Mother Cabrini: Italian Apostle Abstract

Pope Leo XIII argues that the Church has the obligation and duty to educate man in religious affairs to reaffirm in him the dignity of his person and to care for the spiritual and physical health of the common laborer to protect him from the dangers of a modern and capitalist world. Mother Cabrini founded hospitals to ease the struggles of the Italian working man, established schools to educate and equip the future generations of Italian-Americans, and erected churches to address the Italian Americans’ deprivation of faith. Therefore, she enacted “justice through acts of charity.” Mother Cabrini’s frequent family visitations and the improvement of Italian parishes are acts of charity because they benefit individuals and address their immediate economic and spiritual needs, and her education of Italian immigrants and the construction of orphanages and hospitals are acts of justice because they demonstrate a communal attempt to address the Italian immigrants’ long term problems of social mobility. The scholarship of Humbert Nelli supports this correlation that educational and communal improvement through community institutions like the Catholic Church influenced socio-economic advancement. Further, Mother Cabrini’s mission efforts echo Pope Leo’s prescription of the intended role of the Church in Rerum Novarum. Mother Cabrini approaches secular issues such as poverty through adherence to religious institutions. Her worldview incorporates the spiritual and educational potential of an organized Church with the importance of the community as the domus for immigrant life and welfare.


The Preliminary Draft

Welcome all,

You see that looming creature in the featured image? If you are to be an adventurer on a grand quest, than that is your greatest adversary. In the context of the Ramonat Seminar, that foreboding colossus is the final paper. But alas!, there is no need to feel too stressed; for, the rough draft is here to our benefit.

First, I would like to briefly address what many students loath to admit: writing a rough draft is an immense academic privilege. The rough draft is the embodiment of the arguments and evidences of a research project, and – better still – the rough draft creates a conversation between student and professor in which the student can receive valuable criticism and commentary from the professor and should spur them, the student, forward to the completion of a greater final paper. In the world of research, the opinions of other learned peoples are the ultimate tool for an adventurer – to return to my original analogy!

sword of light and shadow

Let’s look at this Magic the Gathering card for further enlightenment. The sword is a powerful tool for any battle, but it contains both light and shadow. In this same way, a draft – at first – is full of shadows. The student has there delicate research efforts strewn about by their professor. This my have the initial effect of disheartening the student. But fret not! Every shadow exists because a source of light exists too. In this case, the criticism of the professor is the ultimate light. It reveals the flaws and shortcomings of the student’s research for the precise purpose of pushing the student toward improvement. If a student heeds these criticisms and commentaries well, then their research paper should only benefit.

Alright, so with this said I want to explain in brief my strategy in writing and revising my draft. My draft contains all of the information and evidence that are necessary for the existence of my paper; I wanted to ensure that my draft is the skeletal structure of my final paper. I am aware that it might be fraught with grammatical errors and incomplete citations (within reason because you still need to create a well-made draft!), and this is okay. Cementing a semester’s worth of research into careful words is a difficult task, so it is important to prioritize that your argument takes form when constructing the draft. After all, the goal of the draft is to give your professor an accurate portrayal of your research so that they can give you useful and constructive feedback about this argument.

For my paper revisions, the primary criticism was to include more analysis of primary sources – specifically to analysis more carefully the words and actions of Mother Cabrini. This is fine, this is a valid criticism and not one that overwhelms me. Why? Because I wrote my draft in such a way that my argument is already in form. I don’t need to scramble to figure out how to include more primary source analysis in my paper; I already known where I can introduce this analysis into my existing argumentative structure. Because I was careful to create a solid argument in the draft, I am now well equipped to revise and improve this very same argument. And any grammar/constructional errors are easy to remedy, all I need do is carefully follow the commentary of my professor while utilizing academic resources – such as Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style for grammar correction – to address these errors.

I want to keep this blog brief because I have a paper in need of revision, but I will leave you on this note. Revising a draft can be frustrating. Two perilous paths are open to the student: the first in which the student is too proud in their research to accept constructive criticism, and the second in which the student is too harsh on their research because they believe that the professor’s criticisms invalidate the existing strengths of their research. These are the Scylla and Charybdis of the world of revision. But luckily we are not so trapped as Odysseus because there are always better paths available.


