‘Cabrini’ is a moving tribute to a resilient woman

A new biopic on St. Frances Cabrini is worth watching, despite some melodrama.
Arts & Culture


Directed by Alejandro Monteverde (Angel Studios, 2024)

In 1946, Frances Xavier Cabrini became the first U.S. citizen to be canonized. “Mother Cabrini,” as she was known, cofounded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in her home country of Italy. Although frail, with a lifelong lung condition, she was headstrong and believed she was called to be a missionary in China.

To do that, she needed a directive from the pope. It is at this juncture we meet this remarkable woman in the 2024 biopic Cabrini. Portrayed by Italian actress Cristiana Dell’Anna, the nun is steely and unwavering but also pragmatic. When the pope blocks her plans, instead suggesting she take her mission to America and tend to the struggling Italian immigrants in New York City, she pivots, bringing a group of fellow sisters to one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the Big Apple. With nowhere else to go, these dark-caped, cross-wearing sisters are forced to spend their first night in a brothel. It’s a rocky start on a path that will have many obstacles—an unsupportive archbishop, a crooked mayor, a dearth of funds to build first an orphanage, then a hospital, and in time, much more.

Despite the challenges and her persistent ill health, the resourceful Cabrini always finds a way. And this drive sets the pace of the film, which moves along briskly and absorbingly despite some melodramatic subplots.

With her expressive face, Dell’Anna gives this unassuming nun depth and passion. Veteran TV actor David Morse is believable as the New York archbishop who finds Cabrini more of a nuisance than an asset. And John Lithgow is subtly menacing as New York’s Mayor Gould.


Cabrini is a moving tribute to an inspiring woman who overcame tremendous odds and let nothing stop her from making an impact on the world.

This article also appears in the June 2024 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 89, No. 6, page 38). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Angel Studios