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Mother Cabrini is the only Cathedral parishioner to be canonized by the Church.  But numberless others have carried on her work of ministry to the poor, the immigrant, the elderly, the orphan.  This page is dedicated to all those who have labored in the name of Christ at St. James Cathedral parish.

Mother Cabrini Society of St. Vincent de Paul The Family Kitchen   

A Saint in Seattle: Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini

In the south aisle of the west nave of the Cathedral there is a statue of a pale-faced woman garbed somberly in a black habit and black veil, with a large black bow tied beneath her chin. She holds a book and a bunch of violets, and, stepping forward, she presents to the viewer a simple silver cross. Sometimes this figure is mistaken for St. Therese, the Little Flower; and sometimes for the Blessed Virgin. But it is actually an image of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, the only Cathedral parishioner (so far!) to have been declared a Saint by the universal Church.

Francesca Saviero Cabrini, born in 1850 in Italy, would seem by her baptismal name to have been destined for missionary work. To be a missionary was the dream of her youth. Like all children, she liked to make paper boats and set them sailing on the water; but she filled her boats with violets, representing, in her imagination, “a massive flotilla of warriors for God, heading for China.”

Geography was her favorite subject in school. Fellow students remembered “how she kept poring with fixed rapture over the pages of the atlas, imagining her travels to distant places.” This ambition to be a missionary never received any encouragement, not even from her family. On the contrary, it earned her nothing but ridicule. “You, so small and so ignorant,” people would say. “You dare to think of becoming a missionary?”

After the death of her parents, she began at the invitation of her parish priest to teach girls at the parish school. Her heart was still set on religious life, but, thanks to the interference of priests who had other plans for her, she was rejected by the communities to which she applied. Her years of suffering and waiting were rewarded at last in 1874, when her bishop, Monsignor Gelmini, at last set her mission plainly before her. “You want to become a missionary; the time is ripe. I do not know of an institute for missionary sisters; found one.”

Thus Frances Cabrini became a foundress under obedience, which suited her very well. “Obedience. Oh, precious word!” she once wrote. “Word of revelation, ray of clarifying light that diffuses upon us from the Father the manifestation of the divine will!” Her love of obedience in no way hindered her own energetic activity. She soon discovered within herself an extraordinary talent for leading others, for making wise decisions, and for getting immense quantities of work done in a short time. All this in spite of being “so little and so ignorant”!

Love of God motivated everything she did and filled her with tireless energy: “We should traverse the whole world to make Jesus Christ known and loved,” she told her daughters. “A God who loves us so much! Can we not love him with all our souls, no matter what the sacrifice?” Her love of God was infectious. Being with her, the sisters “felt a great change come over them with an increase of strength, alacrity, and capacity. Most of all, she communicated to them the great confidence she had in God.”

The Institute she had founded, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, expanded rapidly, and she established a series of houses in Italy before Pope Leo XIII asked her to go to the United States to minister to the Italian immigrants there. At that time between 50,000 and 100,000 Italians were moving to the United States each year. Most were peasants, without money, without education, and with very little English. In the U.S. they were treated as a despised minority and suffered deeply from the loss of their culture, especially of their religion.

On March 31, 1889 Mother Cabrini reached New York City after the first of many trans-Atlantic voyages, and immediately began founding schools, orphanages and hospitals in the face of prodigious obstacles. She approached the task with that energy which would become legendary. “With your grace, my sweet Jesus, I will follow you until the end of my days and forever,” she would pray. “Help me, Jesus, because I wish to do so with ardor and speed.” Foundations in Nicaragua, New Orleans, and Brazil followed rapidly, and she came to Seattle in 1903.

“Here we are, not far from the North Pole,” she said, quite seriously, on arriving in the Pacific Northwest. She loved the young city, which she described in glowing terms (her childhood enthusiasm for geography stood her in good stead):

This city is charmingly situated, and is growing so rapidly that it will become another New York… The town of Seattle spreads over twenty hills; and though it is fifty degrees north latitude, it enjoys an interminable spring because of the current that comes from Japan… The bishop is very good. His name is O’Dea, and he is happy to have us in his diocese because we bear the name of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Seattle had a large population of Italian immigrants, and she found that “some of them have not seen a church for over 20, 30, 40, and 50 years.” She immediately set about remedying the situation by founding Mt. Carmel Mission on Beacon Hill, followed by a school which later developed into Our Lady of Mount Virgin school and parish. In 1918 the sisters moved to a location on Lake Washington which Mother Cabrini had seen in a dream (Sacred Heart Villa, now Villa Academy). “You in such a short time have done wonders!” he exclaimed in admiration.

