“Distinguished Founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, architect of great educational and health works, despite her fragile health, she extended her work throughout America and part of Europe; she is the Patroness of Immigrants.”
A woman of great courage, Mary Frances overcame amply the fragile health with which she was born, prematurely, on July 15, 1850, in Sant’Angelo Logidiano, Italian Lombardy. She was the tenth of eleven siblings, of which only four survived. Her father used to read her the feats of the great missionaries, among whom she was impressed by Saint Francis Xavier, who did not see his dream fulfilled of founding in China, endeavor to which she united herself. She was unable to enjoy for long the presence of her parents, although the deposit of the love of God that they had sown in her heart would last always; it was the spur for her consecration. It was the natural way for a person who in her childhood had given copious expressions of piety, who aspired to go to the missions and who, although still young, already cultivated the Franciscan spirit.
She studied in Arluno where she obtained the title of teacher in the Center run by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart and, during those years of close coexistence with the Religious Community, she thought her path was there. However, as with all, Providence was guiding her steps and, in fulfilling the Divine Will, she came across the first pitfalls: they denied her entry in that Order and she failed in her attempt to become a Canossian; her request was doubly dismissed given her physical weakness. Surely if they had known that she had “iron-poor health” they would have stretched out their arms, without giving it a thought. However, undoubtedly Heaven’s hand rose powerfully permitting that setback so that she could carry out the mission that was hers in keeping with the designs of the Most High. And Mother Grassi, religious of the Sacred Heart, perceived some of this, who had said to her: “You are called to establish another Institute that will bring new glory to the Heart of Jesus.”
She returned to her home and worked there as a teacher, work that she continued in Vidardo and in Codogno, where the kindly parish priest, Father Serrati, with his watchful eye, discovered Frances’ qualities. On being appointed Provost of the collegiate church of that city, as he was a great apostle, he rescued from the ashes the House of Providence orphanage, and, seen the very poor management of the persons in charge, asked the Saint for help. And not only that but, in agreement with the Prelate of Lodi, suggested that she found a Religious Congregation. The former managers didn’t hide their disappointment and were against Frances but, in 1877, accompanied by other women who joined this project, she professed and was appointed Superior of that Community, increasing the snares that never caught her. In the midst of serious difficulties, she kept the Center going for three years until the Bishop, seeing that it didn’t bear fruit, closed it. Then he addressed Frances, saying to her: “You want to be a missionary. All right, the moment has arrived for you to be one. I don’t know any feminine missionary Institute. You found one yourself. “ And she obeyed.
Perhaps the moment had arrived to realize her dream, the same as that of Saint Francis Xavier, whose name she joined to her own: to nail Christ’s cross in China. She had already founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, opened the first Houses, not without setbacks, and written its rules when, in 1887, she went to Rome seeking approval of the Order. She overcame new obstacles, continued to establish Houses, created a school and an orphanage in Rome. Then she received the request of the Bishop of Piacenza, Scalabrini, to go to the United States, telling her about the thousands of Italian immigrants that were there, living the drama that ensues finding oneself in a strange land, about the shortages of all sorts that they suffered, seeing themselves deprived of spiritual consolation.
However, China continued to be a strongly anchored objective in her heart. However, the personal entreaty of the Archbishop of New York, led her to consult the Pontiff. Leo XIII understood that America was her mission, saying to her: “Not to the East but to the West.” And ignoring her fear of water, which a childhood event had marked in her, she embarked for the New Continent in 1889. It was the first crossing of 24 apostolic journeys she undertook, crossing the Atlantic.
She and her nuns were also faced with hostilities and various difficulties, including Monsignor Corrigan, Archbishop of New York, who gave them carte blanche to found an orphanage who did not see things clearly and received them, judging that they had arrived before the expected time, and suggesting that they return to Italy. “No, Monsignor, the Pope sent me here, and I’m going to stay here,” she answered categorically. That incontestable faith attracted numerous blessings from Heaven. The Archbishop supported her, and she was able to open 66 additional Centers in different places of the United States and also in South America, in addition to the foundations she carried out in Europe.
She risked her life finding herself sometimes among evildoers, but nothing stopped her. She learned the English language and obtained North American nationality. Rigorous but at the same time just, she undertook works of great scope, such as “Columbus Hospital,” the management of which meant she had to overcome numerous difficulties, envies, and resentments. If a nun regarded the mission complex, she said: “Who is going to carry it out, we or God?”
She died alone, afflicted by malaria in the Convent of Chicago on December 22, 1917. She had recommended to her daughters: “Love one another. Sacrifice yourselves constantly and willingly for your sisters, be kind; don’t be harsh or brusque, do not harbor resentments; be meek and peaceful.”
Pius XII canonized her on July 7, 1946.
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