More often than not both paths have some validity. The professor’s commentaries probably do reveal the shortcomings in your draft that need help, but there probably are also strengths in your draft that will benefit from further revision. There is no need to pull out your hair in frustration, nor is there a need to sacrifice your shipmates to the mighty Scylla. Armed with the new knowledge of reflection and the prior knowledge of all your hard research-work, have confidence in your original writing, learn how to improve it with the aid of your instructor, consult your peers for further help, and dive once again into the writing process. Grab the Sword of Light and Shadow and look towards the distant shores of Ithaka. We are almost there.



The Outline

(If you dare to peruse my outline, you will do well to click this: mother-cabrini-cst-outline)

Welcome all,

The process of creating an outline for a research paper is daunting and difficult. In the past I found myself trying to create a super clean outline that would satisfy my professor/teacher. I can now say that that approach is wholly incorrect.

An outline is for you, not your professor/teacher. Sure sometimes they are graded, but you should not write an outline merely to satisfy an academic requirement (although frequently your professor will require that you include a thesis, the structure of your argument, historiography. . . .which all are very helpful things!) My point is, if you write an outline for someone else it will be very difficult to turn this outline into a first draft.

(After all, what is an outline but the preliminary step towards completion of your first draft!!!)

My process of creating an outline is unique – and so should be everybody’s! I make sure to include a thesis and all of that important stuff, but when it comes to the structure of my outline I do what feels the most natural. I prefer to write an in-depth introduction and conclusion because – more often than not – these are the most difficult elements of writing a paper. If I take time to hash-out a good introduction while composing my draft, it will be easier to hit the ground running while transitioning from outline to first draft.


(This picture of a Magic the Gathering card serves no further purpose than to elaborate on my statement of ‘hit the ground running’)

Once I finish my introduction and conclusion, I fill up the body of my outline by selecting important quote from primary and secondary sources, and then I write my commentary about each quote. This is done with the specific purpose of allowing me to preserve my thoughts and make my first draft easier to write. I always intend on turning an outline into a first draft, a first draft into a revised draft, and a revised draft into something to be proud of.

My apologies if I rushed through this blog post, and if I threw a lot of information at you very quickly. I know you can handle it. Besides, I gotta run – there’s a first draft on the horizon!!




The Dorothy Day Symposium

Welcome all,

This week, in the continuing adventure that is the Ramonat Seminar, we had quite a large event on February 16th and 17th: the Dorothy Day Symposium. The 16th featured a private Ramonat meeting with Dorothy Day scholar and head editor of Orbis Books Robert Ellsberg, who then hosted a lecture to the public afterwards. The highlight of the 17th was a talk by the granddaughter of Dorothy Day, Kate Hennessey, who recently released a book titled Dorothy Day: The World Will be Saved by Beauty. Due to scheduling conflicts I was only able attend the events on the 16th, but that was still enough time to celebrate and analyze the life of Dorothy Day. In other words, more than enough time to understand the importance of the Symposium.


The private meeting with Robert Ellsberg was an enlightening experience. All semester we have been studying the origin of the Catholic Worker and how Day used the Catholic Worker to engage in political activism, and, unlike the communist and socialist movements, however, Day’s expression of political activism used Catholic non-violence and voluntary poverty to fight out against the injustices in the world. So it should come as no surprise that we were quite excited to exchange thoughts with Robert Ellsberg for an hour prior to his talk.

O, I suppose I should mention this: Robert Ellsberg, before becoming head editor of Orbis Books, was a member of the Catholic Worker and had actually met Dorothy Day.


In 1975, Robert Ellsberg, then 19 years old, decided to drop out of Harvard University and join the Catholic Worker. Ellsberg stated that at this time he wanted to explore the world outside of the sheltered walls of the university and learn more about who he really was. This passion and enthusiasm, and a bit of being in the right place at the right time, led to Ellsberg becoming the managing editor of the Catholic Worker newspaper, and consequently meeting Dorothy Day. In fact, the five years that Ellsberg spent working for the Catholic Worker were the last five years of Dorothy’s life.