In establishing Columbus Hospital she ran into difficulties. She had with much trouble and many prayers acquired the Perry Hotel which stood on Madison Avenue between Boren and Terry. Bishop O’Dea came to bless the building and asked her what she intended to do with it. When she told him that she wished to found a hospital, immediate objections arose. There were fears that this hospital would be too much competition for Providence, the only other Catholic hospital in the city, located nearby on Capitol Hill. Bishop O’Dea withdrew his support and in fact forbade her to found the hospital.

This opposition was devastating to her. “It is I who have alienated the blessing of God,” she told her daughters. “When I shall have gone, everything will be better.”

In her suffering, she had recourse to prayer, and she must have come very often at this time to pray at St. James Cathedral, just a block away.
When she left Seattle in November 1916, Mother Cabrini was already very ill. But before she died on December 22, 1917, Bishop O’Dea had relented, and she had the happiness of knowing that Columbus Hospital was well on its way to completion. Bishop O’Dea was the first bishop to proclaim her publicly as one of the greatest women of the twentieth century.

She was sixty-seven years old at the time of her death. She had long before chosen as her motto the words Omnia possum in eo qui me confortat—“I can do all things in him who comforts me.” The abundance of Mother Cabrini’s accomplishments seem to prove St. Paul’s bold statement true.

Quotations are taken from Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini by Mother Saverio de Maria, MSC, translated by Rose Basile Green. Mother Cabrini is commemorated in St. James Cathedral by a statue in the right hand niche of the west façade, a bronze relief plaque in the west vestibule, and by a statue in the south aisle of the west nave Relics of Mother Cabrini were sealed beneath the altar at the time of the Cathedral’s rededication in 1994.

 

Grace through Ordinary Outreach:  Vincentianism at St. James Cathedral

by Matt Zemek, Phil Schlosser and Michele Ferguson St James Cathedral Conference of the Society of St Vincent de Paul

It was hoped that, through research, the St. Vincent de Paul Society here at St. James could cobble up a bunch of photos, documents and anecdotes that would make the early days of our existence come alive in rich detail. For the Vincentians who serve the residents of Seattle's Catholic Cathedral parish, it would be nice to point to a scrapbook's worth of pictures and stories that pay tribute to the many men and women who have reached out to the poor of St. James since 1921.

But it's actually quite fitting that we Vincentians don't have a whole lot of historical archives to offer. It's oddly appropriate that we don't have many markers of our identity on the grounds of the Cathedral parish itself.

Why? Because the essence of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, often simply referred to as the "Society," is about bringing the parish we serve--and the Christ we worship--to people's homes. Since 1921, Vincentians have been bringing St. James Cathedral to the dwelling places of people in dire need of not only tangible assistance -- help in paying for rent, electric bills, beds, clothes, and food -- but also an empathic, listening presence and meaningful spiritual uplift.

Day after day, week after week, the magic and meaning of St. Vincent de Paul ministry find life away from the Cathedral building, as Christ's words resound in humble dwelling places: "where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst." This enduring idea--first established by Jesus himself in the Gospels--captures the essence of the Society and the home visits that represent the core of Vincentian ministry.

In a strictly geographical and spatial sense, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul doesn't have much of a history on the Cathedral grounds. But that's more than okay, because Vincentians have been bringing the special sacredness of St. James Cathedral--its faith, its ethos of service, and its heart for the poor--to the holy ground of people's homes. The Society here at St. James has extended the notion of church to every home visited within the parish's boundaries. The spiritual home found by many inside the cathedral building, especially on Sundays, has been taken outside to the everyday worlds where people struggle with life.

Vincentians--at St. James and everywhere else, for that matter--have gone to and sought out the poor, trying to fill in the gaps left by a society that continues to ignore its most vulnerable members. It's simple, and it doesn't lend itself to colorful archival footage, but it's the essential, ordinary work of patient people trying to be present to the needy in their time of struggle and hardship.

