Sister Bridget Zanin, MSC, joined the Cabrini University community on Tuesday, November 29 in Campus Ministry. She has served as a Missionary Sister of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (MSC)—the religious order founded by Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini—since 1962. As a teenager in Brazil, she was called on a spiritual path that led her from her home to the United States Midwest and eventually Radnor, PA. Get to know Sister Bridget through the Q&A below. Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
What are your first impressions since arriving here at Cabrini University?
Sister Bridget: The campus is beautiful. I feel a little bit isolated because I’m so used to living in a city where you step out and can go anywhere and do anything. Here, you need a car.
Which city were you in before you arrived here?
SB: Chicago. I was the Director of the National Shrine of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini in Chicago. I was at the Shrine for 10 years. And before that, I was in the city of Des Plaines [Illinois]. I was working as a chaplain at the Holy Family Hospital. And, before that I worked at Mercy Family Hospital in Chicago.
What kinds of service did you do there and elsewhere?
SB: My first profession was as a nurse. I worked as an ICU nurse in medical/surgical. It was kind of getting heavier and heavier, so I went in to chaplaincy so I could talk to patients and their families without having to go in with a needle or to clean them up. Having the nursing background, being a chaplain I think was a blessing for me, because I could understand the patient’s diagnosis—what they were going through. I could talk to them not as a nurse, but as a chaplain.
You grew up in Brazil, correct?
SB: Yes, I was born in Brazil. My grandparents migrated from Venice, Italy to Brazil where they worked very hard to get themselves through a hard time. They moved there during the Second World War, when people were moving out to look for a better life. So, they struggled a lot. But, I see now their struggles were not in vain, because I see now my family are in good positions. I have a judge, two lawyers, and a doctor in the family. My parents and my grandparents really worked very hard to get us to where we are today.
What is one lesson you learned from your childhood growing up there that still inspires you today?
SB: My faith. My family were faithful people. We went to church every time we could. When they would have activities, my dad would always help out. And those of us who couldn’t go were home, and we had to say the rosary. When you’re a kid you don’t think it’s important, but I feel that that deepened my faith.
It sounds like your father and your family were oriented around volunteering and giving themselves…
SB: Yes, I have a sister who’s a Franciscan Sister and she’s the president of her order, the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady of Fatima. They take care of the street children in Campos do Jordão in São Paulo. They have over 1,100 children. They teach them and serve them food. The kids don’t want to have summer at home because the poor things don’t have anything to eat. At least there, they get good food.
How did you choose religious life?
SB: I always felt a call. I used to go and pray every day. I had two other friends and they wanted to go [to the convent]. Two months later, my dad rented a car and took us to the convent. I was only 15. Can you imagine? They kind of separated us. One left and one was sent home. I don’t know why they kept me. Then, we did our profession and took our vows. And, I was missioned to the United States.
I came to the United States not thinking that I would see my family or go back anymore. That was really tough. That was in ʼ64. In ʼ72, they allowed us to go home. I don’t remember, but another sister said I was jumping up and down on the plane because I was able to see my family.
Obviously, you are a Missionary Sister of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an order founded by Mother Cabrini. What does it mean to you to come here to Cabrini University, the only Cabrinian University in the world?
SB: I think it’s very special. And, the people who I have met so far, they’re so nice. I had a passion for the [Shrine] that I was at, and seeing that the people here have the same values and are part of the Cabrini family, has encouraged me to keep on giving and do whatever I can.
How has it been living with Sister Christine [Baltas, MSC (ʼ66), Campus Ministry Associate] at the Gatehouse?
SB: Wonderful. She’s a great person. She’s a perfectionist! She’s very spirited and she’s been very kind to me—especially when I ask her the same questions over and over sometimes.
What attracted you to the MSCs?
SB: It was their simplicity and their faith. I like simplicity. I knew nothing about Mother Cabrini but they gave us books to read. And, the more I read, I saw she had this big devotion to the Sacred Heart. She kept saying the Sacred Heart is the fountain of all virtues. And, I said, well, I don’t have any now so I better start.
The Education of the Heart is a big part of the mission here. What does that phrase mean to you?
SB: [Mother] Cabrini was very big on the education of the heart, because whatever comes to the heart, comes out. Whatever the heart can conceive sometimes the mind cannot express. I think it’s this idea of the love of God, the unity that we feel that as Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. We ask, “What would Jesus do if he was here?” It’s not just the word, it’s the actions that count.
What do you hope to accomplish here at Cabrini, and what do you hope to send students out in the world with?
SB: My thinking is always that I can make a difference in peoples’ lives. If I can make a difference in someone’s life, this life will go on to make a difference in the world. So, I feel that we all have a mission. Sometimes, people think they have to have a vocation to do the mission. No, you don’t. Life is an attitude. So, we can have a positive attitude—a faith attitude—or we can turn it the other way around.
I have my certificate in spiritual direction and I’m also a chaplain. And, I was a nurse. I worked in so many different jobs and I don’t regret any of them because everything really helped me to get to where I am today. I am hoping to bring these skills to my present mission, everywhere I go and in everything that I do. I hope I can make a difference in campus life.
You sound like someone who has been open to continuously learning as you’ve progressed through your life.
SB: I always wanted to grow more. I always wanted to know more. But my dream was always to become a spiritual director and I feel like I’ve reached my dream.
Now for some light-hearted questions. What is your favorite food?
SB: I keep telling people I’m on a see-food diet. I see food and I’ll eat it. But, really I love Italian, I love Mexican, I like Chinese. And of course, Brazilian. When I go home I eat all of this food I can’t get here.
Do you have a favorite type of music?
SB: I like classical music if I’m praying or just cleaning or relaxing. Sometimes I stop and [begins to dance in her seat]. I like most music. I love Christmas because it has so many meaningful songs.
Coming from Brazil to Chicago, you’ve likely visited many places. Do you have a favorite place?
SB: I love all the places I’ve been.
One more fun question to wrap up. If you were to join Mother Cabrini on one of her dozens of trans-Atlantic boat journeys, what is one item you would bring with you on the boat?
SB: My rosary, for sure.