A few years back, the old Columbus Hospital on North Lakeview, shuttered for nearly a decade, was razed to make way for a 39-story luxury condominium complex. Towering over its neighbors around the North Pond, the Lincoln Park 2550, as it is called, is finally complete, after begin under construction for two or three years.
Despite the radical transformation of the 3.25-acre site, the shrine to the American saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, which was part of the hospital complex, has been preserved. In fact, as part of the elaborate real-estate transaction that brought the condominium tower into being, the shrine has been refurbished and given an entrance on Lakeview, giving it greater prominence than it had before.
Wandering by on one of my morning walks, I went in, as I had never been inside the shrine and wanted to know who Saint Frances Cabrini was.
The church was unexpectedly large and fancy. It has a cruciform shape and a dome rendered the more dramatic by the sloping ranks of seats and a large pendant canopy over the altar. From the murals on the ceiling, I gathered that Saint Frances had ministered to immigrants.
And so it was. She was born in the Lombard region of Austria and entered the nunnery there, founding the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus around 1880. The order flourished, establishing a number of benevolent institutions in Europe, before her superiors recommended that she continue her mission in the United States. She emigrated in 1889, settling first in New York and eventually founding 60-some institutions to care for the sick and impoverished throughout the Americas, before dying of dysentery in Chicago in 1917, in the very Columbus Hospital I have just mentioned. She had become a naturalized American citizen in 1909.
Her special concern had been to care for Italian immigrants to the US, many of whom were extremely poor. She was the first American to be canonized by the Catholic Church.
I learned afterward that the room where she died is preserved and is actually part of the shrine. I’m not Catholic, but still I am fascinated to learn that I live so near where a female saint lived and died.