Colorado is celebrating Frances Xavier Cabrini Day today, October 5, marking the first paid state holiday recognizing a woman in United States history. The Colorado Legislature passed Frances Xavier Cabrini House Bill 20-1031 in March, which replaces the Columbus Day holiday with Cabrini Day, to be observed each year on the first Monday in October.
The namesake of Cabrini University—the only Cabrinian institution of higher education in the world—Mother Cabrini was an influential missionary who left her home in Italy to profoundly change the lives of disadvantaged peoples, including orphans, the sick, the poor, and immigrants around the world. By the time of her death in 1917, she had established 67 schools, hospitals, and orphanages throughout the United States and Europe, as well as Central and South America. Cabrini was named the Patroness of Immigrants in 1950, four years after she was canonized a saint by Pope Pius XII.
“Mother Cabrini stands out as an example of someone who holds up some of the best things we want to celebrate in our society,” said Ray Ward, PhD, Director of Cabrini’s Wolfington Center, which fosters community-based learning through Catholic social teaching and the Education of the Heart, drawing heavily from Mother Cabrini’s teachings. “I’m glad she’s getting recognition as an exemplar of our American civic religion, but also as a Catholic, bringing the best of Catholicism into the public sphere.”
Mother Cabrini’s travels brought her to Colorado several times in the early 1900s, where she forged a strong relationship with Italian immigrants working the mines in the foothills west of Denver. In addition to the Queen of Heaven Orphanage in Denver, Mother Cabrini also founded a summer camp for children near Golden, CO. Today, Golden is the home of the Mother Cabrini Shrine, a complex of monuments and chapels intended for religious ceremonies, prayer, and personal reflection.
JoAnn Seaman (P’18), who has worked at the Shrine in Golden for 31 years and serves as its Director of Development, said she is thrilled that Mother Cabrini’s legacy is getting mainstream attention with an official state holiday.
“Today, with so much going on regarding COVID-19, and social and political unrest, it’s really awesome that we have an example like Mother Cabrini, who did so much good and placed so much emphasis on social justice,” Seaman said. “A Cabrini Day highlights what a great humanitarian she was.”
According to Ward, Mother Cabrini’s humanitarianism was multifaceted and far-reaching. He points to three of her strongest traits: “service in love, entrepreneurship, and cultural pride and integration.” Though she was Italian by birth, Mother Cabrini became a naturalized American citizen and was the first American saint. Ward said Cabrini’s entrepreneurial spirit was particularly “underrated,” as she had a knack for discovering opportunities for service and business. She founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (MSCs) in 1880. Today, the MSCs work in 17 countries on six continents, sharing in Mother Cabrini’s legacy.
Cabrini University’s Holy Spirit Library is home to The Cabriniana Collection, the largest digital archive of the writings and artifacts of Mother Cabrini and the MSCs. The archive, which became fully digitized in 2019, is a source of primary source documents for historians around the world.