After working diligently on the Catholic Worker newspaper, Ellsberg decided to leave the Catholic Worker. His reason for doing so was that he believed it was the right time in his life to move on to something new . .. even though at the time he had no idea what that ‘new thing’ was. As fate would have it, Ellsberg would convert to Catholicism, get a Master’s in Theology at Harvard Divinity School, and spend the following years, up until the present, combing through Dorothy Day’s letters and writings whilst admiring her inspirational message.

In his following lecture, Ellsberg addressed one of the unique aspects of Day’s life – she was just as much a radical protester as she was pious Catholic; her radical expression of Catholicism took America by storm and led to the success and longevity of the Catholic Worker movement. In fact, when Pope Francis visited America in 2015, Ellsberg recalls, he drew attention to four great Americans revolutionaries – Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Merton, and Dorothy Day. For this reason among many others, Dorothy Day is in consideration for canonization and sainthood.


The greatest takeaway from the time spent listening to Robert Ellsberg is that of perspective. Ellsberg recalls how Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin met in no extraordinary circumstances; they simply crossed paths, and the world was never the same. Similarly, Ellsberg himself had no idea that his simple decision to work for the Catholic Worker would cross his own path with that of Day’s and lead to his becoming the editor of Orbis Books and leading Dorothy Day scholar.

Life can happen so suddenly like that. Sometimes the most special moments of life happen in the simplest of fashions, and sometimes the worst moments happen in spectacular grandeur. The point is, stay true to yourself and keep moving forward in the direction that your soul tugs you in. Life will figure out the rest.

Huh. I now remember that I stumbled upon the topic of Mother Cabrini in quite a simple way; she was the saint of the day that I read on the iMissal Catholic app. Things keep getting more interesting. . .




Digging through Time

Benvenuti all’anno nuovo,

Welcome back to the Ramonat Seminar. Now we move into the spring semester, into the research and writing process.The theme for today is pivotal: the primary source. Often forming the basis of mot historical projects, primary sources allow researchers to assess the actions, ideas, and perceptions – among many other possibilities – of people who were alive during the time of study.



(Santa Francesca Saverio Cabrini)

To jog your memory, my research focuses on the communities of Italians living in America through an analysis of the missionary work of Mother Cabrini. Building hospitals, establishing schools, and spreading an intense faith, Mother Cabrini is a valuable case study of the efforts of the Catholic Church in America at the closing of the 19th century  and opening of the 20th century.

So with this in mind, my latest task has been to locate the primary resources for this project and dig through them. I will now go over some of the sources I have encountered along the way and how I chose to deal with them.


Foreword: I want to make a small comment first for those who struggle to find primary sources. It is often helpful to first break your topic into its main components. For my research these are Italian-American immigration and the life of Mother Cabrini. So then I read through secondary sources on these two themes, often biographies or historiographic works, and wrote down any interesting sources that the author used in their work (remember to give these secondary sources credit!).This process actually helped me discover interesting newspaper articles about Italian-American immigration!

So here is a little insight into the many ideas that have been flowing through my mind and the sources that hold these ideas.



There seem to be few better ways to hear the opinions of late 19th century Italian immigrants about the state of urban american communities than to listen to what the Italian-Americans, or their contemporaries, said themselves. Thankfully newspapers do exactly this, they preserve the voice of historic actors and allow us researchers to reawaken these very same voices years later.

However, since newspapers are the direct words of historic actors, good researchers must be careful too sift through the biases of the author to recognize what can be used as factual evidence and what can be used as opinionated evidence. Since my goal was to find the perception of Italian immigrant communities from 19th century Italian immigrants, the opinions of Italian immigrants or their contemporaries were the facts that I was looking for.

For example, I read through two newspaper articles from the newspaper The Catholic World based in New York. The first was written by a Bernard Lynch in 1888 titled The Italians in New York and the second was written by a Franklin Laurence in 1900 titled The Italian in America: What he has been, What he shall be.

