Cuomo unveils Mother Cabrini statue following Chirlane McCray snub

mother cabrini
A statue of Mother Cabrini was unveiled in Battery Park behind the Jewish Heritage Museum on Oct. 12.
Photo by Todd Maisel

Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled a new statue honoring the trailblazing Italian-American saint Mother Cabrini in Manhattan on Monday — one year after New York City’s First Lady Chirlane McCray snubbed the Italian icon in her statue-building contest.

Mother Cabrini challenged the norms, she broke the mold, and she achieved great things,” Cuomo said at the statue’s unveiling.

St. Frances Cabrini, better known as Mother Cabrini, moved to the United States from her native Italy in the late 19th century, and founded nearly 70 schools and hospitals for immigrants around New York City. Her work earned her the title of the patron saint of immigrants — making her the first American citizen to be canonized as a saint. 

To honor Mother Cabrini’s contributions, Cuomo announced his plans to build a statue in her honor exactly one year ago at the 2019 Columbus Day Parade.

Cuomo’s announcement came after Chirlane McCray’s statue-building initiative declined to honor Mother Cabrini, sparking outrage among the Italian-American and Catholic communities. The She Built NYC project, launched in June 2018, aimed to address the city’s lack of statues honoring great women, and asked the public to nominate their favorites. Parishioners at Bensonhurst’ Saint Frances Cabrini mobilized en masse to vote for the house of worship’s icon, and thanks to their efforts, the saint won the contest by a landslide with 219 votes. 

But McCray chose seven other women to be honored by statues — one of whom had only seven votes.

Representatives for McCray and She Built NYC emphasized that the initiative collected advisory nominations rather than votes, and said the seven statues were the first of many more to come. However, one spokesman implied that Mother Cabrini had too many existing tributes to be considered.

“We appreciate the passion and enthusiasm for honoring Mother Cabrini’s remarkable life and work, and we’re proud that New York City is home to a shrine honoring her, along with a street and parkland named in her honor,” he told Brooklyn Paper.

The firestorm over the snub ostracized the mayor and his wife from the Italian-American community. More than 1,000 Catholics marched in Brooklyn following the decision, and “A Bronx Tale Actor” Chazz Palminteri called the choice not to honor Cabrini “racist” in an interview with the mayor on  77 WABC radio.

mother cabrini
The new statue of Mother Cabrini faces the Statue of Liberty.Photo by Todd Maisel

Cuomo swooped into the fight on Columbus Day of 2019 by announcing that he would build the statue with taxpayer money and contributions from the Italian-American organization the Columbus Citizens Foundation and the Diocese and Brooklyn.

“As Italian Americans, we must also remember that we ourselves are not immune from attack,” Cuomo told attendees of a Columbus Citizens Foundation gala in 2019. “The leading vote getter by far was Mother Cabrini. Despite that, the city commission picked seven other women to honor, and excluded Mother Cabrini.”

During the Oct. 12 unveiling, Cuomo pulled a red curtain off of the bronze statue located in Manhattan’s Battery Park facing the Statue of Liberty.

“This Columbus Day, the celebration of Mother Cabrini is even more appropriate than when we announced it last year because of the difficulties that we are facing,” Cuomo said.

Brooklyn Diocese Bishop DiMarzio also expressed his pride in the new statue during the unveiling.

“We hope that people who visit this memorial will recognize that history should be repeated, that there was a care for the outcast and marginalized which Mother Cabrini understood, and we need that same care today,” he said.

De Blasio apparently turned down an invitation to attend the unveiling, but did send a representative to the event.