Visiting The Mother Cabrini Shrine: Retracing the Legacy of the US’s First Saint

The Mother Cabrini Shrine has indeed emerged as an iconic destination for tens of thousands of pilgrims each year, drawing visitors from various walks of life to embrace the powerful story of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini.

Even if you’re not here on a religious pilgrimage, the shrine holds a profound appeal that transcends boundaries. The life of Mother Cabrini, her unwavering dedication, and her remarkable mission are a source of inspiration for all who encounter her legacy.

In this article, we will take you on a captivating journey through the history and offerings of the Mother Cabrini Shrine. From its origins as a summer home for orphaned girls to the establishment of the chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, there’s an abundance of historical significance to explore.

What is the Mother Cabrini Shrine?

The Mother Cabrini Shrine is a religious site and pilgrimage destination dedicated to Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, also known as “Mother Cabrini.” Located in Golden, Colorado, the shrine is a tribute to the life and work of this remarkable humanitarian.

Mother Cabrini was an Italian-American nun and missionary who dedicated her life to being a champion of immigrants, children, and the poor.

Her early arrival into the world, two months ahead of schedule, marked the beginning of a fragile existence that persisted throughout her days. Enduring constant skepticism due to her delicate health, she faced numerous obstacles, including being denied membership in the Daughters of the Sacred Heart solely because of her physical condition.

Defying all doubters and naysayers, Mother Cabrini embarked on an awe-inspiring journey, establishing a multitude of institutions dedicated to the care of the marginalized. With unwavering determination, she founded 67 institutions across the United States, Europe, and South America, including schools, orphanages, and hospitals that provided much-needed education and healthcare.

Her relentless dedication extended beyond the realms of care, as she ardently championed the rights of immigrants and fought for social justice. Her profound commitment to compassionate service earned her the ultimate honor: she became the first U.S. citizen to be canonized as a saint, a testament to her remarkable legacy of selflessness and love for her fellow human beings.

After establishing several missions and orphanages throughout the United States she turned her attention to Denver after the turn of the century.

In 1904, Mother Cabrini demonstrated her boundless love and care by founding Denver’s Queen of Heaven Orphanage, a sanctuary for girls, many of whom were orphaned by local Italian miners. Her compassion knew no bounds as she also established essential hospitals in Denver, such as the St. Joseph Hospital and the Columbus Hospital.

During her extensive travels in 1902, when she journeyed to visit Italian workers and their families, Frances X. Cabrini stumbled upon a remarkable property owned by the town of Golden on the east slope of Lookout Mountain. Recognizing its potential, she saw an opportunity to create something truly special.

In 1910, seizing the chance to provide a haven for the girls in her care, Mother Cabrini purchased the serene rural property from the town of Golden to serve as a summer camp where the girls could revel in nature’s embrace.

During the summer months, groups of about twenty girls would spend several weeks at the summer camp. They enjoyed the freedom of the outdoors and recreational activities while also tending the animals and performing farm chores.

After the canonization of Mother Cabrini, the significance of the summer camp site elevated to a new level. Officially recognized as a shrine, it became a sacred place of pilgrimage for those seeking inspiration and connection with the extraordinary saint.

As the years passed, the shrine underwent remarkable transformations with thoughtful additions. Each new element served to enrich the visitors’ experience, ensuring that the legacy of Mother Cabrini thrived and continued to touch the lives of countless individuals.

Today, the shrine stands as a testament to the enduring impact of Mother Cabrini’s compassionate mission, attracting pilgrims and admirers from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

Our experience at the Mother Cabrini Shrine

We started out visiting the Meditation Walk garden, a peaceful garden with benches and a winding sidewalk where people come to seek a spiritual journey filled with enlightenment and revelation.

It’s one of the few different sites created for meditation and prayer here, which also include the Sacred Heart Overlook and the Path of the Holy Spirit.

Mother Cabrini Shrine meditation walk
Mother Cabrini Shrine meditation walk

Then we made our way to “The Spring.”

Back in the days when the site served as a cherished summer camp destination, water was a scarce commodity, limited to a small pond adjacent to the spring house. Then came a pivotal moment in September 1912 when the sisters, in dire need of water, expressed their thirst to Mother Cabrini.

In her characteristic wisdom and unwavering faith, Mother Cabrini offered a simple yet profound solution. Pointing to a nearby rock, she told them, “Lift that rock over there and start to dig. You will find water fresh enough to drink and clean enough to wash.” 

Following her instructions, the sisters embarked on the task with hope and determination. To their amazement, they struck a bountiful spring, gushing forth with water.

This miraculous spring, now housed within an 8,000-gallon tank, has been a constant and generous provider. Through the years, it has never ceased to flow, a testament to the blessings bestowed upon this sacred site.

Indeed, the water from the sacred spring at the Mother Cabrini Shrine has become a source of profound belief and solace for countless pilgrims. Over the years, numerous visitors have attested to the power of this blessed water, sharing stories of healing and inner peace that they attribute to its divine essence.