It's what Vincentians do today, as they walk parish neighborhoods to do their home visits in pairs, and it's what Vincentians--here at the Cathedral and everywhere else in the world--will continue to do as long as the poor are among us. Quietly but consistently, with little fanfare but considerable dedication, the Vincentians of St. James Cathedral will continue to bring church--and desperately needed material assistance--to those in our midst. What began 83 years ago at this parish will continue the same way it started, as a group of Vincentians will carry on in their mission to meet people where they live and extend the love of Christ to those who suffer.

The Family Kitchen:
Thirty years of service at St. James Cathedral

by Matt Zemek

The year 1975 is most remembered in Catholic Seattle circles for the fact that it marked the beginning of Raymond Hunthausen's episcopacy in the Emerald City. But that same year, something else happened that would profoundly affect the life and rhythms of St. James Cathedral Parish: the Family Kitchen was born.

John Williams, one of the co-founders of the kitchen and the husband of current director Kathleen O'Hanlon, used the occasion of the kitchen's 10th anniversary in 1985 to reflect on the humble beginnings of a special place.  In Williams' words, one can feel the spirit of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement that gave rise to the kitchen. But just as important, one sees evident connections with the commitment to justice that Hunthausen would also bring to Seattle in 1975 and beyond:

"It was February 1975," Williams said. "Gerald Ford was President and the war in Vietnam was in its last exhausting months. Twenty miles away from us here in Seattle, the Navy was just beginning construction of a Trident Submarine Base. Those of us who began the kitchen had worked and would work against both the war and Trident. We understood that, whether the wars were hot or cold, the victims were not just foreign or in the future, but actually in our midst, and that, as (Dwight) Eisenhower warned us, every dollar spent on an arms race was stolen from the poor.

An article of faith we (in the Seattle Catholic Worker community) both understood and stood by was that all of us share a personal responsibility to make the future different by making the present different. So, from the beginning of the Catholic Worker in Seattle, it was our intention to open a kitchen and serve a free meal."

This meal is still being served today, nearly 30 years after the afternoon of February 24, 1975, when nine precious souls came to Cathedral Hall to taste Catholic Worker food... and the personalized, direct hospitality that Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin envisioned when they conceived of the Catholic Worker movement in 1933.

Guided by principles of simplicity, personalism (doing work yourself instead of hiring outsiders to perform a job) and radical solidarity with the poor, the Catholic Worker movement--which came to Seattle in 1974--seeks to blur the line between server and served, and to create eucharist in the gritty yet grace-filled terrain of everyday life. While Catholic Worker houses of hospitality have seen ups and downs in the Seattle area over the past three decades, the Family Kitchen stands today as the most stable and enduring part of the Catholic Worker legacy in Seattle.

And while it is, in an all-too-real sense, a sad commentary on our society that a crowd of nine on Day One has become an average crowd of 130 nearly three decades later, the Family Kitchen has at least been able to remain a welcoming, safe and minimally judgmental place for women, families and seniors--in short, for everyone except single men under 55. In the cold of winter or in the searing heat of summer, the kitchen has been a safe haven for the particularly enfeebled and vulnerable members of the larger population, and it was this desire to provide safety for the vulnerable that gave rise to the single-men exemption that has been an understandable point of tension and unease throughout the kitchen's life and times.

Williams put it best in that same 10th anniversary reflection back in 1985:  "The community that is the Family Kitchen is not perfect--that is to say, nobody does it quite the way anybody else wants it done. It is arguable whether we are a community at all. But we are, beyond all doubt, a family--humble, lovable, cantankerous, judgmental, inefficient. No one has the slightest clue how we made it 10 years."

Williams concluded with a line that O'Hanlon has since echoed in subsequent years, as the kitchen has carried on to the brink of its 30th anniversary:  "Like odd vegetables thrown together in a pot of common stew, our individual flavors are deeper, our combinations more rare."

This is the expression of community, individuality and eucharist that defines the Catholic Worker vision of Dorothy Day, and of a humble soup kitchen that has thrown together odd vegetables--and odd characters--for nearly three decades on the ground of St. James Cathedral.

 

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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303