Prayers answered: Cuomo throws support behind Cabrini statue

Francesca Xavier Cabrini was the first U.S. citizen canonized as a saint. Italian Americans have called on the city to erect a statue in Cabrini’s honor. Photo in the public domain/Wikimedia Commons.

Francesca Xavier Cabrini was the first U.S. citizen canonized as a saint. Italian Americans have called on the city to erect a statue in Cabrini’s honor. Photo in the public domain/Wikimedia Commons.

By Victoria Merlino

Followers of Francesca Xavier Cabrini who want to see the first U.S. saint immortalized as a New York City statue may have just had their prayers answered.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that he would establish a state-led commission to build a Cabrini statue. Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants, was an Italian missionary who came to the United States in 1889 to educate Italian immigrants. She was canonized in 1946 — the first U.S. citizen ever given saint status. 

“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,” Cuomo said in a statement. “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.”

Calls for a Cabrini statue began when New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray launched the “She Built NYC” initiative to correct the gender gap in the city’s monuments — only five of the city’s 150 statues of historical figures are women, and all are in Manhattan. 

The initiative prompted an open call for nominations, with the public submitting suggestions for statues. Cabrini received the highest number of votes, with 219. 

Jane Jacobs, a community activist, came in second in the public nominations with 93 votes. Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, came in third with 91 votes. Though Cabrini and Jacobs were passed over by the initiative, Chisholm was chosen to become a statue in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, waves as he marches behind a banner with an entourage, during the Columbus Day Parade in Manhattan. Cuomo announced the same day that he would be establishing a state-led commision to construct a Cabrini statue. AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, waves as he marches behind a banner with an entourage, during the Columbus Day Parade in Manhattan. Cuomo announced the same day that he would be establishing a state-led commision to construct a Cabrini statue. AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews.

Community leaders, including Queens State Sen. Joseph Addabbo, voiced their confusion about the choice. 

“I am not disputing the women chosen by the panel for this initiative, but I am questioning why ‘She Built NYC’ would hold a public poll and then decide to ignore the voice of the people by not including the woman who finished with the most votes by a large margin,” Addabbo said in August.

Other women chosen to be immortalized with statues include anti-segregationist Elizabeth Jennings Graham, public health advocate and doctor Helen Rodriguez Trías, transgender activists and icons Marsha Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, and Katherine Walker, the keeper of the Robbins Reef Lighthouse. The statues will be scattered throughout the five boroughs, and Mayor Bill de Blasio committed up to $10 million over the next four years for the project.

Queens will receive a statue of jazz legend Billie Holiday near Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens. 

The Cabrini issue was thrust back into the spotlight last week when actor Chazz Palminteri called into WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show to rip into de Blasio about the lack of a statue. 

However, the Mayor’s Office applauded Cuomo for joining in the city’s efforts to honor significant women, a spokesperson for de Blasio told the The Wall Street Journal in a statement on Monday. 

A spokesperson from “She Built NYC” told the Eagle in August that the nomination process began with the public call, from which the choices for the statues were all reviewed by an advisory committee.

City government made the final choices for the statues’ subjects based on the committee and the public’s recommendations, along with other factors like location, existing publicly accessible monuments, site feasibility and commitment to diverse representation. 

“She Built NYC” appreciated the enthusiasm for honoring Cabrini, according to the spokesperson, and said the group was proud that New York City has a shrine, street and parkland named in her honor. The spokesperson also said the advisory committee will consider that Cabrini’s nomination as they pursue future monuments.