The Cabrini Shrine is situated in Golden, Colorado. The plot of land was negotiated and purchased in 1910 by a religious sister, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, who wanted to use it as a summer camp for orphaned girls she took care of in Denver. Unfortunately, the land seemed to have a water problem: The only water was located at a stream at the bottom of a canyon, causing the religious sisters trouble as they struggled to carry enough water for drinking and cooking back to the buildings. When the other sisters told Mother Cabrini of the difficulty, she directed them to dig under a particular rock. They did, and quickly found fresh water for drinking, washing, and all their needs.
Who was this woman with a knack for solving problems? What does Mother Cabrini’s life teach us about what it means to be a missionary and an entrepreneur?
Mother Cabrini as Missionary
Mother Cabrini grew up in in the latter half of the nineteenth century in Italy, and was filled with a desire for mission work from a young age. This missionary zeal was the fruit of love for the heart of Christ and a desire to reunite hearts to Him. St. John Paul II, in a letter to the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in 2000, wrote:
Mother Cabrini’s tireless apostolic work was more and more inspired by her desire to bring salvation to all, and in a hurry. She used to say: “The Heart of Jesus does things in such a hurry that I can barely keep up with Him.”
How did Mother Cabrini’ know the Heart of Jesus and the urgent desire it had for souls? This intimate knowledge came through personal prayer. St. John Paul II described how Mother Cabrini’s extraordinary activity flowed from prayer, “especially from long periods before the tabernacle. Christ was everything to her. “
Mother Cabrini as Entrepreneur
Entrepreneurship is closely tied to the missionary activity Mother Cabrini is known for. While Mother Cabrini’s poor health prevented her from joining one religious order, she founded her own, the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As a leader starting a new religious order, Mother Cabrini needed funding, and demonstrated resourcefulness in finding donors to support her.
Mother Cabrini’s entrepreneurship was present not just in funding the new order but in forming her sisters. In 2017, on the 100th year anniversary of Mother Cabrini’ death, Pope Francis wrote a letter to her sisters, speaking of how Mother Cabrini did something that might have seemed unusual and overly bold in her day: training consecrated women with their own unique charisma and sending them near and far. Mother Cabrini set “no limit to missionary horizons,” Pope Francis described.
While she had expected to go East to China to spread the Gospel, Pope Leo XIII asked Mother Cabrini to go West to serve Italian immigrants in the United States. In this decision and others, Mother Cabrini’s entrepreneurship as a sister was guided by obedience to the Magisterium. This binding of her work to a higher authority empowered her activity, giving it a zeal and fruitfulness it would have lacked on its own. Mother Cabrini embraced the Pope’s call and went to New York, organizing education and formation classes for impoverished immigrants, and founding schools and orphanages for the children.
For Us: Business Connection
Mother Cabrini did not wait for someone else to love Jesus or care for the poor, she loved Jesus and dared to put that love into action, which impelled her to newness and originality.
In Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant’s suggestions for having an impact on your workplace, the community, or the world at large include this one: “Be a tempered radical.” Grant’s idea is that radical ideas are more readily absorbed by a culture if those radical ideas are presented in light of something already familiar and trusted. Mother Cabrini’s radical zeal for serving the immigrants and the underserved was joined to fidelity to the Magisterium, and this blend made her an effective entrepreneur and evangelist.
Is there an area of your life where you are called to be a “tempered radical?”
For Us: The Gospel is Contemporary
One of the insights Mother Cabrini’s life reveals for us as missionary entrepreneurs is that, just as Mother Cabrini engaged the pressing issues of her age, we are called to engage the pressing issues affecting our society. Pope Francis wrote:
Today’s epoch-making population movements with the inevitable tensions they create make Mother Cabrini a very contemporary figure. In particular, the Saint focused attention on situations of greatest poverty and fragility such as the needs of orphans and miners. She combined that with a lucid cultural sensitivity by continuous dialogue with local authorities…
Pope Francis went on to describe how Mother Cabrini worked to deeply integrate old and new cultures, accompanying Italian immigrants in “becoming fully Italian and fully American.” In this way, the immigrants became gifts to those around them. Pope Francis concluded, “The great migrations underway today need guidance filled with love and intelligence similar to what characterizes the Cabrinian charism.”
Mother Cabrini’ witness reminds us of the call of the New Evangelization: To speak Christ again to those who have forgotten Him, using new words and new methods. As missionary entrepreneurs, part of our aim is to learn the gifts and skills of each member or group we serve, then empower that person or group to use their gifts and resources for the greater good.
For Us: Recognize the Role of Motherhood
Another lesson from Mother Cabrini to missionary entrepreneurs today relates to the role of motherhood. Mother Cabrini’s own words show her devotion to the Sacred Heart, and also to Mary, who loved the Sacred Heart first. Indeed, Mother Cabrini’s formation of her sisters and own example was informed by the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who she often turned to for intercession. Moreover, Mother Cabrini’s heart for the Italian immigrants she served was that of a mother, anxious for the wellbeing of her children. It was this motherly concern that led Mother Cabrini to say, “I will go anywhere and do anything to communicate the love of Jesus to those who do not know Him, or have forgotten Him.”
Mother Cabrini’ imitation of Mary leaves us with the lesson of also looking to Mary for confidence in cultivating or recognizing the role of the feminine genius, and the motherhood that each woman is called to, in faith and business. As Mother Cabrini said, “If you are in danger, if your hearts are confused, turn to Mary. She is our comfort, our help. Turn toward her and you will be saved.”
Look Back, Look Forward
Mother Cabrini took the name Xavier when she became a sister, looking back to the epic example of the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier. Simultaneously, Mother Cabrini looked forward to the developments needed in her own time and age; she noticed who the poorest of the poor were and did all she could to help them. Through obedience to the guidance of the Pope, she heard the cries of Italian immigrants and put her own resources— her Italian background, her missionary zeal, and powers of organization— toward service. Mother Cabrini lived as a mother of many, earning the title “Patroness of Immigrants.” Her witness causes us to pause as we examine the fruit of her life. It also prompts us forward, asking us to respond to the cries of the poor around us and to respect the dignity of each person.
Let’s end with a beautiful prayer by Mother Cabrini:
Fortify me with the grace of your Holy Spirit and give your peace to my soul, that I may be free from all needless anxiety, solicitude, and worry. Help me to desire always that which is pleasing and acceptable to you so that your will may be my will.
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, pray for us.