‘Cabrini’ Ending Explained & Movie Recap: Was Mother Cabrini Able To Build Her Empire Of Hope?

What is faith, if not hope, persevering? After all, the foundation of the spiritual, unifying medium was built upon the hope for a better tomorrow—something that is so well emulated by the biographical drama Cabrini, which revolves around the life and exploits of Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini. In late 19th-century America, fighting against the impossible odds of bigoted bureaucracy and a hatemongering populace who perceived immigrant Italian-Americans as second-class citizens, Mother Cabrini created a safe haven for the impoverished refugees, who ultimately created the socio-economic backbone of the Land of Liberty. Eventually, the influence of Mother Cabrini’s benevolent deeds spread across the globe, and her wish to build an ‘Empire of Hope’ by serving the underprivileged, destitute section of the worldwide populace was fulfilled. 


Cabrini presents the story of Mother Cabrini in the form of a historical period piece, which helps viewers better get acquainted with the tribulations of the period. However, aside from the strength in the performance of Cristiana Dell’Anna as Mother Cabrini, there are no interesting character dynamics to hook viewers into the movie, and as a result, the narrative progresses more like a dramatized documentary than a soulful account of the struggle and success of Mother Cabrini.

Spoilers Ahead


How Did Mother Cabrini Help the Immigrant Orphans of Five Points?

Right from the beginning,Cabrini addresses the plight of hapless Italian-American immigrants in America, as the movie opens in New York City in 1889, where a young boy, Paolo, is seen running across the streets while carrying his dying mother in a wheelbarrow. Partially due to language differences, but mostly due to racial prejudice, Paolo’s fervent requests to have his mother treated are denied by a prominent city hospital, leading to her inevitable death. Alone and scared, Paolo finds company among orphans living in the underbelly of the city, where he is given shelter by a fellow orphan, Enzo. 

As the scene shifts to an all-sister-run orphanage in the pastoral landscape of Cordogno, Italy, viewers meet Mother Cabrini, the founder of the charitable religious order, which focuses primarily on reinstituting orphan children. Cabrini receives a telegram from the Vatican, as her multiple requests to the Catholic order to expand her organization’s charitable efforts to the East have finally been noticed by Pope Leo XIII himself. Initially unwilling to assist Cabrini, as a religious order led by a woman is unprecedented in the history of the church, the Pope ultimately decides to make an exception after he comes to appreciate Cabrini’s unshakable determination and strength of willpower. However, the Pope instructs her to begin her mission in the West, in America, where a significant number of poor Italians have ventured through the last few decades and are living in inhospitable conditions.


Battling respiratory disease since a young age after surviving a near-death experience, Cabrini has often found herself at the wrong end of situations, along with the world trying to push her over the edge, trying to remind her of how the fair sex are supposed to live and respond under the whims of patriarchy. And as she arrives in New York, things remain fairly similar, as the immediate resistance she faces comes in the form of the good-for-nothing priest Morelli, the uncooperative Archbishop Corrigan, and racist degenerates. However, the experiences of her life have only made her more resolute with time, and facing the present adversities, Cabrini’s humanitarian zeal only grows even more ambitious in scope. The plight of the orphans at Five Points, the infamous locality afflicted by overpopulation, crime, and disease, moves Cabrini, and she immediately begins her efforts to provide them with a shelter by mending the dilapidated residence provided by the church. Upon her arrival, she had received shelter in the dingy bedroom of Vittoria, a luckless immigrant who had to survive by selling her body, and Cabrini took her under her wing in order to provide her with a better chance at life. 

Going inside sewers to search for runaway immigrant kids and orphans, Cabrini ignores her health, and Dr. Murphy, a benefactor of her cause, pronounces her ailment to be worsening. Still undeterred, Cabrini continues to take on more challenges. Fear of death doesn’t scare her; instead, she is afraid of not doing enough when she still has the chance to do so. 


The orphan kids like Enzo and Paolo, who have strayed off to a life of crime by now, are enticed at the sight of a respectable, good life and join Cabrini’s orphanage. Once, as Vittoria’s pimp, Geno, tries to forcefully take her back, a nervous Paolo cripples him by shooting at his leg. The little kid gains much-needed guidance later from Cabrini and throws away the gun of his late father, who had shot himself to death using it. Vittoria gets jumped by Geno once again, and this time she defends herself by stabbing Geno to death. Cabrini comforts a distraught, repentant Vittoria by sharing her realization that she and Vittoria share a common ground as survivors. Both of these incidents are of incredible importance in assessing Mother Cabrini as a person, whose humanity shaped the direction of her faith and inspired many lives in the process.

