[Editor’s Note: Kathryn Jean Lopez, among the many other hats she wears, is a Crux contributor. This essay is based on her chapter “Pennies, Nickels, and Dimes: Immigrants’ Contributions to the Cathedral” in a new coffee table book titled, St. Patrick’s Cathedral: The Legacy of America’s Parish Church.
She will appear on a panel about the book with Cardinal Timothy Dolan at the Sheen Center in Manhattan tonight.]
“You lost your cross? Then you are the unhappiest person in the world, because the one who has no cross is not a follower of Jesus Christ; so I wish you a very long and very large cross full of thorns, which you will carry as a precious jewel with a smile on your lips.”
These words are from a loving mother to her spiritual daughters; Saint Francis Xavier Cabrini was writing to her Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, the order of women religious she founded.
Mother Cabrini, patroness of immigrants, arrived in New York in 1889 to minister to people who knew the cross well as strangers in a strange land, unwelcome and imperiled.
She prayed for the migrants with whom she traveled across the Atlantic, writing, “It is certain they will join our other poor brothers who in the New World are called barbarians, exactly because they seem unmindful of their noble origins, the religion which nurtured them.”
Her sisters cared not only for the suffering and abandoned from her native Italy, but all – just as Saint Patrick’s Cathedral stands today on Fifth Avenue with doors open to all.
“The religious does not know or make distinctions between country, place or nationality, because for her great soul, the world is too small,” Mother Cabrini wrote.
The sisters’ orphanages, schools, and hospitals – institutes “designated for the religious and moral assistance of immigrants from foreign lands” – were established first in New York and extend as far as Denver, Seattle, and Los Angeles.
As with many of God’s holy men and women, Mother Cabrini felt an urgency of mission, knowing our lives are gifts and our destination so much greater than any here on earth. It is fitting that the bronze doors of the Cathedral honor this great woman of the Church and witness of Christ’s love overflowing in her, which gave her the lifelong desire to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
“The Heart of Jesus does things in such a hurry that I can barely keep up with Him!” she once wrote. It’s as if on the bronze doors of Fifth Avenue today, she points us to a miracle that can keep up with the pace of New Yorkers.
Cardinal John Hughes believed that faithful devotion would not only help bring Irish immigrants into the mainstream life of the country, but that the scourges of poverty and violence might be alleviated by a Catholic people who lived their faith boldly and courageously and completely.
This remains true. A civil and flourishing democratic culture needs men and women motivated by the love of Christ. The lives celebrated throughout the cathedral speak to this, as pilgrims ask for their intercession.
If you’re French, for instance, you might want to take notice of Saint Louis IX, to the Left of the beloved Lady Chapel. A workingman from Poland might be drawn to stop and say a prayer during his commute at the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa or Maximilian Kolbe.
During this jubilee year of mercy, the Divine Mercy image and Sr. Faustina are there (her sisters recently spent a day with relics for veneration during the week following Divine Mercy Sunday this year).
A woman from Mexico might pray at the feet of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a mother of hope, whose gaze communicates, as she did to Juan Diego: “Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and my protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the fold of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”
Wherever one is from, the face of Christ can be seen in the lives of the holy ones depicted throughout the cathedral, heralding our responsibility and our hope as people of the Beatitudes:
- How do we bring this living Presence of Christ into our lives outside the cathedral?
- How do we witness to this rich tradition of robust and abundant faith on the streets and offices and homes throughout the city and world?
- How do we, like Mother Cabrini, help immigrants get settled, the sick be consoled and healed, vulnerable life be embraced and protected, the prisoner knowing the Divine Mercy of God, the hungry fed?
Saint Patrick’s stands as a monument to the importance of faith in stirring peace in the melting pot. It is a spiritual hospital and school, dispensing the grace of the sacraments to residents and tourists, the rich and the poor, the hungry and the brokenhearted.
Saint Patrick’s is no museum to its rich history but a propeller, where men and women from every kind of background, bearing any kind of burden, come together in the name of Christ – encountering Him, and capable in Him of going out to renew civilization with love in His most beautifully and radically counter-cultural ways.
I love St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s where I stood for hours praying for the Church in New York as a grade-schooler with my Dad at Cardinal Terence Cooke’s funeral. It’s where I go and hear Cardinal Timothy Dolan pray and preach at the 7 AM Mass, fresh off his holy hour, before all the meetings and greetings begin, occasionally the priest in the confessional alter.
It’s where seemingly everyone is at one time or another – NYPD officer, hedge-fund manager, nurse, teacher, homeless man and woman, and tourist. And even me, praying that those of us in media might point to Jesus as Archbishop Fulton Sheen, buried in the crypt there, did.
Between the Armani Exchange and Saks, across from Rockefeller Center – with adoration throughout the afternoon during the week – it’s an oasis for Reconciliation and Eucharistic rejuvenation.
Saint Patrick’s is a landmark that beckons: “Come in, come home. Be the people who God can reward for eternity.”
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online, and a nationally syndicated columnist. She is co-author, with Austen Ivereigh, of the revised edition of How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice (available from Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon.com).