In Your Midst

A Meditation on Cathedral Art

November 2003


In 1915, the Perry Hotel just north of the Cathedral at the corner of Madison and Boren was for sale for $200,000. Mother Frances Cabrini wrote home to Italy saying she had her eye on it for a hospital and children’s home.

“The city has a population of 200,000 and is built on hills,” she wrote, “and we are about to place ourselves on a strategic hill which dominates the bay and the city.”

Francesca Xaviera Cabrini, founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, was born in Lombardy, Italy, and throughout her life piloted a multitude of accomplishments serving the poor and vulnerable across the Western Hemisphere.

After raising over $100,000 toward achieving her vision on Seattle’s First Hill, the money stopped coming. People in the neighborhood were up in arms. Another letter home: “They gave vent to their fury by passing around a petition to the effect saying they did not want a children’s home in this beautiful section of Seattle.” Contributors canceled pledges; the bishop’s attorney and even the priests of the Cathedral blocked her efforts. But Mother Cabrini prevailed by resorting to charging some patients fees in a facility that had been meant for the poor. She later called it “my difficult work in Seattle.” Building institutions that serve people in need is always a struggle against prejudice, ignorance and greed. But Mother Cabrini, who lived by the motto, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13), overcame all obstacles by the power of her faith and the strength of her vision.

In 1946, Mother Cabrini became the first American citizen to be canonized. Today, many light candles at the statue of this saint who worshiped at St. James Cathedral, and whose relics lie beneath the altar.
St. Cabrini’s life of service reveals the necessity of a communion with God who asks for every part of our hearts. Her true greatness lay in the countless moments of intimacy between those who were cared for and one who cared—between the unloved and one who was willing to love beyond borders. For this holy woman who worked tirelessly and who prayed long hours at St. James, the total gift of self was an irresistible consequence of her great love for God.

Mother Cabrini, pray for the pilgrims of St. James Cathedral who today carry on your work in Seattle. Gain for us your spirit of faith so that we too will say: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.”

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