How Did Cabrini Square Off Against Men in Power?

The next and toughest hurdle Cabrini faced was from the authoritative bodies of New York, especially from the mayor of the city, who frowned upon Cabrini’s effort to get a residence in the downtown part of the city. Previously, the mayor had shared his unwillingness to assist the Italians, to which Cabrini had responded by taking help from New York Times’ reporter Mr. Calloway, whose article showcasing the reality of Five Points had proven to be a helpful aid for Cabrini’s cause. Upon the Archbishop’s request, Cabrini shifted her family to an upstate residence in Hudson. Trouble clouded the skies of the orphanage after Enzo and a number of other immigrants from Five Points met their end after getting involved in a pump station accident. The more concerning aspect of this incident was that with better facilities and a chance to be treated at the city hospital, lives could have been saved. Realizing this, Cabrini made it her mission to create a state-of-the art hospital that would aid the immigrant populace. With no possibilities of getting funds from the city hall fund, thanks to the extremely prejudiced mayor and his lackeys, Cabrini managed to get help from the privileged section of immigrant settlers of various ethnicities. Dr. Murphy played an instrumental role in this effort by bringing his strong clientele together, and Cabrini presented a strong case for her cause, which can be sympathized with. 


Cabrini manages to convince famous Italian-American opera singer Enrico DiSalvo to throw a fundraiser for the construction of the hospital, but the mayor sends police after the gathering, confiscating the funds and arresting Cabrini in the process. This proves to be an excuse enough for Archbishop Corrigan, who was revealed to be in cahoots with the mayor, to order her to return to Italy, abandoning her mission in the States altogether. Cabrini returns to Italy with Vittoria and appeals to the Pope once again to overrule the dictates of the Archbishop, but this time the Pope is not willing to allow her requests as easily and demands to see whether her plans are viable enough. 

Was Mother Cabrini able to build her empire of hope?

In order to convince the Pope, Cabrini approaches the Italian Senate and tries to sway their opinion in favor of her efforts. However, with the senators not even willing to raise her issue in the Senate, it seems all her efforts are heading towards a disappointing end. Standing alone against a world that tries to suppress her, Cabrini fails to channel her iron will and gradually feels more despondent than ever. In the dire situation, Vittoria inspires Mother Cabrini by appealing to her indomitable spirit, and Cabrini finds enough resolve to challenge the senators by barging into the Senate. Cabrini’s defiance of the established status quo results in success, as she manages to secure the loan and the Pope’s approval to overrule the Archbishop’s dictates.


Upon returning to America, Cabrini doubles down on her effort to build the hospital but faces the mayor’s wrath once again as a bunch of hooligans (obviously under his payroll) set the near-completed hospital on fire. However, having had enough of these insecure, petty men tarnishing her noble efforts, Cabrini responds strongly by taking the reporter, Mr. Calloway, with her to confront the mayor and forcing him to provide support and security for her efforts by reminding him that he will need support from the neglected immigrants as well in the upcoming election to maintain his seat in the office. The threat works like a charm, and the mayor wriggles back to a defensive position, extending his support and admiring Cabrini’s tactical mindset. As the movie ends, it is revealed that Cabrini’s efforts were indeed successful, as not only did the hospital turn out to be one of the most prolific medical centers in the city, but the order founded by Cabrini spread across the entire world, saving the lives of numerous sufferers. Mother Cabrini was later canonized by the Vatican, becoming the first American saint and the patron saint of immigrants. 

Cabrini vividly highlights the role of women in organized religion, which involves themes of racial and gender bias—an aspect that, till date, has not been obliterated from the religious orders of the world. Despite forming the core foundation of Christian religious orders as the primary caregivers—sharply opposing the colonizing endeavors of the men of faith—women have often stayed outside the periphery of attention through the ages. Strong female religious legends like Joan of Arc made their impact in history, but eventually were betrayed by the very order they used to serve. As a result, initially Cabrini had to face obstacles from her members of her faith to begin with, and as she tackled the racial and gender-based bigotry in America, she was pitted in a battle from three fronts. Which makes Cabrini’s victory over the established social order all the more important, as it paved the way for women to raise their voices for reformations in years to come.


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Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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