ann Seton was canonized as the first American-born Saint. But I didn’t know much about America’s first Saint, Italian immigrant Francesca Xavier Cabrini. 

Mother Cabrini was a force of nature. She was diminutive and had a serious lung condition, which should have ended her life at a young age, but God had bigger plans. Rejected by other orders due to her health, Cabrini started her own order in the late 1800s, intent on focusing on missionary work at a time when missionaries were men. Her vision for the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was to go to China and build orphanages. However, after much cajoling, the Pope directed her to go West and not East to minister to Italian immigrants in New York City. Arriving at Ellis Island, she did not receive a warm welcome from the local Irish Bishop and Mayor. But like most uphill battles in her life, that didn’t stop her. With just a handful of nuns, she found ways to fund both an orphanage and hospital, negotiating and selling her cause and the cause of the last, the least, and the lost. She loved, cared for, fed, and shared the Gospel with people who had come to America for a brighter future but found harassment, illness, and challenges with little or no hope of returning home—my family included.

She shared that her objective was to build an Empire of Hope. As we work with clients to develop mission and vision statements, we are often asked what the difference is. A mission is the daily call to action, the motivation to get up each day and work hard toward a goal bigger than the individual.  A vision, however, is a big, audacious goal. A “change the world” goal. Most of us shy away from changing the world. It seems cocky at best and insane at worst. A recent client with a transformative suicide care management solution balked a bit at the idea of creating a vision to end all suicides. Slightly controversial, perhaps, but do we believe in our calling, and do we believe in more than ourselves? Mother Cabrini did not focus on her strength, might, intellectual prowess, or savvy. She had no power on her own. But her love and trust in Jesus made her confident in her purpose and vision, which she lived out one day, meeting, and one decision at a time.

As I watched the movie, her tenacity, zeal, and intensity reminded me of my own mother. With seven children, she was able still able to invest precious time, talent, and treasure in many causes that will have an impact for generations. She, too, had a vision for her life that was primarily focused on others. Servant leadership is a fundamental principle I’ve incorporated into my company, which we hope continues to honor extraordinary women like Mother Cabrini.

Mother Cabrini lived into her late 60s and is buried in New York at the first orphanage she founded as she prophesied. Her empire grew to 67  institutions, including orphanages, schools, and healthcare facilities, from New York to Burbank, California, and eventually China before her death in 1917. 

Mission accomplished.

To Learn more About Mother Cabrini check out: God’s Messenger: The Astounding Achievements of Mother Frances X. Cabrini

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