Both of these articles commented about the prevailing issues of Italian-American communities and the factors that led to a negative perception of Italians to the larger American society (and even stated what those negative perceptions were). The chief criticisms featured in these articles were that Italian-Americans lacked spirit, faith, and good education, and the re-invigoration of the Italian-American Catholic Church was often proposed as the best way to remedy these problems.

Side note: The dates of these two newspapers are very significant. Since Mother Cabrini first arrived in New York in 1889, the 1888 article reveals the state of affairs of pre-Cabrini Italian-American communities and the 1900 article assesses a post-Cabrini state of affairs (In fact, the second article makes direct reference to Cabrini’s Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart!)

Biographies and Autobiographies


Okay, so before I lose your attention I want to talk about the primary sources I read through that were written by Cabrini herself or by authors/historians who lived a generation after Cabrini’s death (in 1917).

The chief two I would like to speak about are “Immigrant Saint” written by Pietro di Donato in 1960 and “Travels of Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini” published by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1944. The former is one of the most complete biographies of Cabrini and often records her personal thoughts and reflections during her 67 year life and the latter is an extensive compilation of Cabrini’s personal travel letters written to her fellow Sisters from the years 1890-1906.

Although I want to keep the particularities of my research to myself and colleagues (since it is far from completion!), the ‘key find’ while reading Di Donato’s biography of Cabrini are Cabrini’s commentaries about her missionary zeal, the sad state of the impoverished Italian-Americans, and the overall struggles facing laborers in America. It is amazing to see the similarities between Cabrini’s first hand commentaries of American labor conditions and Pope Leo XIII’s elaboration of the dignity of the common laborer in his encyclical Rerum Novarum(published in 1891). I found similar comments while skimming through Cabrini’s travel letters.

Hmmmmm . . . it seems to be no mere coincidence that Mother Cabrini, following both her conscience and the advice of Pope Leo XIII, might be the first historic actor/actress to place the conception of Catholic Social Teaching introduced in Rerum Novarum into motion. I’m excited already to see where this goes.

Ciao i miei amici!







The Looming Shores of Research

Greetings to all,

I must admit, beginning a research project is always the most daunting task, a distant shore that seems always out to reach. At first glance, it seems impossible to find a topic that is both relevant and personally interesting; complex and yet discernible; simple, yet profound. For some, the stacks of the local library become like a home as they frantically search through page after page trying to find words that will stick.

For all of those who read through this post, I would like you to know that what was stated above was not my experience. And if panic does not suite you, it need not be yours also.


Relax. . .For me, the research process has always been natural; for if it was not, then it occurred to me that I was most likely already on the wrong track. Everyone has passion, a concept that may seem meaningless when the first secondary source bibliography due date is a few weeks away, but – trust me – passion is never meaningless. I have always been passionate about language, spirituality, and history. These flames have lit the path forward for my academic career, so I knew that in trusting them I could choose a research topic that best fit what I wanted myself to do.

In truth, the process of selecting a research topic was actually up to chance. One day while I was reading through biographies of Catholic saints on the iMissal application on my cellphone, I stumbled across a person named St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, also known as Mother Cabrini. A few facts stuck out to me in her brief biography: ‘Italian born,’ ‘American missionary,’ ‘brought faith to Italian immigrants,’ and ‘died in Chicago.’ That alone told me all I initially needed to know about her, Mother Cabrini was to be the anchor of my research project on American Catholicism in the 20th century.

. . . and you know what? I encountered her biography by just being myself, not even thinking about the secondary source due date that, at the time, loomed a mere two weeks away. How much more natural can a process be?

Serra Angel.jpg

Passion had guided my hand and sure enough I gracefully arrived at a research destination. And thinking back to past projects I have done at Loyola University, I cannot recall a single time when my proud academic accomplishments were born of panic and worry rather than passion and courage. Under this banner I encourage all to hasten.

