Next Saturday, November 13, we celebrate the memorial of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917), Italian immigrant, founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, and the first American citizen to canonized as a saint.
Her dedicated and highly successful work in establishing schools and institutions to serve the poor in New York and other cities in the east is well known. Not so well known is her work in Los Angeles. Here’s part of a 2007 article by Tidings reporter R.W. Dellinger, that tells what she did here, and what has become of it.
In the summer of 1905, 25 years after founding the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Italy, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini – at the invitation of Bishop Thomas J. Conaty – came to Los Angeles to serve a burgeoning Italian immigrant population. “I feel that a great deal of good could be done by [your Sisters] in this city in our work among the Italians,” the bishop wrote in a letter.
A few months later, the industrious nun found and bought an ideal place for an orphanage, the old J.W. Robinson home at 610 North Hill Street. The merchant and future department store magnate’s estate became known as the Regina Coeli Orphanage. Soon she opened a school nearby at Alpine and Hill streets.
The orphanage and parochial school thrived, serving more than 1,000 boys and girls. A larger school was built in Burbank along with a “preventorium” for children at risk of coming down with tuberculosis. Mother Cabrini returned to Southern California in 1908, 1912 and 1916, shortly before she died the following year in Chicago.
In July 1946, on the same day she was canonized in Rome, a Mass was celebrated by Archbishop John J. Cantwell in St. Vibiana’s Cathedral to honor the first United States citizen to become a saint. In his sermon, Msgr. Patrick Roche said the nation’s naturalized citizen had founded 67 U.S. houses and institutions and, as a result, her legacy here would never be forgotten.
But for the most part, that’s what has happened in Southern California to St. Frances X. Cabrini, who was declared the patroness of immigrants in 1950.
The last of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus left the Los Angeles Archdiocese in the early 1970s. The Regina Coeli Orphanage, which became the Cabrini Day Home for children of working women after Mother Cabrini’s death in 1917, was sold to a development corporation and razed.
The saint’s only shrine, a one-room Marian chapel she helped build in 1917, sits far back in the parking lot of St. Francis Xavier Church in Burbank,Calif., and is only open a few hours a month. The last remnant of her orphanage, a stone grotto, was moved in 1997 to the Villa Scalabrini Retirement Home in Sun Valley, Calif.