At Mother Cabrini Shrine, saint’s spirit lives on 100 years after death

Driving out of the mountains on I-70, it’s hard not to spot: A statue of Jesus overlooking the corridor, signaling a warm welcome back to the city after a long weekend away.

Mother Cabrini Shrine has become something of a landmark for Coloradans; a silent refuge just outside of the city for the weary, the overburdened and the distracted to come and find a little bit of peace and quiet. What the many who visit may not know, however, is the rich history of the land and its founder — a saint from whom the haven takes its namesake.

In July of 2017 the Shrine marked 100 years since the death of Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini with a weekend-long celebration of her life and achievements.

Mother Cabrini Shrine celebrated Mother Cabrini’s birthday with a weekend-long celebration July 15-16. The occasion also commemorated 100 years since her death. (Photo by Nicole Withee | Denver Catholic)

Mother Cabrini was a simple Italian woman who made an impressionable mark on American Catholic spirituality and was responsible for founding 67 different institutions in the U.S., including schools, hospitals and orphanages. Mother Cabrini Shrine can be counted among these, though it didn’t begin as the shrine it is today.

Frances Cabrini was born July 15, 1850, in the small village of S’ant Angelo Lodgiano, Italy, just outside of Milan. The youngest of 13 children, she was born two months premature, and would live her life in a fragile and delicate state of health. Despite her condition, it didn’t stop her from joining a religious order when she was of age.

In 1880, Cabrini founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The dream for her and her sisters was to go and do missionary work in China, and was granted an audience with Pope Leo XIII to gain permission to do so. Much to her surprise, he told her not to go east, but to the west — namely, the United States. Italian immigrants were flooding the country at the time, and the Pope thought her talents would be best utilized serving them instead. He was right.

She arrived to New York City in 1889. It was difficult at first, but she founded an orphanage in what is now West Park, New York, known as Saint Cabrini Home. She eventually found her way to Colorado in 1902, where she would visit several times in the remaining years of her life. She ministered to the poor Italian mining workers and their families in the foothills west of Denver, an area she was particularly fond of.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (Wikicommons)

Having already established Queen of Heaven Girls Orphanage in Denver, Mother Cabrini was in need of a summer camp to bring the girls during the summer months. She discovered some property on the east slope of Lookout Mountain, owned by the town of Golden, and negotiated its purchase in 1910, after taking her oath as a U.S. citizen the year prior. Three Sisters of the Sacred Heart lived on and maintained the land, which had a small farming operation.

The land had no known reliable source of water, but as the story goes, in September 1912, Mother Cabrini told some of the thirsty, complaining sisters to lift a certain rock and start digging. The sisters obliged, and uncovered a spring, which has not stopped running to this day. Many pilgrims to Mother Cabrini Shrine believe the water has brought about healing and peace in their lives.

It was also in 1912, during her final visit to Colorado, that she and builder Thomas Eckrom would draw up the plans for what would become the famous Stone House that stands today. Construction began in fall of that year and was finished in 1914. Girls from the orphanage would stay in the house during the summer camp. Also during her last visit, Mother Cabrini took a few sisters and girls from the orphanage to the top of the highest hill on the property and arranged stones in the shape of the Sacred Heart. She dedicated the hill to the Sacred Heart and named it “Mount of the Sacred Heart,” and to this day, those very stones lay arranged just as they were, preserved beneath a glass case for all to see.

Mother Cabrini died on Dec. 22, 1917, in Chicago. The cause for her beatification, and her subsequent canonization into sainthood was opened shortly after her death. She was canonized on July 7, 1946 by Pope Pius XII. A July 4, 1946, article in the Denver Catholic Register chronicled Mother Cabrini’s travels during her life, and concluded that she founded an “average of one house for each of her 67 years of life.”

