Today, November 13, is the feast day of St. Frances Cabrini. I never really knew much 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 short biography on her feast day last year, I had to stop after I read that she “was the first American citizen to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church…” The genealogist in me paused…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.
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, pay close attention to the names. Who knows, maybe your ancestor stood in line with a future saint to enter this country!