Skip to content

Review: 'Cabrini' strikes the right notes of nun's missions to America

Samantha Smith says the new Catholic flick is worth a watch, with strong acting and a compelling American story with an Italian twist.

(Angel Studios)

One way to celebrate the life of a Catholic saint and celebrate Women’s History Month all at once is by seeing “Cabrini,” now in theaters. 

In the film, we meet Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini (Cristiana Dell’Anna) in the late 1800s as the founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Italy. When she asks Pope Leo XIII (Giancarlo Giannini)for permission to open orphanages and serve the poor in China, he urges her to start in the United States—specifically New York—where Italian immigrants are facing hardship, poverty, and segregation. 

Despite her poor health, few resources, and lack of support from the community and leadership in the Catholic Church, Cabrini opens an orphanage and hospital for Italian immigrants in New York. She would later go on to open schools, orphanages, and hospitals around the world, including in China.

The film highlights Cabrini’s resilience, which is truly inspiring even centuries after her death. Dell’Anna’s acting is a perfect balance between frailness, portraying Cabrini’s childhood illness, and courage despite many obstacles. You can’t help but root for her and her religious sisters as they navigate the triumphs and trials of their mission.

New York Archbishop Michael Corrigan (David Morse) and the fictional Mayor Gould (John Lithgow) are the antagonists of the film, determined to prevent Cabrini’s work. From the passiveness of the archbishop to the mayor’s selfish nature, both actors bring nuances to their roles that fit well with Dell’Anna’s steadfast performance.

Two themes stood out most in the film. The first is how Cabrini’s story feels as true to today’s world as it did in her time. While the cultures of today’s immigrants are different, there are continued efforts from American citizens and government leadership to cast them out of the country and ignore their human dignity. However, America was founded on the idea of immigration—that no matter where you come from, you can come here and live a happy and prosperous life.

The second is how Church leadership has not always been on the right side of progress or the needs of its community. The archbishop in the film plays the “safe” route—determined not to stir the pot or anger the mayor. And while Pope Leo XIII eventually supports Cabrini and her mission, he didn’t start out that way in the film. As lay Catholics, we can empathize with Cabrini’s challenges to the Church, to push it closer to its mission of helping those in need. Her story serves as motivation to continue that work now.

“Cabrini” is directed by Alejandro Gómez Monteverde, whose previous work includes “Sound of Freedom,” “Little Boy” and “Bella.” The movie was produced by Angel Studios, an independent media company and free streaming platform that is home to Christian-based content such as “The Chosen” and “Young David.”

In its nearly 150-minute run time, “Cabrini” tells an enduring story of love, faith, and courage. May we all be inspired by the life of Mother Cabrini to follow God’s purpose for our lives despite all adversities.

Samantha Smith is a copy and content writer based in Atlanta. She worked for the Archdiocese of Atlanta for nearly a decade in various roles, including as a staff writer for The Georgia Bulletin, where she won numerous Catholic Press Awards for her writing and social media campaigns. Connect with Samantha by following her Catholic blog, Spirit and Sparkle, and her Twitter/X at @BeimaxCreates.

Want to support the work of BCM? You have options.

a.) click to give (fee-free) on Zeffy

b.) click to give on Facebook