Mother Cabrini Shrine spring
Mother Cabrini Shrine spring

You can also stop in the Rosary Garden and go for a prayer or simply admire the beautiful landscaping.

Rosary Garden mother Cabrini shrine

Near The Spring, there’s a grotto that is a replica of the grotto at Lourdes, France. Originally constructed over the spring in 1929, this hallowed site has undergone a transformation, with the present-day version crafted from the rustic beauty of sandstone.

Within this peaceful haven, the soft glow of candlelight sets the stage for heartfelt prayers and contemplation. Visitors, drawn to the gentle ambiance, gather before the radiant Mother Cabrini altar, seeking her intercession with the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Mother.

In this tranquil atmosphere, they pour out their hopes, dreams, and supplications, finding solace in the presence of a saint who once walked the earthly realm with compassion and grace.

grotto mother Cabrini shrine
grotto mother Cabrini shrine
grotto mother Cabrini shrine

A visit to the Mother Cabrini Shrine would be incomplete without embarking on a journey up the Stairway of Prayer.

This transformative project began on September 11, 1954, as 373 steps were carefully placed to pave the way up the glorious Mount of the Sacred Heart. Astonishingly, this architectural feat was achieved in a mere 67 days.

The stairway mirrors the very path that Mother Cabrini, the sisters, and the children she cared for once trod upon.

As pilgrims ascend the steps, they traverse a spiritual pathway that also mirrors Christ’s agonizing path to his crucifixion. Each step taken becomes a contemplative reflection of the Stations of the Cross, a profound journey through the sufferings endured by Jesus.

If you just arrived into the area, take your time making your way up the steps because you might need a little bit of time to adjust to the altitude.

Stairway of Prayer mother Cabrini shrine
Stairway of Prayer mother Cabrini shrine
Stairway of Prayer mother Cabrini shrine

Upon reaching the pinnacle of the Stairway of Prayer, you will be greeted by a breathtaking sight: a magnificent twenty-two foot statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a true masterpiece crafted by a skilled Italian artist.

Mounted on an imposing eleven-foot base, this awe-inspiring statue was erected in 1954, representing the profound devotion that Mother Cabrini held for the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Today, the Sacred Heart statue stands as an iconic landmark, a beacon of faith that can be seen from afar as you drive by on interstate 70.

Sacred Heart of Jesus mother Cabrini shrine

Be sure to check out the stones carefully arranged in the glass case. These stones hold historical significance that dates back to 1912, during Mother Cabrini’s final visit to Golden, Colorado.

On that visit, Mother Cabrini, accompanied by a group of devoted sisters and a few children from the orphanage, embarked on a journey to the highest hill in the area. Traveling by horse and buggy, they reached the summit where Mother Cabrini arranged white stones in the shape of a Heart, crowned with a reverent cross, dedicating the hill to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

You’ll also want to stop by the Cabrini museum, which opened up in 2014. Its purpose is to share the life and missionary work of Saint Cabrini with visitors and pilgrims. The museum features a replica of Mother Cabrini’s bedroom, a timeline of her life and many artifacts once used by Saint Cabrini.

It’s housed within the charming building affectionately known as the “pump house.” This historical structure holds a special significance, as it is one of the original buildings on the property from the time it was acquired by Mother Cabrini.

mother Cabrini shrine museum
mother Cabrini shrine museum

Conclude your meaningful journey with a visit to the Cabrini Garden, a sanctuary dedicated to celebrating the life and mission of Frances Xavier Cabrini.

At the heart of this serene garden stands a poignant statue, capturing Mother Cabrini’s tender guidance of two young orphans. It serves as a powerful reminder that the very grounds of the Shrine were once intended as a summer refuge for the girls of the Queen of Heaven Orphanage in Denver.

For your final stop, you may want to venture inside of the expansive gift shop. The gift shop is a haven for those seeking to take a piece of the Mother Cabrini Shrine’s spirit home with them. Here, you’ll find a diverse array of religious items, from sacred artworks and intricately crafted statues to inspirational books and prayer materials.

mother Cabrini shrine gift shop
mother Cabrini shrine gift shop

It’s worth noting that mean you also want to visit the chapel, a sacred space devoted to the veneration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, offering daily Mass and warmly welcoming visitors seven days a week.

During our visit, we may have found the chapel undergoing a transformative phase, undergoing renovations and construction. However, this exciting update promises an enchanting and newly designed chapel in the near future.

Final Word

The Mother Cabrini Shrine offers a captivating and enriching experience that transcends religious boundaries.

The enduring legacy of Mother Cabrini’s dedication, resilience, and compassionate service speaks to the universal values of love, empathy, and the pursuit of a meaningful life.

As someone who is not Catholic, I still found myself inspired by her legacy and quite frankly her work ethic and tenacity to overcome perceptions about her frail health. The grounds are also just a beautiful and peaceful place to spend a little bit of time.

So even if you’re not coming here for a pilgrimage, it’s still a sight worth exploring.