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New museum brings local saint to life

Before taking their spot in heaven, saints live their lives on earth. And some of that time is spent simply doing everyday things: brushing their hair in the morning, praying the rosary during the day, sitting down to pay bills after dinner, and putting pajamas on before climbing into bed at night. A new museum opening at Mother Cabrini Shrine in Golden will bring St. Frances Xavier “Mother” Cabrini—who served in the area in the early 20th century—to life through a collection of items she used while living in Colorado.

“It’s nice to have a place in your community to see where a saint used to be,” said Jeff Lewis, shrine administrator. “She was a normal person who wrote checks, cooked meals, and made tough decisions like we all do.”

The museum captures the person that was here, added Missionary Sister of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Roselle Santivasi, one of three sisters who live at the convent on-site.

“It brings her to life,” Sister Santavasi said, “what she looked like, where she came from.”

Mother Cabrini, who grew up in Italy, came to Denver in 1902 at the invitation of Bishop Nicholas Matz to serve the area’s Italian immigrants and miners. In 1912 her religious order purchased property on Lookout Mountain west of Denver to build a summer camp for orphans. The property is famous for a spring she discovered that is believed to have healing properties.

When Mother Cabrini bought the property there were three structures on it: two barns and a pump house. The 12-by-50-foot pump house, built in 1909, houses the new museum. The dingy stone building, long abandoned, with a sloped dirt floor and failing roof, has been transformed into a bright and polished collection of artifacts and displays—and serves as a place to reflect on the ministry of Mother Cabrini.

“The museum has a timeline in it,” explained Sister Santivasi, spanning from Mother Cabrini’s birth (1850) to her death (1917), plus another that highlights her activities in Colorado. “It really gives a good picture of what her contributions were, along with all the sisters.”

The museum project, funded by donations at the shrine’s annual gala last summer plus matching funds from a family foundation, was originally conceived by Tom Francis, facilities manager for more than 40 years. Francis’ parents were both employed by the sisters, so he spent much of his youth around them, at the orphanage and the camp.

Francis, along with Stan Kaliszan, another maintenance employee, did the majority of the renovation work to convert the old pump house which included: preparing the dirt floor that’s now stamped concrete, stripping the roof, putting in skylights, installing a ceiling of pine beetle kill wood, handcrafting metal benches, railings and cabinets; building a brick retaining wall, path and other landscaping work, among many other labors of love.

“These two men did almost everything,” Sister Santivasi said. “They are so creative; so skilled.”

At the same time, they managed to maintain the entire 600-acre property that includes a retreat center, hermitage, chapel, gift shop, convent, three gardens, grotto and stairway of prayer.

“The two of them have put in a lot of work in the last year,” Lewis added.

The museum opens to the public May 4 with a blessing by Father John Lager, O.F.M. Cap., following 11 a.m. Mass. After the blessing, all are invited to a barbecue hosted by the Knight of Columbus in the cafeteria for $5 per plate. The museum will be open on weekends 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.mothercabrinishrine.org or call 303-526-0758.

Mother Cabrini Museum
Where: Mother Cabrini Shrine, 20189 Cabrini Blvd., Golden
Blessing: May 4 following 11 a.m. Mass
Celebrant: Father John Lager, O.F.M. Cap.
Followed by: Barbecue hosted by Knights of Columbus, $5 each
Museum weekend hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
More info: www.mothercabrinishrine.org or call 303-526-0758

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