Gramercy block co-named to honor Mother Cabrini

Council Member Rosie Mendez at the ceremony with Sister Pietrina Raccuglia, a member of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was founded by Mother Cabrini (Photo courtesy of Council Member Rosie Mendez)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

East 19th Street between Second and Third Avenues has been co-named in honor of a saint who was a presence on the block since the early 1900s.

Father Arthur Golino, a former priest at Epiphany Church who was recently transferred to St. Patrick’s, was the impetus for the co-naming and said on Friday during a brief ceremony that the 100th anniversary of the death of Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini gave him a reason to push for the dedication.

“We figured that the sisters have been in the neighborhood for 100 years so it was about time they were recognized,” Golino said. “She walked around this neighborhood and 19th Street between Second and Third was always famous for Cabrini sisters.”

Mother Cabrini, who was the first naturalized American citizen to be canonized, came to the United States in the late 1800s to help Italian immigrants. She founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and although the congregation is now based on East 19th Street, missionary sisters are scattered throughout the world and a handful even came from far-off posts in Ethiopia, Brazil and Central America to attend the dedication ceremony and sisters from the congregation helped to organize the event held last week.

The newly co-named street sign (Photo courtesy of Council Member Rosie Mendez)

Golino was also involved in getting a statue of Mother Cabrini for Epiphany Church that was made in Italy and will be unveiled at the church on November 19.

Catherine Garry, a missionary sister with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, told the dozens of people who gathered for the co-naming that Mother Cabrini purchased the land on East 19th for a bargain price in the early 1900s. She was able to do this because no one wanted to live near the elevated train that was on Third Avenue at the time. A hospital she founded was opened there though it was forced to close by the state in 2008. Cabrini Apartments, meanwhile, which offer housing for the elderly, and the missionary sisters, have remained at the site.

“Here on 19th Street, her ministry to the sick developed over the years, especially to AIDS patients,” Garry said during the dedication, referring to the fact that Cabrini Medical Center was one of the first hospitals in the city to accept AIDS patients. “The work Mother Cabrini began in serving the poor and marginalized immigrants goes on.”

City Councilmember Rosie Mendez, whose district covers the newly-named block, also praised Mother Cabrini’s dedication to immigrants, both during her lifetime and the importance of her legacy, which includes a non-profit, Cabrini Immigrant Services of NYC, providing services for immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers throughout the city.

Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, also known as Mother Cabrini

“She was named the patron saint of immigrants,” Mendez said. “This is very important in this country right now. Instead of recognizing immigrants, we have people who are demonizing immigrants. We must remember the work of Mother Cabrini, channel her strength and try to model her humanity.”

Community Board 6 member Kathleen Keely wrote the resolution for the proposed co-naming, which passed the board unanimously. Keely said that she volunteered to write the resolution after reading about Mother Cabrini’s life because she was impressed by her perseverance.

“Just from the get-go, she had all these things working against her,” Keely said, noting that Mother Cabrini didn’t speak English and was frail for much of her life. “But she came to this country and now we can look at (this new sign) to recognize this woman who had nothing and who came here and did so much. It’s a great inspiration and the sisters keep up those services.”

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