Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

The Feast of Mother Cabrini

Before 1861, what is now Italy was divided up into various kingdoms. The southernmost of these kingdoms was The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies ruled by the Bourbons ("Borboni" to the Italian natives), and it was magnificent. From Desmond Seward's "Naples: A Travellers' Companion" writes of its Neapolitan capital:

In size and number of inhabitants she ranks as the third city of Europe, and from her situation and superb show may justly be considered the Queen of the Mediterranean,' wrote John Chetwode Eustace in 1813. Until 1860 Naples was the political and administrative centre of the Kingdom of The Two Sicilies, the most beautiful kingdom in the world. Consisting of Southern Italy and Sicily, it had a land mass equal to that of Portugal and was the richest state in Europe.

Goethe had this to say:

We spent today in ecstasies over the most astonishing sights... Now I can forgive anyone for going off his head about Naples, and think with great affection of my father, who received such lasting impressions from the very same objects I saw today. They say that someone who has once seen a ghost will never be happy again; vice versa, one might say of my father that he could never really be unhappy because his thoughts could always return to Naples...

Everything one sees and hears gives evidence that this is a happy country which amply satisfies all the basic needs and breeds a people who are happy by nature, people who can wait without concern for tomorrow to bring them what they had today and for that reason lead a happy-go-lucky existence, content with momentary satisfaction and moderate pleasures, and taking pain and sorrow as they come with cheerful resignation...

Naples is a Paradise: everyone lives in a state of intoxicated self-forgetfulness, myself included. I seem to be a completely different person whom I hardly recognize. Yesterday I thought to myself: Either you were mad before, or you are mad now ... Every time I wish to write words, visual images come up of the fruitful countryside, the open sea, the islands veiled in a haze, the smoking mountain, etc., and I lack the mental organ which could describe them.

Then came the revolutionaries. The Church-hating Giuseppe Garibaldi, a Freemason -- today, of course, hailed as a hero, along with all the other revolutionaries and internationalists that have destroyed traditional cultures -- forced the Risorgimento -- i.e., the unification of Italy -- in 1861. The effects? Seward again writes,   

The Borboni's memory have been systematically blackened by partisans of the regime which supplanted them, and by admirers of the Risorgimento. They have had a particularly bad press in the Anglo-Saxon world. Nineteenth-century English liberals loathed them for their absolutism, their clericalism and loyalty to the Papacy, and their opposition to the fashionable cause of Italian unity. Politicians from Lord William Bentinck to Lord Palmerston and Gladstone, writers such as Browning and George Eliot, united in detesting the 'tyrants'; Gladstone convinced himself that their regime was 'the negation of God.' Such critics, as prejudiced as they were ill informed, ignored the dynasty's economic achievement, the kingdom's remarkable prosperity compared with other Italian states, the inhabitants' relative contentment, and the fact that only a mere handful of Southern Italians were opposed to their government. Till the end, The Two Sicilies was remarkable for the majority of its subjects' respect for, and knowledge of, its laws -- so deep that even today probably most Italian judges, and especially successful advocates, still come from the south. Yet even now there is a mass of blind prejudice among historians. All too many guidebooks dismiss the Borboni as corrupt despots who misruled and neglected their capital. An entire curtain of slander conceals the old, pre-1860 Naples; with the passage of time calumny has been supplemented by ignorance, and it is easy to forget that history is always written by the victors...

The Risorgimento was a disaster for Naples and for the south in general. Before 1860 the Mezzogiorno was the richest part of Italy outside the Austrian Empire; after it quickly became the poorest. The facts speak for themselves. In 1859 money circulating in The Two Sicilies amounted to more than that circulating in all other independent Italian states, while the Bank of Naples's gold reserve was 443 million gold lire, twice the combined reserves of the rest of Italy. This gold was immediately confiscated by Piedmont -- whose own reserve had been a mere 27 million -- and transferred to Turin. Neapolitan excise duties, levied to keep out the north's inferior goods and providing four-fifths of the city's revenue, were abolished. And then the northerners imposed crushing new taxes. Far from being liberators, the Piedmontese administrators who came in the wake of the Risorgimento behaved like Yankees in the post-bellum Southern States; they ruled The Two Sicilies as an occupied country, systematically demolishing its institutions and industries. Ferdinand's new dockyard was dismantled to stop Naples competing with Genoa (it is now being restored by industrial archeologists). Vilification of the Borboni became part of the school curriculum. Shortly after the Two Sicilies' enforced incorporation into the new Kingdom of Italy, the Duke of Maddaloni protested in the 'national' Parliament: 'This is invasion, not annexation, not union. We are being plundered like an occupied territory.' For years after the 'liberation,' Neapolitans were governed by northern padroni and carpet-baggers...Throughout the 1860s 150,000 troops were needed to hold down the south.

