Chicago’s Mother Cabrini shrine to reopen

CHICAGO - For generations to come, it will seem an odd place for a shrine: tucked in the shadow of a high-rise condo building in an affluent area of Chicago's Lincoln Park.

But the National Shrine of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, scheduled to reopen Sept. 30, marks the spot where Mother Cabrini, the first American citizen to be canonized and the universal patroness of immigrants, died. As such, it is the only one of Chicago's many shrines to be built on a spot of historical significance to the person that it honors.

The shrine building, constructed as an addition to Columbus Hospital in 1955, closed in 2002 after the hospital closed and was sold to developers.

It will reopen this fall with a new entranceway and lobby - built as part of the ground floor of the neighboring condo building - and with a new mission, said Sister Joan McGlinchey, a member of the general counsel of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, the order Mother Cabrini founded and brought to the United States in 1889.

Mother Cabrini died in 1917 and was canonized in 1946, and she had such a wide following that Cardinal Samuel Stritch, Chicago's archbishop from 1939 to 1958, helped build the shrine at Columbus Hospital nine years later, Sister Joan said.

But when the hospital was open, the shrine always served as a hospital chapel as well as a place of pilgrimage. It also was always supported by the hospital, even after the hospital itself became part of Catholic Health Partners and the sisters retained ownership of the attached shrine.

Then, Mass was celebrated twice daily, for a congregation made up mostly of hospital employees and the families of patients. When it reopens, Mass will be offered every weekend, and the shrine will be primarily a place of prayer and pilgrimage.

There were pilgrims before as well, said Father Theodore Ploplis, who became rector of the shrine when he was hired as chaplain of Columbus Hospital in 1987. He held that post until 2001 and will return to it this year.

"This was a place where a holy person lived and worked and died," said Father Ploplis, who currently is a chaplain at nearby St. Joseph Hospital.

Perhaps the most popular part of the shrine then was the replica of the room in the convent where Mother Cabrini died; the convent was torn down in the late 1960s or early 1970s, according to Sister Joan. The room that was attached to the shrine also has been torn down, but there will be a relic room in the new entrance space, Sister Joan said, and the first-class relic of Mother Cabrini - an arm bone - will be returned to the altar.

"It's not a museum," she told the Catholic New World, Chicago's archdiocesan newspaper. "But it is a place where we will have people visiting to learn about Mother Cabrini."

There's a lot for most people to learn. Sent to the United States by Pope Leo XIII to minister to immigrants, she traveled for nearly 30 years throughout the country and the world, founding orphanages, schools and hospitals. Father Ploplis said she was like the Mother Teresa of the turn of the last century, and was well known to politicians and civic leaders in Chicago, one of her main bases of operation.

When she was canonized, Catholics from all over the area filled the city's Soldier Field for a Mass of thanksgiving.

Several organizations who claim her as a patron plan to return to the shrine, Father Ploplis said, including the Knights of Columbus St. Catherine Council 182, the Mother Cabrini Regional Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order, the Catholic Physicians Guild and the St. Cabrini Adoration Society. There are plans to start eucharistic adoration at the shrine.

Father Ploplis also hopes to welcome non-Catholics and nonbelievers who might want to see the art and architecture of the shrine, which features walls made of Carrara marble, excavated from the same quarry used by Michelangelo; frescoes depicting the life of Mother Cabrini; and an Italian pipe organ, the only one of its kind in the United States. He hopes they will find a sense of peace there.

The priest and the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart also plan to work with Catholic schools and with the Chicago-area immigrant community, Sister Joan said.

The sisters, meanwhile, are "very much trusting in God" as they work to create a viable plan to sustain the shrine. Their numbers in Chicago have dwindled to six, and they don't have the financial resources to operate the shrine on their own.

"It's a challenge, but it will make a contribution to the church here in Chicago," Sister Joan said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970