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Cristiana Dell’Anna and David Morse in Cabrini (IMDB)

In Cabrini, an Italian immigrant witnesses disease and poverty in the slums of New York and embarks on a daring journey to establish housing and healthcare for hundreds of orphaned children. Source: Australian Catholics.

Italian-born Frances Xavier Cabrini established a religious congregation, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, whose motto is taken from St Paul: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me”.

Forty minutes into this portrait of Mother Cabrini, we hear her say these words. By this stage of the film, we know that this is true story. But there are almost two more hours of Mother Cabrini’s “all things”.

We follow her and six of her Missionary Sisters to New York in 1889, where she defied impossible odds to build an empire that benefitted only the forgotten and outcast.

We meet the young Cabrini in Italy, as a young woman in a religious habit. The camera dwells on her face, inviting us to respond. Throughout the film, the camera will focus on Mother Cabrini’s face – mostly intense, often sad, rarely smiling. She is absolutely determined in her goals and in her confidence in God’s Providence. She states that if you begin the mission, the means will come.

Mother Cabrini had a dream of establishing orphanages in China but had been refused permission by Vatican officials. She eventually meets with Pope Leo XIII (Giannini) who suggests a mission in New York.

Italian actress Dell’Anna depicts Mother Cabrini with an intense interiority; no histrionics. This is a determined woman of faith. The film uses the language of faith (though no scenes of prayer and community – and one might have expected some emphasis on her Sacred Heart devotion, though some glimpses of statues and paintings).

In New York, Mother Cabrini goes instantly into action, rescuing children, searching for accommodation and support.

There are many scenes of her confrontations with the Archbishop of New York, Archbishop Corrigan (Morse) and with the local authorities, especially the mayor (Lithgow).

In the 19th century, while women did not have a place in Church governance, there were many strong women who ran hospitals and schools. When the mayor suggests she should have been a man, Mother Cabrini replies that men cannot do what women can do.

Review by Fr Peter Malone MSC, Jesuit Media

Cabrini: Starring Christiana Dell’Anna, David Morse, John Lithgow, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeremy Bobb, Romana Maggiora Vergano, Patch Darragh. Directed by Alejandro Monteverde. 145 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes and violence). Released 7 March


Cabrini (Jesuit Media via Australian Catholics)