Mother Cabrini statue is unveiled today at the South Cove

I wondered what this space was being prepped for, just south of South Cove, and it turns out to be a statue of Mother Cabrini — Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini — which Gov. Cuomo unveiled today in Battery Park City, honoring a one-time New Yorker who founded schools, hospitals and orphanages around the turn of the last century. N. got the photos after the fact and chatted with the artists, Jill Burkee and Giancarlo Biagi.

Cuomo wanted to honor an Italian American (maybe since Columbus himself is no longer considered much of a hero?) and bring some symbolic balance to the statues around the city: there are 150 and five of them are women (you can’t count fictional women, if you are about to cite Alice in Wonderland). Chirlane McCray and then-Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen started that initiative two years ago. But I am sure there are other political machinations afoot, since this seems an odd time and an odd place for the statue.

“Now, Italian Americans have two great statues in New York City – the Christopher Columbus statue and the Mother Cabrini statue,” Cuomo announced at the Columbus Citizens Foundation Celebration Gala this past weekend, “and they will serve to educate a new generation of New Yorkers and all the international tourists who come here on the proud and true legacy of Italian Americans, who we are, and what we have done to make this country that we love so much even better.”

Cuomo has been busy adding memorials to our neighborhoods — though on state property — over the past couple years. He has one scheduled for the end of Chambers at North End Avenue to honor the Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria, and in 2018, unveiled one in Hudson River Park in the Village that honors the LGBT victims of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting. Battery Park City already has the Irish Hunger Memorial, the 9/11 memorial in South Cove, the NYC Police Memorial wall, and a section of the Berlin Wall.

Frances Cabrini was born in Italy in 1850 and as the youngest of 13 students, was driven to join a missionary. Yet because of her poor health, her own teachers wouldn’t have her as a nun so she founded her own mission along with several other women. The group taught catechism classes and established several orphanages in Italy, but in an audience with Pope Leo XIII they were instructed to “go west.” The Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus landed in New York City in 1889 and opened their first orphanage in Ulster County in 1890.

She then founded Columbus Hospital in 1892 in a residence on 12th Street, which would eventually become Cabrini Medical Center until its closure in 2008. But the sisters also founded schools, hospitals and orphanages all over the country, and it was in Chicago that she died, while wrapping Christmas candy for children, on Dec. 22, 1917.

She was canonized in 1946 by Pope Pius XII — she is now considered the patron saint of immigrants, though she became a US citizen in 1909 — and her body was exhumed, as I guess is typical for saints, divided and distributed to shrines around the world. Here in the city, her shrine is at the base of Fort Tryon Park in Inwood.