Established by Mother Cabrini in 1910, Mother Cabrini Shrine is one of Colorado’s most popular retreat spots and attracts thousands of visitors and pilgrims annually. (Photo by Nicole Withee | Denver Catholic)

And so, St. Frances Cabrini’s legacy lives on at Mother Cabrini Shrine. Various additions have been made over the years that have turned it into the shrine it is today, all of which likely capture the spirit Mother Cabrini intended for the land when she acquired it. A replica of a grotto at Lourdes was made in 1929 and then rebuilt in 1959, which has become a frequented place of prayer for the faithful of Denver.

In 1954, the statue of Jesus that overlooks I-70 was installed above the heart of stones, and a 373-step staircase leading up to the Mount of the Sacred Heart was also built, which has come to be known as the Stairway of Prayer. In 1970, a convent for the Sisters of the Sacred Heart was completed, which, among other things, provides overnight accommodations for visitors, making Mother Cabrini Shrine a popular spot for retreats, as well.

St. Frances Cabrini may be 100 years gone, but her spirit is very much alive in the streets of Denver, and especially at Mother Cabrini Shrine. If anything, it’s an ever-present reminder of the Christ-like love that this simple woman poured into our great state – a love that made her a saint.

For more information on Mother Cabrini Shrine, visit

COMING UP: Get away to pray this summer

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Whether it’s the crisp Colorado air or sipping a cool beverage by the poolside, there’s something special about summer.

Counting down the days until it’s safe to wear shorts is a yearly tradition here in Colorado, and though it sometimes comes later than expected, it doesn’t get much better than summers in the Rocky Mountains. Of course, with summer comes plans for vacations and relaxation, but as most Catholics know (or ought to, anyways), it can also be a great time for prayer and contemplation.

Denver Catholics are very fortunate in that Colorado is home to a number of beautiful and holy retreat sites that are, relatively speaking, just a stone’s throw away. Going on a spiritual retreat is a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and spend time in gratitude for God’s many blessings, as well as in prayerful reflection and discernment of his plan for our individual lives.

Consider escaping to one of these retreat sites for a day or two this summer, either alone or with a group, and experience the peace and clarity only a spiritual retreat can bring.

Jesus Our Hope Hermitage

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Jesus Our Hope Hermitage was established in the early ’90s by Father Roger Mollision. The cabin is located on 62 acres of land in Littleton and is perfect for the individual who finds clarity by being in God’s creation. (Photo provided)

Located on South Dear Creek Road in Littleton, Jesus Our Hope Hermitage serves as an escape for those who find God’s solace in nature.

Founded in the early ‘90s by Father Roger Mollision, Jesus Our Hope started as a few prayer huts located on a plot of land purchased by Father Mollison. However, through the years and under the care of several religious orders, Jesus Our Hope is now 62 acres of rugged woodland with a quaint cabin nestled in the midst of it.

The four bedroom, three-bathroom cabin features a full kitchen, and is able to accommodate up to 10 people overnight. Additionally, there is a conference room that can hold up to 20 people for a day retreat. Both individual and group retreats are welcome. The location is devoid from all modern technological distractions, making it an ideal setting to be alone with the Lord; literally so, as the cabin also has an adoration chapel within it.

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Jesus Our Hope features an adoration chapel in the cabin, making it possible for retreatants to be alone with the Lord. (Photo provided)

“What makes the place so precious is that there is a chapel with the presence of the Blessed Sacrament,” said Father Nathanael Pujos, superior for the Community of the Beatitudes. Father Pujos and the Community of the Beatitudes are the current caretakers of Jesus Our Hope Hermitage.

There is also a prayer garden located on the grounds, and the Community of the Beatitudes are able to offer private Masses, confession and spiritual guidance to retreatants. Jesus Our Hope also offers guided day retreats, called Come and Rest, which is a day of silence organized by the Community of the Beatitudes.

Registration: Request dates at 303-697-7539 or

Mother Cabrini Shrine

The Sacred Heart of Jesus statues that overlooks I-70 is one of the most iconic landmarks located at Mother Cabrini Shrine. (Photo provided)

Overlooking the entrance to the I-70 corridor, Mother Cabrini Shrine is one of Colorado’s most beloved and popular retreat sites.

