Wednesday, May 26, 2010
A saint lives half a block away from me in a Catholic church that holds a shrine to St. Francis Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants. She is America's first saint, and she hersel f immigrated from Italy at the turn of the century. She earned her sainthood by establishing hospitals and performing miracles all around the world. In the Italian tradition of preserving important dead people, who lie embalmed in glass cases in churches scattered throughout the Motherland, St. Francis lies surrounded by artificial flowers in a glass case behind the church's altar. Apparently the head in the case is a replica. Her real head was sent long ago to Rome as a relic. The church is surrounded by a high, gray stone wall. On the wall, beside the entrance to the walkway leading up to the church, is a plaque announcing the shrine. Floating on the plaque, St. Francis' disembodied head smiles at you. The smile is gentle, the eyes weary. The picture is black and white, ghostly.