SAINTLY HEIGHTS. A statue of Mother Frances Cabrini adorns the outdoor shrine in her honor. Mother Cabrini Shrine Instagram
This past summer, a family wedding in Denver brought about an opportunity for me to take our two oldest children — nearly 8-year-old Paul and 6-year-old Patrick — out West.
In planning a couple of post-wedding days of fun, I discovered the Mother Cabrini Shrine, located in Golden, Colo., which is just west of Denver, where my sons and I were staying for the second part of our trip.
I was intrigued to learn more about the life of this 20th-century saint — whose feast day is Nov. 13 — and how a shrine in her honor came about in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Born in 1850 near Milan, Italy, Frances Cabrini desired to be a missionary during her youth, but she was originally denied the chance because of her frail health. Undeterred, at age 30, she joined with seven other women to form the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Eventually, Mother Cabrini would obtain an audience with Pope Leo XIII to seek his support to engage in missionary work in China. The Pope embraced her desire for missionary work, but with a bit of a twist: Rather than head to the Far East, he told her to venture to New York City, where she would tend to the great needs of the torrent of Italian immigrants arriving in the New World.
Upon her arrival in New York, Mother Cabrini would educate the immigrants in the faith and establish schools, orphanages and hospitals. She would venture far beyond New York, establishing schools throughout the United States, Central and South America and back in Europe, making nearly two dozen trans-Atlantic crossings. She would become an American citizen in 1909, becoming the first U.S. citizen to be canonized. One of these projects was the Mary, Queen of Heaven Orphanage in Denver. On a visit to the region in 1902, Mother Cabrini ventured westward to minister to Italian migrants working in the area’s mining operations. While on her excursion, she came upon the site on Lookout Mountain that is now the home of the shrine — land she would purchase seven year later, in 1909, for use as a summer camp for the residents of the orphanage.
The visual centerpiece of the shrine is the 22-foot-tall statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, perched on an 11-foot pedestal high atop a hill. Directly underneath the statue and encased in glass is the Sacred Heart of Jesus arrayed in stones that was arranged by Mother Cabrini during her last visit to the orphanage in 1912, five years before her death from a heart attack* shortly before Christmas in 1917.
My sons and I arrived at the shrine during a beautiful and slightly crisp early-July morning for a brief visit before heading to the airport for our flight back home.
We began our visit by hiking the 373 steps to the top of the hill. The route, known as the “Stairway of Prayer,” begins with the Way of the Cross, with each station marked by mosaic images of the scene affixed to a wooden cross. Following the stations, the route transitions to stone images of the mysteries of the Rosary, before culminating at the top of the mountain, where pilgrims are afforded beautiful views of the Rocky Mountains to the west and the city of Denver eastward. Benches are located at each station and Rosary mystery to provide opportunities for prayer and rest. On our ascent, we encountered an octogenarian celebrating her birthday with a visit, demonstrating that this is a pilgrimage route open to many.
Upon our descent, we visited the grotto chapel for a brief quiet prayer before journeying to the nearby spring. Despite its beautiful location, one challenge with the orphanage during its early days was the lack of potable water on the site. According to Mother Cabrini’s biography, during her 1912 visit, she instructed her sisters where to dig to locate fresh water, and that spring has continued flowing, uninterrupted.
Adjacent to the grotto and the spring is a Rosary garden, which we found to be a perfect spot to recite a decade of the Rosary. Then we made a brief visit to the small museum located in one of the original stone buildings. While small in size, it contains a number of the saint’s personal effects, making it worth a visit.
I highly recommend the shrine for any of the faithful traveling to the Denver area. For my sons and me, it was a great way to learn more about an American saint and to pause to give thanksgiving for a wonderful trip and pray for a safe journey home.
Nick Manetto writes from
*Editor's Note: In the book In Weakness, Strength by Segundo Galilea, Mother Cabrini's death includes these details: "On December 21, she arose early for Mass. At the end, she remained in the chapel intent in adoration, without showing any sign of fatigue. Then she amused herself by watching the Christmas preparations of the sisters. The next day, instead, she did not get up for Mass, which was very unusual, even with her illness, and the religious worried. A sister brought her breakfast and stayed with her briefly, reading the war news. Afterward, Mother Cabrini asked to be left alone. She locked the door from inside. (We know this from the sisters who, during the morning, went to see her. On finding the door locked, they did not insist, wishing not to disturb her.) The pulmonary effusion occurred probably toward noon. It is evident that Mother at no time lost her consciousness or the consoling presence of her Lord. She had probably awakened with the premonition that this would be the day the Bridegroom would call her. At the instant of the hemorrhage, she knew it had arrived. She got up, turned the key in the lock, so that the sisters would be able to enter later. She returned to her armchair and rang the usual bell, summoning the sister taking care of her that day. Sister heard the bell and responded, bearing her lunch tray. She knocked on the door and entered. But Mother had already begun her final journey, this time to heaven. It was twenty minutes past midday of the 22nd of December 1917" (page 160), as per research via the Colorado shrine.