A dramatization of the life of the much-beloved 19th-century saint Mother Frances X. Cabrini.
Gregory’s debut novel tells Cabrini’s life story, starting with her girlhood in the 1860s in the northern Italian town of Sant’Angelo Lodigiano and the deaths of her parents in 1870. She took religious vows some years later, founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, and arrived in the United States in 1889. As the story goes on, Cabrini and her fellow sisters go on to found dozens of missions and hospitals, mostly with the aim of aiding poor and destitute children, including many from the flood of Italian immigrants hitting major American cities toward the end of the 19th century. Pope Pius XII canonized Cabrini in 1946, and she became the patron saint of immigrants. All these events, of course, naturally lend themselves to hagiography, but Gregory largely and refreshingly resists that temptation. Her version of Cabrini is a winningly human creation with a kind heart, a sharp mind, and a mordant sense of humor. That said, the narrative sometimes reads more like an encyclopedia entry than a work of immersive fiction (“She was in America, where, now at age fifty-four, she demonstrated her skills as a shrewd and successful businesswoman”). But the book’s gentle fictional touches— fleshing out quotes from real-life letters as dialogue, indulging in vivid descriptions of scenery—compensate for its drier patches, and it wonderfully portrays Cabrini’s cheerful pluck and courage. Indeed, Gregory seems to appreciate the more worldly aspects of her main character, who stares down corrupt realtors or cowardly city officials with an irresistible moral clarity. Cabrini’s many devotees around the world will likely love the author’s work here.
An often engaging, lightly fictionalized life of America’s first saint.