Cabrini-A Generational Heroine

When Hollywood produces a film about Italian Americans, it usually is of a certain vintage and the purveyors of such art are usually their descendants.  In a change of pace, enter the talented duo of director Alejandro Monteverde and screenwriter Rod Barr who collaborated last year on the highly acclaimed Sound of Freedom, one of the most successful independent films ever. A feat difficult to match let alone top but their film Cabrini is poised to do just that opening in over 3,000 theaters nationwide. 

 When Barr was pitched by the film’s producers to write the screen play of a sainted Catholic nun in a period piece that begins with her immigration to the United States in 1889, he was incredulous.  However, after immersing himself in all things Cabrini he was sold. 

Monteverde, a wide-ranging artistic director was perhaps an easier sell saying, “There are films you want to do and films you are called to do.”

With Cabrini, he fulfilled both.

The engrossing Cabrini preview struck a chord.  I was somewhat familiar with Mother Cabrini and knew she was the first canonized American saint something most Catholics of Italian descent are familiar with.  

Mother Cabrini was not the typical saint provided there is such a profile. Saints are Asian, Black, Indian, White, men and women. You want diversity, look no further than the Communion of Saints. Georges Bernanos, the French Catholic writer said, modernists think – either out of arrogance or regret – that the era of the saints is over.  Saints, and the miracles that accompany them, exist and have in every era.

The petite Italian native Francesca Cabrini was the youngest of 13 born two months prematurely and struggled with poor health her entire life.  Pursuing her religious vocation, she was initially rejected three times as “being too weak of constitution.”  After establishing the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, she petitioned Pope Leo XIII to commence missionary work in China. Telling the pope, “We can serve our weakness, or we can serve our purpose. We can’t do both.”  

The pope finally agreed but sent her to New York instead. Upon arrival in Manhattan, Mother Cabrini and her sisters were not greeted by any clergy as promised but found more of what she left – resentment and plenty of New World impoverishment, criminality, and illness.  

Mother Cabrini met anti-Italian prejudice head-on even among Catholics of Irish descent including the archbishop. Despite city and Church politics, her faith overcame the odds to establish a humanitarian province unmatched not just in New York and the nation but the world. She converted them on her path to canonization that occurred in 1946, a short 29-years after her death. 

Italians were not considered white, not until it was more convenient – proving how all ethnic groups faced bigotry of varying levels during assimilation. In a testament to a change of perspective, New York recently offered prepaid credit cards to migrants.  To pay for it, all the state must do now is extort a Manhattan billionaire $355 million — weekly.

Cabrini’s fortitude and determination is this generation’s Rocky Balboa but with a nun’s habit whose story is not some fictional character but the real deal.  If you need more proof, Sylvester Stallone was premiering the film in Florida, according to Barr.

 Cabrini is a testament to the transformative power of one woman’s determination to make a difference despite overwhelming negative circumstances. Christian heroism is the willingness to undertake trials out of love, without any meaningful gain in this life.

Despite having an aversion to water, Cabrini whose name in Italian means “one who sails” lived up to it having made 23 trans-Atlantic crossings.  During her ministry, she was given no more than three years to live but conquered living to 67.

Barr’s screenplay is littered with a sequence of memorable lines. When a construction foreman questions Mother Cabrini’s request that half the construction workers on a hospital building project be Italian, she quips, “We built Rome. I’m sure we can handle a hospital.”

 Mother Cabrini established 67 schools, hospitals, and orphanages – around the world – all run by women proving, “The world is too small for what I intend to do.” The cinematography is captivating and compliments a remarkable epic that is not in any way preachy – a story that transcends generations.

  Cristiana Dell’Anna, an Italian actress in the Meryl Streep mode, transforms herself physically and vocally with virtuosic skill and gives an Oscar worthy performance as Mother Cabrini. Regrettably, her flawless effort will go unrecognized by the secular and hedonistic Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The same is true for Monteverde and Barr.

The film opened on International Women’s Day, March 8th.

When I asked Barr if Mother Cabrini would approve of the film, he said she would especially if it inspires a new generation to serve something greater than themselves.

Saint Mother Cabrini pray for America.

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