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November 7, 2001

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Mother Cabrini's legacy in North Denver

Saint's service to orphans began with 2 girls

The feast day for St. Frances Xavier Cabrini is celebrated Nov. 13. The Italian-born saint, known affectionately as Mother Cabrini, has an extensive history in Denver. Below, her legacy in North Denver.

By Edna Fiore

By the early 1900s the Italian population in the Highlands area of North Denver numbered more than 3,000. Father Mariano Lepore, founding pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, wrote to Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini urging her to send some of her Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart to establish a parochial school and to minister to the spiritual needs of the rapidly expanding Italian community.

Two of the Missionary Sisters arrived in August 1902. About 150 students were registered for the first classes at Mount Carmel School on Sept. 4. The eight Missionary Sisters who were to be the teachers at the school arrived in Denver on Oct. 4.

Mother Frances Cabrini herself arrived on Oct. 24 and promptly rented the brick house at the corner of 34th Avenue and Navajo Street from Michael Notary for the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The first floor of the building was used for classrooms and the Missionary Sisters lived on the second floor. The first classes in the new school were held in early November 1902. On Nov. 17 Bishop Matz visited the new school to give the children his blessing and in order to meet Mother Cabrini in person.

As she was walking through the North Denver neighborhood during this visit Mother Cabrini came upon two very sad little girls in front of a house at 3617 Kalamath St. She asked, "Where are your parents?" They replied that they were left alone all day because their father was dead and their mother had to work long hours on a farm. Mother Cabrini told them that she would come back and ask their mother if she could take them with her to start an orphanage.

With their mother's consent 8-year-old Cristina and 7-year-old Lucia Barbato became the first two orphans to be cared for by the Cabrini Sisters in Denver. The third floor of the Notary house became their home for the next two years. Eventually 18 girls were housed at the Notary house. In 1904 in order to alleviate these crowded conditions Mother Cabrini purchased a large farmhouse at the corner of 48th Avenue and Federal Boulevard, which eventually housed as many as 160 girls. This frame structure, which she named Regina Coeli, was replaced with a fine brick building designed by Mother Cabrini and called Queen of Heaven Orphanage. It was completed in 1921.

The youngest Barbato girl, Eliza, who had been left behind with her grandmother in Italy, finally made the long journey to America in 1905. Unable to speak English the brave 9-year-old girl traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and then from New York to Denver with a note reading "Going to Colorado" pinned to her clothing. When she arrived in Denver Eliza found that her mother had remarried and feeling lonely for her older sisters, she set out to find them.

The only information she had was that they were in "a large building." Using this criteria she made her way from 36th Avenue and Kalamath Street to Regis College where she tried to explain that she was seeking the Queen of Heaven Orphanage. The Jesuit Fathers solved her dilemma and saw to her safe arrival at the orphanage, where she was united with Cristina and Lucia.

Eliza became a great favorite of Mother Cabrini because of her fluent Italian. One of her fondest memories was of being present when Mother Cabrini discovered the spring that still flows in the grotto at Cabrini Shrine.

After three years at Queen of Heaven Orphanage 12-year-old Eliza rejoined her mother's second family and helped raise her three half-brothers and two half-sisters. In 1915 she and Antonio Panzini were married at Mount Carmel Church. Their two children Louise Caruso and Nick Panzini are still active members of Mount Carmel Parish.

Lucia left Queen of Heaven when she was 18 to marry Vincenzo Durando in 1913. The Durando's had six daughters; their one surviving daughter, Elizabeth Raso, still attends Mount Carmel Church.

Cristina became a member of Mother Cabrini's order, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. As Mother Prassede Barbato she taught music and Spanish in Managua, Nicaragua. Mother Prassede passed away at the age of 41 on Oct. 7, 1935. According to the sisters who lived with her, she was singing when she died.

The house where Mother Cabrini found the first two orphans still stands as a hallowed place in Catholic ministry. In 1995 when the small Barbato/Conzona house was on the verge of being condemned, 200 volunteers from the community of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish totally renovated and refurbished the original structure. It became the site of La Clinica Tepeyac, whose mission is "to improve the overall health of the community by emphasizing preventative health care and health education. The services and programs are a reflection of the spiritual values of a faith community that is firmly committed and responsive to the needs of the Latino community."

Approximately 6,000 patients who have limited means and are without health insurance are seen annually by over 200 doctors, nurses and administrative support personnel who donate their time and services. These services and health care education are available to anyone, regardless of religious affiliation, race, immigration status or gender.

This truly is the spirit of Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants, in action.

Gala honoring Mother Iggie benefits Cabrini Shrine

Mother Ignatius Miceli, M.S.C., was honored at the inaugural "La Vita Italiana Gala" held at the Arvada Center Oct.6. Stephanie Riggs of KCNC-TV 4 was mistress of ceremonies for the event. Over 270 guests joined event Chairman Carlos Amato in saluting "Mother Iggie." Sons Of Italy Lodge 2702, "New Generation," were the host organization for this year's event.

Amato read a letter of congratulation from Archbishop Charles Chaput to Mother Ignatius acknowledging her 47 years of service in the Denver diocese as a Cabrini Sister.

Senators Alice Nichol and Rob Hernandez presented a proclamation stating that Oct. 6 has been declared Mother Ignatius Miceli Day in the City of Denver and State of Colorado.

Andrew Hudson, spokesman for Mayor Wellington Webb, read a letter of congratulation to Mother Ignatius from the mayor. Ari Zavarias, manager of safety, also attended the gala.

Louis Colaiannia, world-renowned concert pianist, played his original composition "Echoes of a Mother's Dream," which he dedicated to Mother Iggie. Frankie Rino's band provided music throughout the evening of dining and dancing.

The $15,000 raised by the event has been used to establish the Mother Ignatius Miceli Annuity Fund for the benefit of Cabrini Shrine.

 

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