BOROUGHWIDE — A statue honoring Mother Frances Cabrini is just one more thing the governor and mayor don’t see eye to eye on.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is not going to wait for a second round of voting organized by the city’s She Built NYC initiative to see if Mother Cabrini gets a statue in her honor. Rather, he has offered his full support for a new memorial honoring Cabrini, an Italian-American nun who came to the United States as an immigrant and dedicated her life to public service on behalf of the less fortunate.
On Columbus Day, the same day the Diocese of Brooklyn sent a float containing a figure of Mother Cabrini down Fifth Avenue as part of the annual parade honoring Italian-Americans, Cuomo announced that a state commission would work with the Diocese of Brooklyn, the Catholic Citizens Foundation and other groups to fund the new statue.
“Mother Cabrini was a great New Yorker and a great Italian-American immigrant who came to the city and helped scores of immigrants and opened dozens of institutions. She is certainly deserving of a statue, and we will be working with Bishop DiMarzio and the Columbus Citizens Foundation to get it done,” said Cuomo.
“With this statue, I think the Italian American and Catholic communities in New York will feel satisfied that she is being represented — because we recognize in this city and in this state that our diversity is our greatest asset, and every group has to feel included.”
Cuomo’s announcement came after Mayor Bill de Blasio — whose wife New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray heads up She Built NYC — said on “The Brian Lehrer Show,” that the saint is “absolutely worthy of being honored and another round of the statue process is about to begin and her name is clearly at the top of the list because she is an outstanding figure in New York history and obviously it would mean a lot to a lot of people.”
The mayor’s remarks followed a backlash from elected officials, civic leaders and the general public that arose after the She Built NYC initiative (which operates under the auspices of the city’s Economic Development Corporation) announced that, despite having come in first in a citywide vote, Mother Cabrini had not been chosen as one of six women to be honored with a statue.
Following an open call for nominations that, the She Built NYC website said, “drew over 2,000 nominations from the public,” the saint received 219 votes, considerably more than the second vote-getter, urban advocate Jane Jacobs, who received 93 votes, and also was passed over.
On Monday, Oct. 14, Cuomo made it clear that he did not want to wait for another round of votes to determine if Cabrini would receive her statue. Instead, he said he would appoint a commission comprised of Italian-American leaders — including DiMarzio from the Diocese of Brooklyn and Angelo Vivolo from the Columbus Citizens Foundation, among others — to identify an artist and a location for the new statue.
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants, arrived in New York in 1889 with the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Mother Cabrini Park is located at the former site of a church building where Mother Cabrini first ministered to the poor immigrants of the Italian community.
Cabrini’s extensive ties to Brooklyn include working at Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary Church located on President Street in 1892. She also assisted in the establishment of the St. Charles School with Brooklyn Bishop McDonnell, to serve the children of the newly arrived Italian immigrants. The school was located on Van Brunt Street, around the corner from the church.
By 1900, with the concentration of Italian immigrants in our area believed to be the highest in the United States, SHJM Parish began plans to build a bigger church on the corner of DeGraw and Hicks streets in Cobble Hill.
“I welcome the assistance the governor is promising in erecting a statue for Mother Cabrini, which we hope is a monument to her for her work on behalf of immigrants,” said DiMarzio. “We will work with Gov. Cuomo’s office to make it happen.”