Italians from the Mezzogiorno left their beloved land in droves, heading for America so they could find work and raise families. My paternal grandparents were two of them. My grandfather told my father that he could never visit his homeland again because he couldn't bear to leave her twice. What heartbreaking loss! And immigrants didn't have an easy time of it in America. Pope Leo XIII described the situation in his 1888 encyclical Quam Aerumnosa, "On Italian Immigrants":

How sad and fraught with trouble is the state of those who yearly emigrate in bodies to America for the means of living is so well known to you that there is no need of Us to speak of it at length. For the evils which press about them are witnessed by you close at hand, and more than once in your letters to Us, many of you have mournfully referred to the matter. It is, indeed, piteous that so many unhappy sons of Italy, driven by want to seek another land, should encounter ills greater than those from which they would fly. And it often happens that to the toils of every kind by which their physical life is wasted, is added the far more wretched ruin of their souls. The very first voyage of the emigrants is full of perils and hardships, for they fall for the most part into the hands of avaricious traders, whose slaves they in a manner are, and thrown together by droves in the narrow spaces of the ships, with but slight clothing, they are gradually driven into depraved habits. When they reach the lands for which they are destined, ignorant as they are of the language and the place, and hired out for daily labour, they fall into the hands of the dishonest, and into the snares of those more powerful men to whom they enslave themselves. Even those who by their industry are able to provide the wherewithal of life by continually mixing with men who value everything by profit and worldly advantage, they learn to toss aside by degrees the high aspirations of humanity and to live the life of those who place all their hopes and desires upon this world. Then the troubles of ambition are on all sides in their path, and the deceits of sects, which in these countries are widespread in their hostility to religion, pull down many into the path that points to ruin.

Among all these evils, however, that is by far the most calamitous which, among so many men, and in so wide and difficult a country, renders it not as easy as it should be to obtain the saving assistance of God's servants who are unable to speak to them the word of life in the Italian tongue, to administer the sacraments, or to uphold by the aids whereby the soul is raised to the desire of heavenly things, and the life of the spirit is strengthened and nourished. Hence in many places very few are consoled by a priest in death, and many are deprived of baptism at birth; and there are many whose marriage is not blessed by the lawful ceremonies of the Church, and hence a young generation is born like their fathers, and on every side by man's forgetfulness Christian morality is killed and all that is most wicked grows rank.

It was during this time that our Saint of the day walked the earth. Maria Francesca Cabrini was born the last of thirteen children on July 15, 1850, in Sant'Angelo Lodigiano, a town that is now a part of Lombardy, Italy, but was then a part of the Austrian Empire. Sickly and pious was she, as seems to be the case with many Saints. But despite her frailty, she had big dreams of becoming a missionary, especially to China. Father Amleto Cicognani tells us in his book "The Travels of Mother Cabrini" how she'd play with violets as if they were missionaries being sent off to spread the Gospel:

Although she was but a child, the missionary ideal was beginning to fasten itself in her heart -- only half understood perhaps, but none the less real. In her child's play, she would gather violets and, placing them in tiny paper boats, send them away on the waters of the country brooks, dreaming the while of herself making long voyages to distant lands to carry on the work of converting pagans.

Because of her delicate health, she was refused entry into two different religious orders, so she busied herself with teaching the catechism, visiting the poor, caring for the victims of a smallpox epidemic that came around when she was 22, and teaching school. Still, she dreamed of being a missionary, and these dreams became known to the Bishop of Lodi. Since there was no order of missionary sisters, he told her to start one. And so she did; she founded the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart in 1880. For her religious name, she took the name Xavier (Saverio in Italian) in honor of one of the greatest missionaries of all, St. Francis Xavier, who evangelized in India and led the first missions to Japan and Borneo.

When she was in Rome to seek approval for her new order's rule, the Bishop of Piacenza told her about the suffering of Italian immigrants to the United States. He implored her to go to New York City, and, despite her dreams of China, she agreed, arriving in America with six of her sisters on March 31, 1889.

