Frances was a frail child, born prematurely, youngest of thirteen children raised by cherry farmers living in Italy. One day the little girl went to visit her uncle who lived near a rushing stream. She made paper boats and placed violet blossoms in them. Frances imagined that the violets were flower missionaries and launched them into the stream, destined for faraway India or China.
Few could have guessed that Frances would grow up to be a famous missionary to poor Italian families who had immigrated to the United States in the 1800’s, establishing hospitals, schools, and orphanages. To her dying day, she served the poor, succumbing to a health complication as she made Christmas candy for children.
I have always enjoyed reading lives of the saints. Today we celebrate the life of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. To be honest, sometimes I have trouble relating to the likes of Mother Cabrini who left her native land, crossed the stormy Atlantic Ocean to start a new mission in New York City. I could never do that. I am a homebody who likes to dig in the garden. I am not a missionary … or so I thought.
On a fine autumn day in Maine when maple leaves shone bright orange in the sun, I was out planting garlic bulbs. Absorbed in the task, I did not notice that my neighbor was walking her dog by our house. She greeted me so I dropped the shovel and went over to chat. We often cross paths in our walks through the neighborhood. It is my custom to carry rosary beads and pray on these walks. On several occasions, she spoke of her husband’s poor health, including depression.
“I have been meaning to tell you something,” my neighbor said.
I had no idea what she was about to say.
“You told me that you pray on your walks. That really struck me. I used to listen to music on my walks, but I don’t anymore. Now I pray. I want to thank you and I have told a friend about what you said.”
I inspired her to pray? I returned to the garden and knelt in the soil, pulling up remnants of weeds, contemplating the conversation. A missionary is one who is sent to spread the Christian faith among members of the community. Nothing in that description is there a call to cross oceans or lift lepers out of the gutter, inspiring as those deeds of love are to us. No, I can walk in my own neighborhood, rosaries swinging in my hand, and lift a friend’s spirit, even just a tiny bit.
I placed the garlic bulb into the hole, covered it with dirt and leaves, hopeful that one day a shoot will rise, knowing that my little actions can make a difference in this world.
Copyright 2019 Kathryn Swegart