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A Catholic Mom’s Review of Cabrini

Updated: Mar 22

I took my 9yo to see Cabrini last night… In hindsight, I wouldn’t take her and here’s why:

The reasons I would not take your child if they are 13 or younger

If your 9yo is pretty tender-hearted, and the opening scene is heartbreaking. This movie portrays just how bad life was for an Italian in New York in the early 1900s. The living conditions are terrible, children are without parents because parents have died from sickness or have even killed themselves. It’s tragic and hard to watch if you are an adult. It can be a lot for a young girl to witness. 

There are words like pimp and prostitute in the movie as well and don’t explain what it means (thank God) so my daughter asked what those words meant and I just said, “I’ll tell you later” and never did. I believe she is too young to be aware of such realities right now. I would be more comfortable telling her about these realities when she is older.

There are also several racial slurs. I understand why they are in the movie, but they are always hard to hear. The movie did a wonderful job of using these words to communicate the hatred many Americans had for immigrants of this time. 

The reasons everyone should see it (even kids 14 or so and up):

She is prayerful in a hidden way

I loved this movie. It was incredibly moving. It could have been even better if the movie portrayed her praying more often. As faithful Catholics, we understand the reality that greatness is God in us. We go to God for our strength.

While she didn’t explicitly pray to God or actively talk to Him in the movie, she did portray a prayerful woman. On several occasions, she quotes scripture in the movie but it’s disguised as dialogue. In several scenes she is staring off into space, and I just know she is praying. In one of the scenes near the end, she’s seen in a chapel, just sitting in God’s presence in the way a scared child just wants to sit near her father. 

Cabrini is a Feminine Genius (some spoiler descriptions of scenes)

I think this movie is incredibly pro-woman and not in the modern feminist type of way where the only acceptable woman is one who “acts like a man.” Mother Cabrini is bold, and she gets stuff done. She is a leader and while physically weak, she is an incredibly strong character. She isn’t held back by fear and truly lets God’s strength shine through her weakness. 

There are several instances where Mother Cabrini beautifully displays the Feminine Genius. 

One instance that really struck me was after she witnessed the death of one of her “children.” Heartbroken, she sat next to Paulo, another one of her much younger “children”. The world would tell her to “be strong” and comfort Paulo, one of her other children, but she just sits next to him and sobs. 

Alice von Hildebrand says women, “are not ashamed of their tears.” In fact it’s in this authentic vulnerability that often elicits the best that is in men, which is the case for Cabrini’s and Paulo. This little boy sees her tears and puts his arm around her. Von Hildebrand continues in her book, The Privilege of Being Woman, the feminine vulnerability appeals, “to what is best in men, namely their chivalrous instinct to help those weaker than themselves… Men appreciate being called upon.”

The vulnerability of women calls all of mankind to be better.

Mother Cabrini’s Maternity

Her boldness comes from a desire to love the unlovable. She and her sisters fed, clothed, taught and loved these children so well. Some of my favorite scenes were watching the joy on her face while loving the orphans she met.

In one instance, a boy Paulo, uses a gun to protect the house, against Cabrini’s wishes His intentions were good, but the way Mother Cabrini deals with the aftermath is exemplary of maternity. She takes Paulo aside, away from everyone else. She pulls out the gun (after taking the bullets out) and gives it back to him, saying that it was his property, but she was wondering what he would do with it. She could have punished him, scolded him, or as many of us moms are tempted to do, shamed him for the mistake he made. Instead, she made room for him, respected his dignity and called him higher, to be better. I was taking notes, believe me. 

Cabrini’s Weakness and Strength

Women are physically weaker than men. In Cabrini’s case, she was chronically ill, making her even weaker. And yet, God was incredibly strong in her. Cabrini was very aware of her weakness and limitations. Yet, She doesn’t serve her weakness, but lets God use it. Throughout the movie she is reminded of her weakness. This movie is trying to tell us women something: In the words of Alice Von Hildebrand, “to be reminded of one’s weakness is, from a supernatural point of view, a grace…To be conscious of one’s weakness and trust in God's help is the way to authentic strength and victory.”

Women may be told they can’t, but if it is God’s will, He will make a way, often through their weakness.

Cabrini’s life effortlessly illustrates the strength and power of God. She just kept saying “yes” when the world kept telling her, “no.”

The Visitation at work

We learn authentic femininity from the supreme model of femininity: Mary our mother. In the workshop of femininity I give to mothers and daughters, we follow Mary’s life in Luke’s gospel and the joyful mysteries of the rosary as a guide to live the genius of femininity. 

In the visitation, Mary models the importance of female friendship. After God does something miraculous in her life, she goes out to see Elizabeth. Elizabeth immediately recognizes the good God has done in Mary’s life and speaks of it. 

Women need friendships like these to remind us of what is good about ourselves, and how God wants to use us.

Cabrini illustrates this holy friendship, women seeing the good in one another and encouraging one another on the path of doing God’s will.

In Conclusion

See this movie. It’s beautiful. I recommend linking arms with a few women from your parish and watching this, then going out for drinks or dessert and chatting about what you thought. 

I would not recommend taking your children unless you are comfortable letting them hear words like pimp, prostitute and letting them see children live in squalor and even die. I would think 14 years old and older. 

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