The corridor that connects Cabrini High School for girls to the shrine is lined with glass cases filled with gifts left in honor of the saint, in thanks for her miraculous cures. Her popularity has been effortlessly transferred to the neighborhood's large Latino population as its Italian population has dwindled to virtually nothing, and most, if not all, of these ex-votos, which include china plates and ceramic statuary, are inscribed in Spanish with the names and dates of the cured. Just a few weeks before my conversion, I struck up a conversation with a professional, highly-educated woman at the local Korean fruit-and-vegetable stand, who told me that her daughter had been healed of life-threatening illnesses through the prayers of the local faithful and the intercession of the saint. "This," she said, gesturing to include the whole neighborhood, "is holy ground."
One day several years before that encounter, I went on a Saturday to pray at the shrine. Mother Cabrini's body is interred in a glass coffin, over which the altar is built. As I knelt in a pew, the Latina charwoman, who spoke no English, put down her mop, came over to me, took my hand, and led me up to the altar, normally roped off from the public. She had me kneel down before it and placed my hand on the glass; it was vibrating.
Next door to the church and high school is the former Saint Elizabeth's Hospital, where Maria Callas, who grew up in the neighborhood, recovered from a badly broken leg after being hit by a car (it's now co-ops).
This is also the sixth anniversary of my first date with my husband, which took place at the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Terminal.