Frances Xavier Cabrini, better known as Mother Cabrini, was a Catholic religious sister whose name is still well known for her charitable career. Born in Italy in 1850, Mother Cabrini immigrated to the United States in 1889 to perform missionary work with Italian immigrants. She devoted her life to founding orphanages, schools and hospitals across the country, and in 1909 she became a U.S. citizen. Mother Cabrini died in 1917, and after performing a series of “miracles” she was canonized in 1946. She was the first American Catholic Saint, and became the Patron Saint of Immigrants. (Some extra information for the curious: Mother Cabrini’s body is believed to be partially incorruptible. Her head is now stored in Rome, while the remains of her body are kept in New York.)
In the same year that she became a U.S. citizen, Mother Cabrini traveled to Colorado in search of land to build a summer camp for her girls from the Queen of Heaven orphanage. She discovered a suitable property at the foothills of Lookout Mountain in Golden, in the greater Denver area. The location was magnificent, and the land cheap, although there was no reliable water source. Water from the Mount Vernon Canyon had to be hauled up the mountain, and after a few years the situation became impractical. Legend has it that one day in 1912 Mother Cabrini used her walking cane as a dowsing rod. She wandered the property and soon tapped a rock with her cane, telling her staff that if they dug below they would find enough water for their needs. They did so, and to their surprise, they discovered an underground water source that supplied the site with water until the early 2000s.
Today, the site is called the Mother Cabrini Shrine, and people believe that the natural spring is more supernatural. The water allegedly has healing powers, and 150,000 pilgrims flock to the site each year to fill their bottles with holy (municipal) water. My husband Matthew Baxter and I visited the site and watched as a woman filled up eight gallon-sized bottles with the water. We used it to fill the radiator, although it didn’t heal the car. The natural spring isn’t the only reason that people visit the Mother Cabrini Shrine. The site is home to a chapel, a museum, a grotto, and a 373-step “Stairway to Prayer” that leads to a 22-foot tall statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and amazing panoramic views of Denver.
In 1990, Theresa Lopez of Highland Ranch, near Denver, began having visions of the Virgin Mary. The visits became frequent, and she was seeing the Virgin Mary two to three times per week, and several of them occurred at the Mother Cabrini Shrine. Lopez also saw apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the skies, and witnessed strange solar activity known as “sun miracles”. In her own personal miracle, the Virgin Mary cured Lopez of her ovarian and uterine cancer.
Lopez soon received a vision that the Virgin Mary would make a public appearance at the Mother Cabrini Shrine on January 12, 1992. People began flocking to the site and it was predicted that the town of Golden would become an “American Medjugorje”. However, the Denver Archbishop J. Francis Stafford issued a warning to the faithful that the visions were unproven, and that staring at the sun is dangerous. His flock ignored this message, and over 6,000 people turned out to the event. The Virgin Mary didn’t show up that day, although a number of people suffered permanent eye damage as a result of staring into the sun hoping for Her presence. Ironically, Mother Cabrini’s beatification miracle involved restoring sight to a blind child, while the Shrine’s famous spring is known specifically for “curing” eye diseases.
The Catholic Church authenticates very few apparitions, and on March 9, 1994 Archbishop Stafford issued the following declaration:
On December 9, 1991, I appointed a commission to investigate alleged apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Mother Cabrini Shrine and other places within the Archdiocese of Denver to Theresa Antonia Lopez. On February 22, 1994, the commission completed its investigation and presented its findings to me. As Archbishop of Denver, I have concluded that the alleged apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Theresa Antonia Lopez are devoid of any supernatural origin. Because of my concern for the spiritual welfare of the people of God, I direct the faithful to refrain from participating in or promoting para-liturgical or liturgical services related to the alleged apparitions. Furthermore, anyone encouraging devotion to these alleged apparitions in any way is acting contrary to my wishes as Archbishop of Denver.
Theresa Lopez’s (only one of her many aliases) character was later called into question. She had a suspicious number of worker’s compensation and accident claims resulting in large sum payouts. She had been using different social security numbers and had credit problems with at least 25 different credit collection and debt recovery notices, for unpaid parking fees, court fees, and credit cards. In 1990, just before her “visions” began, Lopez had pleaded guilty to a second-degree forgery/check fraud charge. Moreover, she had lied about suffering from cancer.
In more recent years the Mother Cabrini Shrine appeared in the news again when lightning struck the 22-foot tall Jesus and blew off His hand and elbow, shattered His feet and caused significant damage to the pedestal. Of course, it became a “miracle” that no one was hurt and that the statue wasn’t destroyed! However, the grave of Buffalo Bill Cody, perched on the very top of Lookout Mountain, remained unscathed during the storm.
ABC 7 News. The Denver Channel. Lightning Strikes, Damaged Jesus Statue at Mother Cabrini Shrine. http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/lightning-strikes-damages-jesus-statue-at-mother-cabrini-shrine Accessed 03/28/2013
Massaro, Greg. 1991. Special report. Visions of Faith. Rocky Mountain News. December, 13.
Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. http://www.mothercabrini.org/ Accessed 03/27/2013
Mother Cabrini Shrine. http://www.mothercabrinishrine.org/ Accessed 03/27/2013
Religious News Service. 1993. Visions of Mary Discounted. Chicago Tribune News. May 14. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1993-05-14/news/9305140282_1_virgin-mary-archbishop-j-francis-stafford-interim-report 03/28/2013
Strescino, Peter. 1991. Archbishop’s Cabrini Shrine plea ignored by many. Pueblo Chieftain. December, 21. http://www.chieftain.com/import/article_c59ae286-9528-5109-a687-3aa392bc9198.html Accessed 03/27/2012
The Miracle Hunter. http://www.miraclehunter.com/marian_apparitions/ Accessed 03/28/2013
Unity Publishing. Theresa Lopez: The Seer of Retired Bishop Paolo Hnilica. http://www.unitypublishing.com/Apparitions/TheresaLopez.html Accessed 03/28/2013
Dr. Karen Stollznow is a linguist, author, skeptical paranormal investigator and a research fellow for the James Randi Foundation. You can follow Karen on Twitter here.