Friday, November 13, 2009

Mother Cabrini, Pray for Us

Today is the feast day of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, affectionately called "Mother Cabrini" by her devotees, patroness of immigrants and traditionally revered by Italian-Americans.  Her shrine in New York City (in a neighborhood jokingly referred to as "Upstate Manhattan") was my long-time parish (the beautiful stained-glass window at the back of the church, which has a view that overlooks the Hudson River and the Palisades of New Jersey, is pictured above).  I spent many hours praying there both before and after my conversion, once hopping a gypsy cab on an impulse to take me there in a snowstorm even after having moved some distance away to the Bronx.

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.


Emily J. said...

My husband worked with a guy whose father knew Mother Cabrini. He described her as "old school." Not original, but apparently she had an iron will.

Pentimento said...

I bet she did! You can tell by the hard set of her jaw in photos of her.

Anonymous said...

Like all saints, she was very tough.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it would help to know that the Hebrew sense of the word "saved" is beyond tense: I am saved, I was saved, I will be saved. Your conversion, as dramatic as it was, began with your baptism.

Pentimento said...

TQ, I'm reading Newman's Apologia pro vita sua right now, and he says the same thing: that salvation is initiated with baptism. He does contrast the Catholic lack of certainty in one's salvation with the Protestant idea that once one is justified, one can rest easy. And he also says that Protestants believe that justification conveys some sort of almost material sensation in the soul, so that when you're saved, you know it -- a feeling that we don't have. I suppose on the one hand, our salvation is never in question, because of Christ's sacrifice, but on the other, it's always in doubt, because of our own choices and behavior.