Cuomo announces state commission to build Mother Cabrini statue following ‘She Built NYC’ snub

October 14, 2019

Image via Governor Cuomo’s Flickr

Despite garnering the most votes in a public poll, Mother Frances Cabrini will not be memorialized as part of the She Built NYC program run by First Lady Chirlane McCray. Controversy has followed the decision to not include Cabrini in recent days, with Mayor Bill de Blasio stepping in to suggest she would be a contender in future editions of the program during The Brian Lehrer Show last Friday. Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded by calling the decision an “affront” to the Italian-American community. During Monday’s Columbus Day Parade, the governor announced a new state commission that will lead the creation of a separate memorial for Cabrini.

Cabrini was born in Lombardy, Italy in 1850. She took her vows and founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart before arriving in the United States in 1889 on a mission to help Italian migrants. Over the course of 35 years spent in New York, she taught at parishes throughout the boroughs and founded dozens of institutions for the needy. She became the first naturalized U.S. citizen to be canonized and is recognized as the patron saint of immigrants.

As 6sqft previously reported, She Built NYC is commissioning public artworks to honor seven women who had an extraordinary impact on New York City. A memorial to Shirley Chisholm is currently underway, with memorials of jazz legend Billie Holiday, desegregation activist Elizabeth Jennings Graham, women’s rights activist Dr. Helen Rodriguez Trías, keeper of the Robbins Reef Lighthouse Katherine Walker, and LGBTQ advocates Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera to follow. 

The project seeks to transform “public art in our City by honoring the contributions of women who helped build and shape it,” as First Lady Chirlane McCray, who launched the She Built NYC campaign last spring with former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, said in a statement. The monuments will be sited throughout the city. 

After the project was launched, the campaign asked for the public’s input and received more than 1,800 suggestions and over 320 potential nominees. An appointed panel reviewed the results and made their own recommendations for the seven finalists, but ultimately McCray and Glen made the final selections.

Cabrini received 219 votes and topped the list. As the New York Post reported, other candidates who came out on top in the polls but were ultimately passed up include builder and businesswoman Emily Warren Roebling and music educator Janet Schenck.

Actor Chazz Palminteri had a tense back and forth with Mayor de Blasio on “The Brian Lehrer Show” last Friday. Palminteri called in to ask about the decision to pass over Cabrini and suggested it was racially motivated.

After a heated exchange, De Blasio said Cabrini will be considered for the next round of statues proposed. “I will make a strong case for Mother Cabrini because I agree when we get past the characterizations and we get to the facts and the history, she is a stunning figure in history.”

On Saturday, Cuomo first entered the debate during a gala for the Columbus Citizens Foundation. Cuomo called the Cabrini snub an “affront” to the Italian-American community in a speech that many interpreted as a “slap in the face” of de Blasio.

“For all our progress, for all our efforts we must still be vigilant and active in demanding respect for the Italian American community,” Cuomo said. The Governor urged Italian-Americans to “stand up” and “lead the way by taking action” and building a separate memorial for Mother Cabrini. He pledged his full support for such an initiative.

A press release on Monday announced the formation of a commission as part of the first steps toward acting on that pledge. The commission will be comprised of Italian-American leaders—including Angelo Vivolo from the Columbus Citizens Foundation and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio from the Diocese of Brooklyn, among others—who will work together to identify an artist and a location for the new statue.

“With this statue, I think the Italian American and Catholic communities in New York will feel satisfied that she is being represented—because we recognize in this city and in this state that our diversity is our greatest asset, and every group has to feel included,” Cuomo said.

“We have enough division in this nation right now—New York is about unity and solidarity, and that’s what today is all about.”


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