Tribute room to Mother Cabrini open to public

One hundred one years after her death, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, still keeps watch at Cabrini High School. Her presence has been highlighted in a permanent exhibit of her life in New Orleans on the school’s Esplanade Avenue campus. 

The idea for the exhibit dawned on Jack Truxillo when he became president of Cabrini High a few years ago, and he realized that many Mother Cabrini artifacts were scattered around campus. 

A more fitting home was in order, he thought, considering the contributions St. Frances Cabrini had made in the lives of so many through her establishment of orphanages, schools, hospitals and clinics worldwide. She is known as the “Patroness of Immigrants” and a strong believer in education, saying, “The greatest heritage to a girl is a good education.”

Truxillo chose a little-used room overlooking Esplanade Avenue and began in late 2016 assembling the pieces, which were relics since she either touched or wore them. A timeline of her life was written, and the room was formally unveiled March 13 at a benefactors’ reception.

Featured inside the room are the following items: a desk from the St. Philip Street orphanage; a photo of the Sacred Heart Orphan Asylum, now known as the Esplanade building; records of nuns as they entered the order in New Orleans and details of their travels; records of babies baptized in the Sacred Heart Chapel; a photo of Mother Cabrini’s funeral; a telegram from the Missionary Sisters to the Archdiocese of New Orleans; letters from the sisters asking the archdiocese for permission to build the Moss Street complex; handbooks used by the Missionary Sisters to guide what was allowed in the order; and a diary of an unknown sister who recorded her encounters with Mother Cabrini at the orphanage.

Among Mother Cabrini’s relics are her habit, cape, umbrella and shoes, a head garment and veil, a fan, desk statue, rosary, reading glasses, sewing scissors, pocket watch, personal prayer cards, a minted coin from her canonization, a Canal Louisiana Bank & Trust Company bank book, an orphanage checkbook signed by Mother Cabrini, a paid check signed by Mother Cabrini with Seattle National Bank, a desk statue of Jesus and other Mother Cabrini relics.

During the renovations, the cherished bedroom where Mother Cabrini slept also was updated to include additional pictures of her life and recognitions.

Beyond Mother Cabrini

One case of the exhibit highlights Cabrini’s first principal, Missionary Sister of the Sacred Heart Aloysius Almerico. Featured are her birth and baptismal certificates, rosary, a Cabrini class ring, her Social Security card, a letter from her parents giving permission to become a sister, prayer and rosary booklets, Bible, letter sealer, certificate of becoming a sister, a violin she played and an award from St. Donato School.

Sister Aloysius provided the link from the orphanage to the high school and played a significant role in the inception and success of Cabrini High School, Truxillo said. She was principal for 10 years from the school’s opening in 1959 and then spent 25 years as a guidance counselor and bursar. She also established the Cabrini Alumnae Association in 1985. The school library was dedicated in her honor in 1995. 

A third person instrumental in Cabrini’s history – Captain Salvatore Pizzati – also is honored more suitably on campus. A description of who he was and his contributions to Cabrini now accompany his bust, which is located across from Mother Cabrini’s exhibit. 

Pizzati was a Sicilian immigrant and sea captain who made his fortune with the first steamship company to bring bananas from Honduras to America. Mother Cabrini invited the childless Pizzati and his wife to visit the sisters’ St. Philip Street orphanage.

Once he saw the needs, he agreed to help her upgrade conditions. In July 1904, Mother Cabrini persuaded Pizzati to build a new orphanage that would include a convent, chapel and large auditorium at the cost of $75,000. It was the largest single donation Mother Cabrini ever personally received, Truxillo said.

Mother Cabrini located five lots for the new home near the St. Philip Street orphanage – stretching from Bayou St. John to Esplanade Avenue. Pizzati was honored at a blessing and dedication of the new, three-story orphanage, named Sacred Heart Orphan Asylum, on Feb. 4, 1906.

The public is invited to view the Mother Cabrini exhibit room as well as her chapel and bedroom weekdays, by appointment, by calling Sister Renee Kittelson (303) 915-3647. Call the school for other tours at 483-8690, 482-1193 or e-mail stfrancesshrine@cabrinihigh.com.

“It’s very special and an honor to have these artifacts of a saint, who actually stayed, prayed and ministered in this very building,” Truxillo said. “Our students, faculty, staff and administration get to experience this every day, and we want to share it with the community.” 

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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