The Working Catholic: Shrine, Statue and Boat by Bill Droel
Three Catholic women, champions of the poor, are honored with landmarks in lower Manhattan.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, SC (1774-1821) came from a prominent New York City family and married a wealthy merchant. But difficulties arrived soon enough, including the death of her husband to tuberculosis. Thereafter Seton became a Catholic and moved to Maryland. There she established a Catholic academy for girls; the first Catholic school in the U.S. She then founded a religious order dedicated to serving poor children. Today six Sisters of Charity congregations come from Seton’s efforts. They sponsor social service agencies, hospitals and a college, plus serve in other capacities. Seton is an official saint in Roman Catholic and Episcopal traditions. The latest biographies are American Saint by Joan Barthel (St. Martin’s Press, 2014) and Elizabeth Seton by Catherine O’Donnell (Cornell Press, 2018). Her family’s home is now a church, Our Lady of Holy Rosary. In 1965 a shrine to St. Elizabeth was dedicated there (www.spcolr.org). It is visible from Battery Park.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled an attractive statue of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, MSC (1850-1917) in Battery Park this past October. Like the saint it honors, the statue’s back story is controversial. Chirlane McCray is the wife of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. In 2017 she launched “She Built NYC Project” to erect statues of prominent New York women, balancing the city’s statues of men. She asked for nominations. About 1,800 arrived and Cabrini got the most support. McCray rejected the nominees from the project’s review panel, so Cabrini was out. “Growing up as an African-American woman, I didn’t see anyone who represented me in media or popular culture, even though women make incredible contributions,” McCray said. The project then commissioned six statues of McCray’s choosing, honoring seven women.
Cabrini, the founder of the Missionary Sisters of Sacred Heart, is the first U.S. citizen to be an official saint. (Seton is the first U.S.-born official saint.) Starting in 1880 Cabrini, along with seven other sisters, sponsored a workshop and schools for girls in Italy. With the encouragement of the pope Cabrini and companions came to New York City in 1889 to assist immigrants. Upon arrival, NYC’s archbishop told her to return. But Cabrini persisted. She opened an orphanage, then schools and a hospital. Eventually she started 67 institutions, including in Chicago and five other U.S. cities. Her national shrine is here in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Recent biographies include God’s Messenger by Nicole Gregory (Barbera Foundation, 2018) and Immigrant Saint by Pietro Di Donato (Literary Licensing, 2011).
Whitehall Terminal is just east of NYC’s Battery Park. That’s where tourists and commuters catch the ferry to Staten Island. One of three new boats in NYC’s Department of Transportation fleet is named in honor of Dorothy Day (1897-1980). It will launch March 26, 2022.
With Peter Maurin (1877-1949), Day founded the Catholic Worker movement (www.catholicworker.org), headquartered (if that is the proper word) in the Lower East Side. The Catholic Worker houses of hospitality, of which there are about 200 in the U.S., provide food and other services to the unemployed and immigrants/refugees. Following Day’s example, they also resist warfare and model an alternative to extreme capitalism. Several of the houses publish a newspaper or newsletter, each similar in style to the NYC Catholic Worker newspaper.
Day is advancing through the official saint-making pipeline. Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice by John Loughery and Blythe Randolph (Simon & Schuster, 2020) is a recent biography.
Droel edits a free printed newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)