As Catholics mark on Monday the 75th anniversary of Frances Xavier Cabrini becoming the first naturalized American saint, Colorado is celebrating the second Mother Cabrini Day, a state holiday that closes most government offices.
Gov. Jared Polis signed House Bill 1031 last year to replace the controversial Columbus Day for the patron saint of immigrants, whose ties to Colorado are deep.
The permanent holiday annually falls on the first Monday of October, just years after then-Gov. John Hickenlooper declared a one-time St. Frances Cabrini Day in Colorado in 2017 to recognize the 100th anniversary of the Colorado saint's death.
Colorado provided the first and only state holiday named in honor of the saint and it's the only state holiday honoring a woman.
"St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, lived prophetically, a woman beyond her time, human and humanizing, and until today a beacon of hope and life," Sister Barbara Staley wrote in July to the members of the Denver order founded by Mother Cabrini. "She gave her all to bring the love of Christ to the ends of the earth.
“Mother Cabrini continually shows us that as we lay down our lives, so we truly can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. In her words: ‘God has done it all, I have only been a spectator of God’s work.’”
She arrived in Colorado in 1902. In 1905, she opened the Queen of Heaven Orphanage, a residence for girls in north Denver. She was born in Italy and naturalized as U.S. citizen in Denver in 1909.
Mother Cabrini was canonized July 7, 1946, by Venerable Pius XII. She was named the Patroness of Immigrants in 1950.
In her lifetime, Mother Cabrini established 67 schools, hospitals and orphanages across the U.S. and Europe, as well as Central America and South America. She is the namesake of Cabrini University, a private Roman Catholic university in Radnor Township, Pennsylvania, that was founded by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1957.
The Mother Cabrini Shrine off Interstate 70 in the foothills west of Denver was originally created by her as a summer camp for orphan girls. It continues to be a destination for Catholics and tourists today.
On her last last visit to Colorado in 1912, Cabrini stayed at the mountain camp, which did not have a known source of water. She directed the girls to dig under a specific rock that yielded a drinking water spring, which still provides water to the camp .
Mother Cabrini Day was a compromise of sorts after American Indian activists tried unsuccessfully for years to end Columbus Day. Indigenous people see the Italian explorer as a murderous invader, who never actually stepped foot in what would become America.
The selection of Mother Cabrini was a compromise between indigenous peoples and Colorado's vibrant Italian-American community. Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, D-Adams County, who sponsored the 2020 legislation changing the holiday, said at the time there is an intersection between the beliefs of native peoples and Cabrini, in part because of a spring Cabrini discovered near the summer camp.
"This isn't the perfect answer, but it's a compromise we can make and honor someone who is deserving," she said in 2020.
Dennis Wilwerding is Catholic and a member of Knights of Columbus. During a 2019 hearing, Wilwerding said he backed the change because a state holiday should honor someone people would want to emulate.
Looking for a trade route to Asia on behalf of Spain, Columbus landed in the Bahamas in Oct. 12, 1492, and it was declared the new world.
Colorado was the first to adopt Columbus Day as a state holiday in 1907; President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared it a national holiday in 1934.
Mother Cabrini is one of 10 paid state holidays, joining New Year's Day, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Washington-Lincoln Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans' Day. Thanksgiving and Christmas.