Jumping to speed, I become more and more pleased as I continue to read through the sources I have gathered surrounding Mother Cabrini and Italian-American communities. Our class about Dorothy Day for the Ramonat Seminar has covered the many facets of American Catholicism, . . .

. . . from strict hierarchical structures and opposition to Modernity, (

. . . to the Catholic Worker movement and the open-minded Vatican II Council, (

. . .and it is astounding to see all of these themes and histories form my understanding of my research topic. Italian-American communities were complex and varied, supporting socialism and communism through the efforts of vocal Italian nationalists and anarchists, but supporting also a quiet form of Christianity taken directly from Southern Italy through the pious actions of the Italian contadini (peasants). It was in this historic contextualization that Pope Leo XIII told a young Frances Xavier Cabrini to go “not to the East, but to the West” to do missionary work. The Catholic Church felt the distance between itself and its Italian communities, and Mother Cabrini and the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart played a vital role in bridging that gap. As I am only now beginning to articulate, there were many forces at work in Italian communities at the turn of the 20th century and perhaps an analysis of Mother Cabrini’s life can highlight which of those forces she found the most pressing to grapple.


(Santo Francesca Xavier Cabrini, portrait)

And I know that my time spent learning in the Ramonat classroom will not have been spent in vain, as my head already swirls with connections to my research, relating Italian anarchism to the greater era of Socialism and Communism, and connecting the stereotypes of Italian laborers to the dangers of Social Darwinism that the Catholic Church recognized.

The road of research ahead may be long and daunting, with a Spring semester full of surprises on the horizon, but so long as I follow my passion in what I am doing and have confidence in my own abilities, I know that my research will take me to greater places. To the looming shores of research, and further still.

Ci vediamo,





Colors of Faith

Ciao a tutti,

This past Wednesday the we in the Ramonat Seminar, alongside various other students, had the pleasure of attending a lecture given by Professor Randal Jelks.

Artistic, moving, and passionate, Jelks’ lecture took us back to the early 20th century and dove head first into an analysis of  faith and race as showcased in the storied lives of four prominent African-Americans: Ethel Waters, Mary Lou Williams, Muhammad Ali, and Eldridge Cleaver


(Above: Mary Lou Williams)

A singer, a pianist, a boxer, and an activist – these four famous persons shared more than just a skin color. They shared passion. And to fuel each of their passions and dreams they  used religion as a never ending source of inspiration and hope.

But how can we today assess their identities? Religion is a start. But that is not to say that the color of their skin was not important too. In fact, the more one attempts to separate the elements of their lives, the more these same elements join together and become entangled.

For example, as a blues and jazz singer, Ethel Waters participated in the Harlem Renaissance and became an integral player in the profound and harmonious expression of the artistic culture of African-Americans. But Waters then took advantage of her role as a cultural artist and utilized Christian gospel music to further her career. Waters’ covers of songs like ‘Stormy Weather’ and ‘His Eye is On the Sparrow’stand as the beautiful result of such a mixing.


For Waters, then, both religion and race intermingled and it becomes difficult to determine whether race was an expression of her religion or religion was an expression of her race. Her gospel music highlighted the illuminating inspiration that Roman Catholicism gave her, but – at the same time – her platform of jazz and blues contextualized her religion in a uniquely African-American way. Her Catholicism was different than another’s because she used it as a means to express her race and soul; yet, it still was Catholicism. She, then, participated in two cultures (one religious and one racial), and laid both cultures as the foundation of the other. To be honest, such an analysis is beyond what I myself can cover in this mere blog alone.

Hopefully, however, I can and did give you a little taste of what Professor Jelks’ lecture was like. Unlike myself in this blog, Jelks’ pulled on personal memories of Waters, Williams, Ali, and Cleaver and re-imagined those memories by diving head first into the complex lives of each person. It truly was simultaneously an insightful historic perspective of religion in the African-American community and a touching exploration of the lives of four similar, yet very different, people.

The question of identity is difficult. Jelks’ tackled this question by juxtaposing race and religion for four prominent African-Americans. And in the process, he showed all of us the many different colors of faith that exist.