St. Frances Cabrini, more commonly known as Mother Cabrini. frequented Colorado in the early 1900s. She would visit Italian workers and their families in several of the mining districts of the Rocky Mountains. During her stays, she became fond of a property on the east slope of Lookout Mountain owned by the town of Golden. In 1910, she purchased the property and planted the seed for what is now Mother Cabrini Shrine.

What started as a summer camp for girls of Queen of Heaven Orphanage has become the fulfillment of Mother Cabrini’s vision for the property when she wrote, “I can envision many small chapels here where many pilgrims will come to pray.”

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The Stone House at Mother Cabrini Shrine is perfect for accommodating group retreats. (Photo provided)

Mother Cabrini Shrine is home to a variety of facilities that make it a great retreat spot for the summer, including a beautiful chapel and the famous Stone House. The site can comfortably accommodate up to 28 people overnight and twice that for a day retreat.

It also boasts a number of famous landmarks, such as the 22-foot Sacred Heart of Jesus statue that was carved and erected in 1954, the 373-step Stairway of Prayer leading up to the statue, or the seemingly endless running spring of fresh, Rocky Mountain water, which retreatants are welcome to drink from.

Registration: 303-526-0758 or visit

Ignatian Spiritual Retreat

The Ignatian Spiritual Retreat program was started in 2004 by Father Stephen Yavorsky as an outreach of Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House in Sedalia, Colo. Their mission is to make the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola available to all and help to guide people through them.

“The Ignatian Spiritual Exercises grew out of St. Ignatius’ own conversion experience, and their purpose is to lead a person to true spiritual freedom in Christ,” said Paul Sapienza, Director of the Ignatian Spirituality Program of Denver.

These retreats are now an official ministry of St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish, though they maintain a close relationship with the retreat directors at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House and see their work as complementary.

Ignatian Spiritual Retreats are offered from September to May. Though some of the retreats take place in various locations in the Denver area, Sapienza said going away to a different location is not a requirement for these particular retreats.

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Ignatian Spiritual Retreats use the spiritual exercises developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola as the basis for their retreats. The exercises are intended to be used in the daily lives of retreatants as a way to draw nearer to the Lord and grow a more fruitful spiritual life. (Photo from Wikicommons)

“A retreat is simply a focused period of withdrawal for prayer, usually, but not always, under a director,” she said. “Our program serves people in the course of their daily lives, which means our retreatants pray while living at home and engaging in their everyday work and family commitments.”

There are several different types of retreats the program offers that differ in intensity: mornings and evenings of prayer, days of prayer, five-week retreats and spiritual exercises in everyday life.

Mornings and Evenings of Prayer serve as an introduction to the Ignatian spiritual exercises, and are recommended for people who are new to the idea. These retreats offer guided prayer experiences utilizing the Ignatian spiritual exercises and generally last one to two hours.

Days of Prayer is a day-long retreat that invite retreatants to pray, reflect and share with others how God is living and playing an active role in their own individual lives. Retreat directors give presentations and offer suggestions for prayer based on the Ignatian spiritual exercises.

Five-Week Retreats consist of daily prayer and reflection grounded in the spiritual exercises. Retreatants attend weekly group meetings and are encouraged to share their prayer experiences with others, while retreat directors offer spiritual direction and prayer exercises for the following week.

Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life (SEEL) is the most comprehensive and intense retreat experience the program offers. Retreatants are given spiritual exercises to practice in their ongoing, everyday lives in a regimented manner. They are asked to devote on hour to prayer daily, have daily periods of reflection, keep a journal documenting their prayer experiences and meet weekly with a spiritual director.

This retreat takes place over the course of seven to nine months, and because of its intensity, retreatants are required to fill out an application and must have had prior experience in spiritual direction.

Registration: 303-320-9995 or