She worked tirelessly, her accomplishments seeming super-human. Her motto was the words of St. Paul: "I can do all things through Him Who strengtheneth me." Well, God strengthened her to open orphanages, schools (over thirty of them), clinics, and hospitals all across the country, from New York City to Seattle. She also did mission work in Europe and Central and South America, crossing the Atlantic 23 times by the time she was finished. Along the way, she also took the time to become a citizen of the United States in 1909.

Her earthly reward was the well-being and joy of the immigrants she helped. She wrote about "[h]ow moving it is to see mature men cry tenderly at finding themselves again in an Italian church, where the word of God reaches them in their mother tongue, and where all reminds them of the fatherland abandoned so long ago."

But her glorious eternal reward would come on December 22, 1917, when she died of malaria in Chicago. She was first interred in a grave, but was moved to under the high altar of the chapel of Mother Cabrini High School in New York City at 701 Forth Washington in Upper Manhattan, New York City. In 1959, she was moved once more, to what is now the St. Frances Cabrini Shrine which was built next to the aforementioned school. Her body is not incorrupt -- except for her heart, which is enshrined in Codogno, Italy. A relic consisting of one of her arm bones is venerated at the National Shrine of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Chicago, Illinois.

Though the canonization process traditionally didn't begin until at least 50 years after death, her exceeding virtue and miracles inspired Pope Pius XII to canonize her on July 7, 1946. With this act, she became the first Ameican citizen to be canonized.

Mother Cabrini can be recognized in art and in photographs by her simple black habit, and is often depicted as surrounded by immigrants, for whom she is the patron Saint. And, for reasons unknown to me, she's also the Saint to go to when looking for a parking spot. Two little ditty-style prayers you might hear, the second one a little sassy:

Mother Cabrini, Mother Cabrini,
please find a spot for my little machiney!

Mother Cabrini, don't be a meany,
please find a spot for my little machiney!

Try them out!


Some may prepare for this feast by praying the Novena to Mother Cabrini starting on November 4 and ending on November 12, the eve of her feast. For her feast itself, this prayer would serve you well:

Antiphon: Ask of Me, and I will give thee the Gentiles for thy inheritance: and the utmost parts of the earth for thy inheritance.

V. After her shall virgins be brought to the King.
R. Her neighbors shall be brought to Thee with gladness.

V. Most Holy Trinity, hear us.
R. Most Holy Trinity, graciously hear us.

Lord God, Omnipotent and merciful Father, look favorably upon us, and through the merits of Blessed Frances Xavier Cabrini, graciously grant the graces which we need, if our petition be in accordance with Thy Holy Will.

R. Blessed Frances Xavier Cabrini, beloved spouse of Jesus, pray for us.

Divine Saviour, Son of God, equal to the Father, made Man for love of us, because of the ardent devotion that Blessed Frances Xavier Cabrini had for Thy divine Heart, free us from the affliction which weighs upon us and grant us the favor which we earnestly ask of Thee.

R. Blessed Frances Xavier Cabrini, beloved spouse of Jesus, pray for us.

God the Holy Ghost, Consoler of the afflicted, for the tender devotion professed for Thee by Blessed Frances Xavier Cabrini, grant us Thy all-powerful aid; help us in our necessities and give us the graces which we so much desire.

R. Blessed Frances Xavier Cabrini, beloved spouse of Jesus, pray for us.

God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, we believe in Thee, we hope in Thee, we love The above all things. For the greater glory of Thy servants, have mercy on us, grant us the favor which we can expect only from Thee, and to Thee be honor and glory forever.

V. Pray for us, Blessed Mother Cabrini:
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray: Hear us, O God our Saviour; that as we rejoice in the festivity of blessed Frances Xavier, Thy virgin, so we may be instructed in the affection of pious devotion. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who with the Father and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth one God, world without end.

R. Amen.

Today is also a good day to learn, if you don't know already, what the Church teaches -- and doesn't teach -- about immigration.

There are no special customs I know of for the day, but if you're Italian-American, you should make something of it in honor of the woman who did so much for our people. I recommend a dinner of the foods our immigrant ancestors ate -- the "poor people food" that was delicious nonetheless.1 In my family, we ate a lot of pasta fazool or a simple rigatoni, so here's one version of an old classic, with some Panna Cotta for dessert:

Rigatoni Arrabiata

1 pound rigatoni pasta
2 teaspoons salt + a little extra for the sauce
28 ounces canned whole peeled tomatoes, crushed with your hands, juices retained
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 or more teaspons red pepper flakes, however hot you like it
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
grated Pecorino Romano cheese to serve

Fill a large pot with water (just enough to cover all the pasta when you add it, no more), stir in the salt, and place over high heat to bring it to a boil.

