A legacy of love and service: Cabrini Shrine commemorates 100th anniversary of saint's death

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Tom Francis has a goal.

It is to live until the year 2030.

That will mark 100 years that the Francis family has been involved with the Mother Cabrini Shrine, Francis said, who is one of the property’s caretakers.

“I enjoy the work, but there’s a greater purpose here,” Francis, 69, said. “It’s being a part of trying to continue her (Mother Cabrini’s) legacy of helping people.”

This year, though, Francis is celebrating a different centenary milestone. Dec. 22 is the 100th anniversary of the death of Mother Cabrini.

“Mother Cabrini left a legacy of love and service and it is up to all of us to continue the work she started,” said JoAnn Seaman, the development director at the Mother Cabrini Shrine. “It is rare to have such a sacred space just a short distance from Denver where all are welcome to come and pray and meditate on holy ground where a saint once walked, worked and prayed.”

Mother Cabrini accomplished so much in her 67 years, Seaman said.

Her “mission was to bring the love of Jesus to everyone she met,” Seaman said. “She served the poor, immigrants and children by organizing catechism and education classes, and provided for the needs of many orphans by building orphanages and schools throughout the world.”

More: Get to know America's first saint

The Mother Cabrini Shrine, 20189 Cabrini Boulevard in Golden, is less than a 20-minute drive from the heart of town. It sits on 480 acres at 7,000 feet in elevation.

“It’s a very inspirational place,” said Jeff Lewis, the shrine’s administrative director.

Circa 1912, the shrine began as a summer camp for the girls of Mother Cabrini’s Queen of Heaven Orphanage, founded in 1902, which was located in the north Denver area now known as the Highlands. Back when the camp began, the girls would come in groups of about 20, according age, and would spend several weeks in the mountains.

Although no longer a summer camp for girls, the shrine still hosts individual and group retreats, and people who visit the shrine for mass or as a quiet, peaceful getaway place to pray, meditate or reflect. The Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus — the order of sisters founded by Mother Cabrini who ran the orphanage — still continue to serve the Denver area through the shrine, Seaman said.

“What the sisters have always brought to the shrine is helping people,” Lewis said.

It’s inspirational to get to see faith in action through all those who serve the shrine — including the sisters, volunteers, staff, donors and visitors, he said.

“I think that’s the greatest gift it’s given me,” Lewis said.

M.L. Richardson of Golden visits the shrine about twice a month — something she has been doing for as long as she can remember, she said. Her grandparents, Massimo and Farah Fortarel, emigrated from the same general area of northern Italy as where Mother Cabrini was from, sometime in probably the nineteen-teens, Richardson said.

Her grandparents worked hard and exemplify the type of people that should be welcomed to this country, Richardson said.

And “there’s still immigrants coming here who have great faith in Mother Cabrini,” she said. “They look to her for guidance.”

Richardson recalls walking the shrine’s grounds with her grandmother, and playing with the girls at the orphanage, she said, who added she was raised to believe in the importance of reaching out to those who are less fortunate.

“The whole world could benefit from more kindness and acceptance from other people,” Richardson said. “Even if it’s just one little thing for one person. Big things start small.”

Today, Richardson is involved with the shrine through volunteerism, and has served on various committees for the shrine.

The shrine is a place for all people of all faiths, Richardson said. She feels fortunate to be able to relate to Mother Cabrini, and all that she stood for, she said, and use her as a good example for her own life.

“Mother Cabrini was very devoted to the sacred heart of Jesus,” Richardson said. “And she’s in my heart. I think if Mother Cabrini wasn’t in my life, I’d be missing a part of my heart.”

Mother Cabrini’s legacy includes helping the Italian miners and their families who worked in the Clear Creek, Argentine, and South Park mining districts.

Mining accidents produced a lot of orphans, Francis said, whose father Carl started working for the sisters at the orphanage in 1930.

As a young boy, Francis liked to think of himself as his father’s right-hand man at the orphanage, he said, and one of his tasks was to help out with bicycle repair.

The orphanage closed in 1966, but the sisters kept it open as a day school until 1969, Francis said. Francis was 21 at the time, and moved up to the shrine in December of that year to help the sisters maintain the property — mainly to keep the mountain road open during the wintertime.

Francis taught math at Pomona High School in Arvada for 30 years, and raised two daughters while living on the shrine’s property.

“It’s Cabrini’s spirit that draws you here,” Francis said. “She is still guiding us from her heavenly spot. We’re just the hands.”

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