Holy war: Catholic protesters push for public statue of Mother Cabrini

Holy war: Catholic protesters push for public statue of Mother Cabrini
Photo by Trey Pentecost

More than 1,000 Kings County Catholics gathered in Carroll Gardens on Sunday to march in support of Mother Cabrini, a saint and former Brooklynite, who was recently snubbed by First Lady Chirlane McCray during a statue-building competition.

“It was extremely powerful,” said Monsignor David Cassato, the Italian Apostolate of the Diocese of Brooklyn, who helped organize the march.

The controversy surrounding the 20th-century saint erupted in late August after McCray — Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife — overrode constituents who voted overwhelmingly to honor Mother Cabrini by erecting a new public statue.

The saint dominated the poorly attended polls by more than a hundred votes, but the city’s First Lady snubbed the democratic process in choosing seven other historic women to be memorialized by the She Built NYC public initiative, sparking outrage in the Catholic community.

The Oct. 6 protest was attended by more than 1,000 Mother Cabrini fans from across the city, who carried signs and statues honoring the saint — known for her work with New York’s immigrants in the late 19th century — as they crusaded through Carroll Gardens, concluding their march at Sacred Hearts Church on First Place and Hicks Street.

Several nuns rode on a float during Sunday afternoon’s procession through Carroll Gardens.
Photo by Trey Pentecost

One marcher, whose grandmother was a student of Mother Cabrini in the early 1900’s, said the procession brought the community together in honor of a worthy cause.

“I loved it,” said Carroll Gardens native Maria Cammareri. “It was so nice going around the neighborhood.”

The Catholic Foundation for Brooklyn and Queens used the march to announce a fundraising campaign to build its own statue of the beloved saint — which they hope to erect outside of Brooklyn Borough Hall. Donations for the effort immediately took off, reaching over $17,000 before the end of the day, according to Cassato.

But some Catholics remain uncontent to turn the other cheek, arguing that the city should be bankrolling the new statue, not private donors.

“I’ve been a very big donor of the Catholic church,” said Bensonhurst resident Ursula Agosta. “But the whole principle is that [McCray] is using taxpayer money.”

The procession ended at Sacred Heart St. Stephen Church, where Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio delivered a homily in Italian.
Photo by Trey Pentecost

Reverend Guy Sbordone from St. Frances Cabrini Church in Bensonhurst also criticized the effort, arguing that the crowdfunding strategy takes the pressure off McCray.

“It should be done by the city,” he said.

But Cassato defended the fundraising campaign, claiming that the money would simply augment city funding for a Mother Cabrini statue, not commission one on it’s own.

“We do not want the decision…to be limited because of a budget already exhausted on their current selections,” he said. “Should the city decided to fully fund the creation of the statue then donations will be available to enhance what is created by the city.”

Currently, the city is planning on commemorating the seven women of McCray’s choosing — including jazz singer Billie Holiday, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, and civil rights advocate Elizabeth Jennings Graham — none of whom managed even a second place finish during the voting period.

Four men carried a statue of Mother Cabrini during the Oct. 6 march.
Photo by Trey Pentecost

Reach reporter Rose Adams at radams@schnepsmedia.com or by calling (718) 260–8306. Follow her on Twitter @rose_n_adams