In a large skillet put the olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes and place over medium heat. Stir and cook for just 20 or 30 seconds until the garlic becomes aromatic and golden (not brown). Immediately stir in the crushed tomatoes and salt to taste (note that you'll be serving with salty Pecorino cheese). Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 15 minutes stirring occasionally until thickened and reduced a bit.

After the water in the pot has come to a boil, stir in the rigatoni and cook til it's al dente, according to package instructions (use as little amount of water possible; you want the pasta water to be starchy). Drain, but reserve a cup or so of the cooking water. Mix the sauce and pasta in the pan you're cooking the sauce in, stirring in a bit of the pasta water, and allowing the pasta to absorb some of the sauce. Put on plates, and top with Pecorino Romano cheese and parsley. Serve with Chianti.

If you want to beef the meal up, as it were, roast some Italian sausages to serve on the side -- hot or sweet as you prefer. Stick them in a 350F oven for about 25-30 minutes, until they reach 160F. Don't prick them first; it dries them out!

Panna Cotta

2 cups milk
2 packets unflavored powdered gelatin*
3 cups heavy cream (whipping cream)
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla (or you can use 1 1/2 tsp almond extract instead)
1 1/2 cups of fruit of your choice, pureed (cherries, strawberries, blackberries, peaches, blueberries are all good)

Put the milk in a saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin on top and let it sit for 5 minutes. Put the saucepan over medium heat and stir for about 4 or 5 minutes until the gelatin's dissolved (don't let the milk boil). Add the cream and sugar to the milk cook for another 3-5 minutes, stirring all the while. When the sugar's dissolved, take it off heat and stir in the vanilla (or almond). Pour the mixture into 8 ramekins, top each with a layer of the fruit puree of your choice (about 1/4" thick), cover with saran wrap, and chill for at least 4 hours (will keep in fridge for a few days).

* A packet has 2 1/2 teaspoons

Listen to Caruso while eating! A bit to get you started: my favorite, Una Furtiva Lagrima, and my other favorite, M'appari. The first is from Donizetti's opera "L'elisir d'Amore"; the second is from Flotow's opera, "Martha," but both arias are about dying from lovesickness:

And, after dessert, play a little Scopa!

Italian-Americans, make sure your children know about the origins of their ancestors, and the people from whom they hail. Do they know these names?: Amerigo Vespucci; Marco Polo; Giovanni da Verrazzano; Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot); Cristoforo Colombo (Christopher Columbus); Evangelista Torricelli; Guglielmo Marconi; Enrico Fermi; Alessandro Volta; and Giuseppe Zamboni (a priest)? What about: Michelangelo; Raphael; Da Vinci; Donatello; Fra Angelico; Giotto; Botticelli; Caravaggio; Arcimboldo; Titian; and Bernini? What about Vivaldi; Rossini; Verdi; Puccini; and Scarlatti? Do they know the music also of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Perry Como, Louis Prima, Tony Bennett, Mario Lanza, Jimmy Durante, Claudio Villa, Bobby Darrin, Connie Francis, Enrico Caruso, and Luciano Pavarotti? Do they know Rocky Marciano (49-0!), Joe DiMaggio, the Andrettis? Do they know the area(s) of Italy their people descend from? Do they know their stories, their geneaology? Has your family decided whether it's "sauce" or "gravy"? And, most importantly, do you know the lyrics to "Dominick the Donkey" to sing at Christmastime?

Sorry. I got a little silly there. Carrying on...

To keep your children busy before dinner, you can have them make a centerpiece for the table by making a paper boat and filling it with paper violets in memory of Mother Cabrini's childhood "violet-missionaries." The instructions and graphics you need (you just need paper, scissors, glue, and toothpicks or a bit of wire -- preferably green florist wire -- to glue the violets and leaves to):

Something else to consider is a pilgrimage to one of Mother Cabrini's national shrines:

St. Frances Cabrini Shrine
701 Fort Washington Ave.
New York, NY 10040

National Shrine of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini
2520 N. Lakeview Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614

Mother Cabrini Shrine
20189 Cabrini Blvd
Golden, CO 80401

Know, too, that every year brings a big Mother Cabrini festival in Brentwood, New York, on Long Island. The festival comes in late August, lasts for two weeks, and is marked by the usual foods, entertainments, carnival rides, etc.

