Mother Cabrini’s Secret to Sainthood

There’s a sort of paradox when discussing the secret to sanctity. Saints are so timeless and unique that we assume that there must be some hidden motivation that makes them radiate with love and holiness. However, when we learn about the saints’s lives and works, we quickly see that their path to sainthood is anything but hidden. 

God wants us all to be saints. He desires us to know Him and live with Him in loving friendship, taking that love to every person in our hurting world. And God is so good that He has already given us what we need to become saints. In examining the life of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, we can especially see that what often separates us from the great saints is simply loving obedience. The saints asked God what He wanted them to do and then set about doing it when they got the answer. 

Francesca Cabrini was born the last of thirteen children in a devout family in Lombardy. From a young age, she dreamed of becoming a missionary to China. She would fill paper boats with violets, pretending they were boats full of missionaries going to faraway lands. However, God had other plans for her. 

The young Francesca knew early on that obedience to God was the most important aspect of a missionary. Even when she would receive work that was closer to home, she went about it in loving obedience. For her, everything from administrating a hospital to sweeping the halls was done out of love with a firm belief that she was fulfilling God’s will. So, no challenge ever seemed too big or small. 

However, she still had missionary ambitions and especially desired to go to China. Out of obedience to her spiritual advisor and the Pope, she established several charitable houses in Italy before setting off to New York City. As history will show, this small act of obedience would change our nation and continent. 

When Mother Cabrini arrived in New York on March 31, 1889, she and her nuns had little in the way of money or material possessions. As it would turn out, they didn’t even know where they were staying in the city. Like the immigrants she was now called to serve, Mother Cabrini and her Missionary Sisters left Italy with nothing but ideas and an uncertain future. Still, she set to work among her fellow immigrants in New York City. 

Mother Cabrini faced all her difficulties with the loving determination that comes from knowing you are doing what God wants you to do. She would often write about how difficulties were God’s way of showing His will and that made her all the more certain of her mission. Even some of the miracles in her life resulted from obedience and in furtherance of her mission after facing a challenge.

Little Miracles of Mother Cabrini

More than once, a bill would need to be paid and no money could be found among the nuns. In each of these incidents, Mother Cabrini would give instructions to look in their pockets or the treasury, even as the nuns protested they had already looked. Sure enough, though, the nuns would obey their superior and check to find money after following her instructions. 

In another small miracle in West Park, NY, it was found that their stores of wine had gone sour. Mother Cabrini instructed one of the sisters to parch some rice and add it to the sour wine. Of course, this isn’t a method to turn vinegar into wine, so the sister was confused but she did as she was told. A week later, the wine was back to being perfectly consumable. When the sister brought this news, Mother Cabrini told her, “You see, Sister! You have obeyed, and God has worked a miracle through your obedience.”

Mother Cabrini modeled obedience for her nuns just as well. Despite how much she took on, she would also clean and teach children as she was needed. To her, it was all part of God’s call for her. She established over sixty charitable houses on three continents but also would fundraise and buy the buildings in person, always praying and seeking God’s direction for her and the Missionary Sisters. 

Another time, in Colorado, Mother Cabrini established a retreat for her orphanage on Lookout Mountain. The major problem with this property is that water had to be brought up from a nearby creek. Then as now, water was a precious resource in Colorado and the sisters needed a source closer to home. Mother Cabrini gave the instructions, “Lift that rock over there and start to dig. You will find water fresh enough to drink and clean enough to wash.” Sure enough, they dug in that very spot and a spring of water was discovered. That miraculous spring still flows at the Mother Cabrini Shrine and pilgrims now collect it. 

These can seem like small miracles, but they were huge in those moments. They also enabled Mother Cabrini to continue her work, knowing that God was going to take care of her and her mission. Such small miracles were the fruit of loving obedience to God and the mission He gave them. 

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, Pray for Us

There are, of course, greater and more sensational miracles that are attributed to the intercession of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. You can read about the miracle that led to her beatification here on Catholic Exchange. These miracles can also be traced back to Mother Cabrini’s obedience to God.

How did Mother Cabrini cultivate such loving obedience and trust in the Lord? She prayed without ceasing, wanting to spend as much time with God as her health and busy schedule would allow. She was also eager to please God above anyone else. 

Not all of us are called like Mother Cabrini, and few of us will open even one house of charity on foreign soil. Still, though, the life of Mother Cabrini shows us how often God needs our love and obedience. If we can pray to Him, and ask Him to reveal His plans, He will show us that plan and then it is up to us to accomplish it. It’s that last part I know I struggle with. 

As we continue our Lenten journey, let us reflect on the life of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini and how God is writing our own story of saintliness. Let us also see Mother Cabrini as our patron saint to teach us the fruits of obedience, especially when we face challenges to fulfilling God’s will. 



The film Cabrini by Angel Studios will be released on March 8. The following companion books are available for pre-order from Sophia Institute Press: The Mother Cabrini Companion, The World Is Too Small: The Life and Times of Mother Cabrini, and Mother Cabrini: A Heart for the World.

Image credit: Angel Studios

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Michael J. Lichens is the former editor of Catholic Exchange, whose writing has appeared in both Catholic and mainstream sources. With an M.A. from the University of Chicago of Divinity School, Michael spends much of his days editing, writing, and researching great works in Catholic literature and also shares a passion for the overlooked moments in faith. You can track his love of ossuaries and saints at or here on CE.

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