Obviously not so obvious

08-25-2019Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

At times I suffer from a repeated failure to see the obvious. Case in point: the wife of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Chirlane McCray launched a “She Built NYC” program and invited the public to nominate women and some 320 names were put forward. After the vote on the names of women for the city to recognize with a statue, Mother Cabrini received more votes than any other woman. But the panel making the selection rejected the public’s choice. And here is where I totally missed the obvious because the obvious choices which the Panel chose were an abortion advocate and two transvestites who founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). I mean anybody with eyes to see would have known that an abortion activist and drag queens have had a greater impact on building New York City society and culture than a poor Italian immigrant.

It also should have been obvious to me that in the new dispensation the outcome of the vote is predetermined. But people are given the privilege to cast a vote, meaningless as it is but should be grateful for the honor. But where my thinking got really muddled was that it seemed obvious to me that Mother Cabrini, whose Shrine in Manhattan is visited by lots of New Yorkers every day and who had a lasting impact on New York City would be an obvious selection for a statue. After all, New York City is a Sanctuary City, offers undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses and other benefits, Cabrini seemed like a shoe-in. I mean she was a woman in leadership, with power in the early part of the 20th century when women were typically not in leadership positions or positions of power in society. Plus, she was an immigrant who had to deal with lots of bigotry, anti-immigrant sentiment and anti-Catholicism. She checks all the right boxes: woman, immigrant, poor, discriminated against, concerned with universal healthcare, free healthcare for immigrants and education for immigrant children. Not to mention being the first US citizen to be canonized.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini has left a lasting imprint on both North and South America with the many Hospitals, Clinics, Nursing Homes, Orphanages and Schools that she started. Ironically, when she came to the US with six of her Sisters she was told to go back to Italy! She had met with Pope Leo XIII and expressed a desire to go to China but the Pope told her “not to the East but to the West” and care for the newly arrived immigrants in the US. So, she contacted the Archbishop of New York who told her he would provide her with a Convent in NYC. However, when word got out that this group of Italians nuns would be coming to the WASPY high society of Manhattan, a lot of pressure was put on the Archbishop to make those dirty superstitious Italian Catholics go somewhere else. So after she arrived the Archbishop told her he did not need her and she was to go back to where she came from. At that point she produced a letter from Pope Leo endorsing her and her mission and so she stayed and got to work.

I had the privilege of working with the Cabrini Sisters (Missionaries of the Sacred Heart) during my first assignment as a priest. Mother Cabrini had started a School and Orphanage in the Parish and left a lasting impression on many of the older parishioners. Additionally, in the Parish was a retirement home for the Sisters and many of them were well into their 100’s and knew the Saint personally and spent a lifetime of selfless service to Jesus. I often administered the Last Rites to many of them and as I did so I used to grab on to their black Habit and pray that they would take me with them to Heaven! Why not bet on a sure thing! One of my favorite stories about the Saint was when she purchased a lot of land in Golden, Colorado by a duplicitous seller who made a big deal of the great bargain he was giving her but all the while knew the land was useless as it had no water supply. So, Cabrini went out to the property with a divining rod and told the Sisters where to dig to find water, which they did find! Never underestimate a woman with a mission and a divining rod!

Since those days I carry around a Relic of St. Frances Cabrini and ask her to bless my steps, that like her wherever I go it may be for the glory of God. My favorite prayer of the Saint is the simple plea she always made, “Jesus give me your Heart to love with”. That helps me to love the transvestites and the abortionist and pray that one day they will join women like Mother Cabrini in guiding our society towards sanctity and not slouching towards Gomorrah.

“Sanctity does not consist in doing great and conspicuous things but in doing well all that Jesus desires of us.” St. Frances X. Cabrini

It should be obvious…


Fr. John B.