The Beginnings of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart
Francesca was a good poker player. She never once showed her feelings. She told the bishop, “I will look for a house.” But we have to believe that her heart jumped a mile high when she was given this singular honor by the bishop. Possibly she jumped in the air as she left the bishop’s office, or waited until she got back to her quarters where the other seven sisters were waiting, before she exploded with joy. But we know what we know – she was excited. And now, as the mother superior of a religious community, which she named Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, she was given the title Mother Cabrini.
She found an abandoned convent in back of a Franciscan friary in Codogno which needed a lot of work. But this is where the Lord told her she and the sisters should be. The bishop gave his consent, and the sisters moved in the same day, before any of the badly needed repairs were done. It was as if she were afraid she would wake up to find this was all a dream, or that the bishop would change his mind, if she didn’t move in immediately. That day became the official date of the beginning of the Order.
She moved quickly, because she wanted papal approval of the order. She opened an orphanage, then a school in another town. She wanted to build credentials and numbers of sisters which she could present in Rome to open a convent in Rome. By 1887, she had five convents in the Lombardy region of Italy and anticipated missions all over the world. She asked permission from the Vicar General of Milan to go to Rome and was given it. In September 1887, she and another sister went to Rome to do whatever it would take to bring their little community to the attention of His Holiness and the Vatican.
I guess when the Lord wants something done, it becomes obvious by how quickly it gets accomplished. True, Mother Cabrini was a mover and shaker, but she was unknown in Rome. What was accomplished in a very short period of time without money, by the way, could only have been the work of the Lord. A Cardinal Parocchi told them not to even consider what they had in mind when he first met with them. However, on his second meeting with them just two weeks later, he not only gave them permission to open one convent, but two convents in Rome.
But a strong lesson is to be learned in the way the audience with the Cardinal went on this second visit. He pre-emptied his statement with a question: “Are you willing to obey?”
That might have been a difficult one for Mother Cabrini to swallow because she wanted this badly. But obedience had been a major virtue in her life, so her answer really came easily:
“Without a moment’s hesitation, your Eminence.”
That was all the Cardinal needed. He had a strong worker here who would do great things for God, but her most exceptional virtue, as far as he was concerned, was that of obedience. He replied, “Then, instead of opening one convent in Rome you will open two…”
Well, if you think she went into orbit when the bishop gave her permission to begin an order in 1880, this time she did everything but levitate. She had been given the opportunity, she and her community needed to allow her work to be known, where it had to be known, in the Vatican circles. Getting the work done, which would be the hardest goal to accomplish, was never a problem for Mother Cabrini. She just barreled ahead, not accepting any barriers which might be placed in her way, or the task at hand. She knew the Lord was asking something of her, and her answer was always a resounding yes!
The New Mission Fields in the West
She didn’t know was that she was playing right into the hands of the Lord. The Pope already knew the problem of the Italians in New York. So while it was not necessarily fair to Mother Cabrini, when she went to have her audience with the Pope, he was fully aware of the problem and was desperate to have people go there to alleviate the difficulty. The Lord had already told the Pope what He wanted.
His Holiness listened respectfully to Mother Cabrini as she shared her dilemma – She wanted to go to the missions in China, but she felt a great pull from various sources to begin working with the Italian immigrants in New York. She needed his help to make her decision. Our great Leo XIII looked at this zealot for the Faith, and smiled as he told her, “You must not go to the East, but to the West. Your mission will be in America to help the Italians and to make your country loved.” True to her vow of obedience, she accepted the Holy Father’s statement as the final word on the subject. She never once mentioned the Orient again.
For more information about Saint Frances Cabrini go to http://www.bobandpennylord.com/St_Frances_Cabrini.htm