Originally published in the Staten Island Advance
Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife Chirlane McRay seem obsessed with statues. First it was Mayor de Blasio’s misguided plan to rid the city of a wide range of historical statues, ranging from Christopher Columbus to Teddy Roosevelt, because he and his far left cronies deemed they were offensive to people of color. His plan failed miserably after stirring justifiable anger among the city’s Italian community as well as among common sense New Yorkers who realize that you don’t rewrite the history of a nation and banish beautiful and significant pieces of public art to some dusty municipal warehouse.
Over the past 18 months the city’s First Lady has gotten into the act with an initiative called “She Built NYC” which intends to remedy the gender imbalance of historical statues in public places; currently only 5 out of 150 statues on city property represent women.
Don’t get me wrong, as a woman I feel that’s a great idea because everyone realizes that women built this city, too. What concerns me is, once again, political correctness and a far left bias have crept into a process that should be focused on historical standing and accomplishments.
The woman who received the most nominations for a statue, more than double the second place finisher, was Mother Frances Cabrini (Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini within the Catholic faith), an immigrant and nun who personally and through orphanages, hospitals and schools founded by her and the religious order she started, touched the lives of literally hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and Americans.
In the late 1800s, when another perceived immigration crisis was facing our nation, she arrived in New York City and set about helping the huddled masses of Italian immigrants who had recently arrived penniless in a strange new country with little knowledge of the language, culture and what it would take to survive in their new home.
Mother Cabrini carried out her mission without assistance from the city government; shortly after her arrival in our city she begged on the streets of Little Italy for the money needed to build an orphanage. She would build and operate schools throughout the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn as well as other community facilities. She founded hospitals in Manhattan that would later merge into the Cabrini Medical Center in Manhattan before finally closing in 2008.
The institutions she founded are testament to her actions; between her arrival in New York in 1889 and her death in Chicago 28 years later, she founded and built 67 different institutions in New York and across the U.S. as well as in South America and Europe, all of which benefitted the poor, the infirmed or cared for and educated children.
The ancestors of many New York residents, especially members of the Italian-American community in Brooklyn and Staten Island, personally benefitted from her works and the institutions she founded and thousands still visit the shrine dedicated to her in upper Manhattan where the remains of America’s first Catholic saint rest.
Earlier in the year, She Built NYC announced the first seven women to be memorialized. Among familiar names like Billie Holiday and Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm are Marsha Johnson (born Michael Malcolm, Jr.) and Sylvia Rivera (born Ray Rivera). Their claim to fame seems to be that they were drag queens who co-founded an organization known as STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), were active in the Stonewall Riots and are considered to be at the vanguard of the Transgender Rights movement. Combined they received 86 nominations compared to Mother Cabrini’s 219.
But, let’s not make this into a popularity contest. Let’s look at the hard cold facts. Do the exercise we were all taught as children; draw a line down the center of a piece of paper and list the achievements and the number people who benefited from it. In a city of immigrants Mother Cabrini wins hands down.
The problem is, that would be a common sense approach and as anybody will tell you, common sense left City Hall on December 31, 2013, when Michael Bloomberg walked out of the Office of the Mayor for the last time.
When common sense fails, action is necessary. Take a few minutes to sit down and call, email or write Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray. Tell them the time has come to honor Mother Frances Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants, for the mark she left on our city of immigrants, our nation and all the generations of people who have benefitted from her acts of charity.