The Immigrant Saint

One of the dangers facts about being a genealogist is that no matter what you read, you will read it through a genealogist’s eyes.  It’s like having a genea-lens, and your observation of the world focuses on different things.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

For example, November 13 was the Catholic feast day of St. Frances Cabrini.  I don’t know anything about Mother Cabrini except that she was a nun, she has a college named after her in my area, and I once visited a shrine in Colorado that had a large statue of her.  In reading a snippet about her on her feast day, I had to stop after I read  that she “was the first American citizen to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church…”

My genea-lens zoomed in…American citizen, eh?  We’ll see about that!  So I set off to find the good sister’s immigration record and naturalization papers.  And, because some of our government records are as trusty as the good-old-Catholic-school permanent record, I found it!

The first American-citizen saint was born Francesca Saverio Cabrini on July 15, 1850 in Italy.  She was 27 years old when she became a nun and added the name Xavier in honor of St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit priest.  Sr. Frances Xavier Cabrini became a teacher, and she eventually founded an order of missionary sisters in 1880.  Although her hope was to travel to the East as a missionary, the Pope asked her to instead travel West to minister to Italian immigrants in the United States.  She immigrated herself in 1889 and petitioned for citizenship in 1909.

Mother Cabrini's petition for naturalization. Source:

By the time of Mother Cabrini’s death in 1917, she and her order had founded 67 schools, orphanages, and other institutions throughout the United States as well as in Europe and South America.  She became a saint in 1946 and is the patron saint of immigrants.

So the next time you’re researching passenger arrival or naturalization records, use your genea-lens.  Who knows, maybe your ancestor stood in line with a future saint to enter this country!

[One “Get Out of Hell Free” card a la The Educated Genealogist to the first person who can correctly identify the first American-born saint…no cheating with Google!]

6 thoughts on “The Immigrant Saint

  1. Good article Donna.
    It’s funny because I read everything through the eyes of a cop … It goes somthing like this:
    Cabrini, huh? Broken English; Doesn’t sound like she’s an American citizen!
    “Put your hands on the hood of the vehicle lady. Four Comm, I need a Signal 15 & 16 on a white female, DOB …”

  2. I asked Sister Mary Martha and she said that the winner is St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for being the first native born American to be cannonized.

    Those Get Out of Hell Free Cards are going like hotcakes I’ll bet.

    Miss you sista Donner

    Motha Superior

  3. What an interesting article! Why has it never occurred to me to look up saints before? I didn’t even know there were American saints, foreign born or natives. What a sad testament to my Catholic upbringing. Great sleuthing on your part, Donna!

  4. And, Motha Superior wins the prize…as if there was any doubt on THAT one! That’s okay, Motha needs more cards! Miss you too!

    Very funny, bro. Only you would pull over a nun.

    Thanks, Jasia! For your penance, research Elizabeth Ann Seton and write a blog post. 😉

  5. Here I am, the grandson of four immigrants, and I never knew Mother Cabrini was the patron saint of immigrants. In San Francisco, we Good Catholics pray to Mother Cabrini as the patron saint of parking spaces!


  6. Steve,

    Really? How did she come to be the patron saint of parking in San Francisco? LOL I pray to St. Polycarp for that, but don’t ask me why because I just tried to look it up and I found nothing that links him to parking. According to Sister Mary Martha referenced by the good Mother above, the real patron saint of parking spaces is St. Boniface. Because it rhymes, I guess…

    LMAO because stuff like this is what makes non-Catholics think we are certifiable. Oh well, ….


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