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Statue in lower Manhattan honors American saint, Mother Cabrini

On Monday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo unveiled a bronze statue of Mother Cabrini and two children in Battery Park City. The statue had been the subject of controversy after a city panel passed on including Cabrini, the first canonized saint born in the United States, in its initiative to rectify the gender imbalance in local statues. Credit: NY Governor's Office

A statue depicting Mother Cabrini, who spent a lifetime caring for poor Italian immigrants and became the first naturalized American canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, was unveiled Monday on the shore of the Hudson River in Battery Park City, overlooking the Statue of Liberty.

During a virtual Columbus Day parade, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo revealed the monument, which portrays Cabrini — often known as the patron saint of immigrants — with two children sailing to America. The governor announced plans for the monument last Columbus Day after a city panel initially balked at the idea.

"She was frail, but despite it all, Mother Cabrini challenged the norms, she broke the norm and she achieved great things," Cuomo said. "She overcame. Mother Cabrini said, and I quote, 'The world is poisoned with erroneous theories and needs to be taught sane doctrines. But it is difficult to strengthen what has become crooked.' So true."

As a child growing up in a small town near Milan, Italy, Maria Francesca Cabrini, the youngest of 13 children, would make small paper boats and fill them with violets, which she called 'missionaries,' and launch them out to sea.

The bronze memorial, which was created by sculptors Jill and Giancarlo Biagi, sits on a marble base and depicts the revered nun in her paper boat with a young boy and girl.

The girl, Jill Biagi said, is a reflection of Cabrini as a child, a book in one hand and firmly gripping the boat in the other. The boy holds his luggage and an ocarina, an Italian wind instrument invented near Cabrini's birthplace, representing the music and culture immigrants brought to America. The three figures are facing the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island as they enter New York Harbor.

The memorial includes panels highlighting Cabrini's service to Italian American immigrants and is surrounded by seating and a mosaic created out of stones from Cabrini's birthplace of Sant'Angelo Lodigiano, Italy.

"We hope the monument brings joy and a moment of contemplation … and an inspiration to visitors from New York and around the world," Giancarlo Biagi said.

The monument came after a panel led by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, initially declined to include Cabrini among statues to add more women to the city’s monument stock — most of which honor men — despite Cabrini topping a public poll seeking suggestions.

In 1889, Pope Leo XIII sent Cabrini — who had taken her religious vows 12 years earlier — and six other missionaries, to America to help Italian immigrants pouring into the country, often in poverty.

Cabrini later founded 67 schools, orphanages and medical facilities, including Columbus Hospital, which was eventually renamed the Cabrini Medical Center in Manhattan before it closed in 2008.

"Mother Cabrini had two assets, but they were powerful assets," said Cuomo, who commissioned the statue. "Mother Cabrini had her culture and her faith."

Angelo Vivolo, chair of the 2020 Columbus Day celebration, called Cabrini "a revered figure in New York and in the Italian community worldwide. If ever someone deserved a monument it was this woman of faith and love."

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