Mother Frances Cabrini’s Legacy, Through the Eyes of One of Her Missionaries

An Interview with Sister Pietrina Raccuglia, President of the Cabrini Mission Foundation and member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors

Starting on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2024, the world will have the opportunity to learn more about the life and legacy of our namesake Mother Frances Cabrini, when the feature-length film Cabrini opens in theaters across the country. In anticipation of the film’s release, we spoke with Sister Pietrina Raccuglia, a Missionary Sister and member of the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation’s Board of Directors, who was involved in the creation of the film. Sister Pietrina told us how she first heard about Mother Cabrini, how Mother Cabrini’s legacy lives on in her own work, and what she wants viewers of the film to take with them into their lives.

Sister Pietrina, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today! First off, how did you first learn about Mother Cabrini?

My mother had a very strong devotion to Mother Cabrini. As a young girl my mother had a book about Mother Cabrini and would read me her life story. When my mother passed at the age of 80, she still had that little book she used to read me. Then from kindergarten up to high school, I went to schools where the Cabrini Sisters taught. Everyone just loved Mother Cabrini. She has always been a part of my DNA.

How has Mother Cabrini’s legacy influenced your work and community involvement?

She was a woman of prayer, with trust in God and faith in God. She had this relationship so close to Jesus that she believed she was just his instrument – rather than she was doing all this work on her own. That influenced me.

She was a woman way ahead of her times – she believed in social justice issues and advocated for the rights of people. At that time, women were “put in their place” – she stepped up to the plate because she was motivated by the mission, by a higher power. She came for all, for all of those who were underserved. And that influenced my life’s work.

As a member of the Foundation’s Board, how do you see Mother Cabrini’s legacy implemented in the Foundation’s grantmaking?

Well it starts with the beginning of the Foundation. When they were looking to name the Foundation, they wanted the legacy to live beyond all of us. As a child, Monsignor Greg Mustaciuolo, the Foundation’s CEO, would go with his mother up to the shrine of Mother Cabrini in Washington Heights. Even as a baby, he began to develop a deep devotion to Mother Cabrini.

This Foundation supports the work of Mother Cabrini – education, healthcare, social services, answering the calls of the most needy. This is Mother Cabrini’s mission – and this legacy is going to live beyond all of us.

Can you tell us more about the Missionary Sisters and how they’ve shared in Mother Cabrini’s mission as depicted in the film?

From the very beginning, the Missionary Sisters served the needs of displaced people – we began with orphanages, schools, hospitals, and more. If you see the movie – how Mother Cabrini started working for the underserved, that’s how we began here in the United States. I worked in an orphanage in Colorado. And although the work has changed as we have fewer Sisters, we’re going back to our roots and continue to do the work in a different way.

From a school in New Orleans to a hospital in Australia, we’re continuing the work of Mother Cabrini. Here in New York, we have two immigration offices, one in Westchester and one on Fort Washington Avenue. In Westchester there are ESOL classes, afterschool programs, parenting classes, lessons on knowing your rights, and more. In New York City, we have lawyers who offer legal work at very inexpensive costs – supporting asylum cases, domestic violence cases, citizenship, access to resources, social service resources, and so much more.

Do you have any thoughts on how Mother Cabrini might respond to the issues of today in New York?

She’d be at the border, defending the rights of immigrants. We don’t have [enough] Sisters to be at the border today, but we have the Cabrini Mission Foundation where we fundraise and send money. We’re sponsoring two particular shelters at the border, one in Texas and one at the border of Guatemala and Mexico, that provide beds and materials. Our funds helped build a water well.

But, she’d be there. She’d be at the hotels in New York. She’d be thinking of creative ways of responding.

What about the Foundation’s work from the first five years inspires you most?

It’s inspiring that the Foundation is following Mother Cabrini – funding the needs that need to be funded. There is such a disparity of health in the upper section of New York State: hunger, need for food; dental work for children and adults. It was eye-opening when some of these nonprofits sent in their applications – this is the United States? We responded, and we’ve kept learning and responding.

When people watch Cabrini, what is the main takeaway you want them to carry with them in their lives?

I want them to be inspired by her life, by her zeal and passion for the mission of Jesus. I want them to go away and say, “Now what can I do in my little corner of the world to make this a better place for others?” I’d want them to get out of their own self, and give to others.

There’s a story of Mother – they say she was praying and asking Jesus: please give me your heart. When she went to the doctors she had heart palpitations that were very different. Whatever that means – Jesus infused her with her love. I want people to have a similar experience – especially the young, I want them to be inspired. There are good people in this world.