And, finally, you can watch a movie that is out in theaters now as I write: "Cabrini" (2024), starring Cristiana Dell'Anna. I will try to update this page and the movie page when the DVD comes out.


Account of Mother Cabrini's First Posthumous Miracle
Excerpt from "Too Small a World: The Life of Francesca Cabrini"
by Theodore Maynard

About noon on March 14, 1921, Peter Smith was born in the Columbus Hospital Extension in New York. As a matter of routine the nurse put a solution of nitrate of silver into the child's eyes. She was in a hurry at the time. When she put down the bottle she stared at it, dumbfounded with dismay. She saw that she had used a fifty percent solution instead of a one percent solution, and she knew that that meant the baby's eyes had been destroyed.

Desperately she tried to wipe the solution away, but it was no use. The damage had been done. Without waiting to lay the child in its crib she rushed with it in her arms to the nun in charge of the floor. "Sister, Sister!" she screamed. "Come and do something. I've done a dreadeful thing. Get a doctor."

Two doctors were brought. They looked at the child's eyes, and they looked at the bottle of solution. It was as the nurse had said. She had stayed around hoping that there was some mistake in the labelling of the bottle, that it might not be as bad as she thought. When she saw their faces, she collapsed weeping hysterically.

An eye specialist was sent for. He of course agreed with the other doctors.

"The cornea has gone," he pronounced briefly. "Nobody can do anything."

The Superior hurried in. She thought that there was something that might be done after all. With her she brought the relic of Mother Cabrini and put it to little Peter's eyes before pinning it to his nightgown.

That night she and the Sisters spent the entire night in prayer in the chapel. The nurse had already gone there and was begging frantically, "Please Lord, please Lord! Don't let that baby get blind. Mother Cabrini, won't you work a miracle!" She was not thinking of herself. She took it for granted that she would be discharged for gross negligence. But that poor baby, to have this happen to him almost the moment he was born!

The next morning the doctors came again. One of them swung toward the other after he had bent down to the baby and asked his colleague, "Am I seeing things?"

The other doctor bent down and looked into Peter's eyes with a light. "No, you are not seeing things; bue he is. Those eyes are intact and perfectly normal."

In this case, a second miracle occurred immediately. The very next day Peter Smith got double pneumonia. His temperature was taken; it was a hundred and eight.

The Sisters sent for the doctors again. "Well," they said, "a degree less than that is invariably fatal." One of them turned to the Superior, and said, "Mother, you'l have to do some more praying. Even though those burns have not harmed the baby, this fever will burn him to death."

"Doctor," she returned. "Mother Cabrini has not cured his eyes just to let him die of pneumonia."

They prayed again, thankful for the first miracle, which has spared their hospital from scandal, but pleading for a second. By morning all symptoms of the pneumonia had gone. When the doctors came one said, "I never knew of such a thing. Why, that child is perfectly all right. Not a trace of a high temperature!"

"Look how he's sleeping," said the other. "Mother, your Mother Cabrini can certainly do extraordinary things."

Ten days after his birth, Peter Smith went home with his mother. Today a soldier in the army, all that he has to show for his mishap are two small scars caused by the silver nitrate as it ran down from his eyes.


1  A note about that: we're Italian Americans, not Italians. Our food is often different from what is eaten in Italy; we have different ingredients, for example, and that is fine. Don't let snobby food purists shame the way your ancestors ate. What is comfort food to you might not be held in high regard by some snooty Youtubers, but to heck with them. The same goes for the ways Italian Americans pronounce Italian words: our immigrant ancestors spoke in the dialects of their time. Many of these dialects have died out in Italy as Italian has become more standardized, but the children of immigrants in the United States preserve them. As an example, in Naples, initial Cs were often pronounced as Gs, and the endings of words were dropped. Because of these linguistic ways, "compare" (close friend or godfather) became "goomba." If an Italian American were to use the word "goomba" in Milan, the Milanese would likely not know what he is saying and laugh, and the laughter may well be mockery instead of good-natured amusement. To heck with them, too. The point: "Italian American" is its own thing, and it's only natural and good.

Back to Seasonal Customs
Back to Being Catholic