Musical About Mother Cabrini the Work of NY Playwright With MS

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by Mary Chapman |

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A musical about the life of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the Italian-born Roman Catholic nun known as Mother Cabrini to the many immigrants in New York she served in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, tells Cabrini’s story through the eyes of a 13-year-old girl with multiple sclerosis (MS) who sees the trailblazing nun as an inspiration for her own struggles.

“Happening Woman,” as the musical theater is titled, is by the playwright AnnaMarie Prono, a native New Yorker who worked as an architect until MS progression derailed her career, and composer Robert Kaufmann. Prono was diagnosed more than 25 years ago.

The play will be performed at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 14 at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Queens, New York. Tickets are $15 for adults, and $10 for children and seniors. Attendees must wear masks and show proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

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Born in 1850 near Milan, Cabrini battled frail health to help found the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, before being asked by Pope Leo XII to go New York to aid the thousands of Italian immigrants already there.

She went on to establish schools, hospitals, and orphanages across that city and the U.S., and later in other countries — establishing a reported 67 charities worldwide before her death in 1917. Cabrini became the first American citizen to be canonized a saint, an act made by Pope Pius XII in 1946.

“I think that this show is a wonderful opportunity for people to learn about the first American citizen to be named a saint in the Catholic Church,” the Rev. Frank L. Schwarz, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy, in the Forest Hills section of Queens, said in a press release.

The musical came about largely by happenstance. Prono read news accounts of the controversy about the apparent refusal of New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, to erect a statue of Cabrini during the city’s “She Built NYC” project. Cabrini had been the top vote-getter in public nominations of historic women of importance to New York, and many were outraged.

“I was fascinated and I needed to know more about Mother Cabrini,” Prono said. “She was a woman who refused to take ‘no’ for an answer. As someone with compromised health, I identified with that and spent the next year getting to know her. She accomplished great things and I want to do the same.”

“Happening Woman” started to come into being once Kaufmann wrote its theme song, and went on to be polished in workshops.

A sponsor is ThermApparel, a company that provides high-tech and light-weight cooling vests for people with heat intolerance, which includes MS patients. Heat, in whatever form, can affect people with MS and cause disease symptoms to worsen.

“Our goal is to help people do more of what they love by reducing exhaustion and fatigue caused by heat and exertion,” said Kurtis Kracke, ThermApparel’s CEO and founder.

“Like Mother Cabrini, [Prono] is inspirational to others as an example of someone living life to its fullest despite significant challenges brought on by MS,” Kracke added. “In addition to sponsoring the musical, we are featuring AnnaMarie as an #RIPUPMS hero because of her dedication.”

ThermApparel and MS Fitness Challenge are partnering to present the #RIPUPMS blog, which seeks to raise MS awareness, and share coping techniques and patients’ stories.

Show organizers ask those willing and able to help bring the musical to other churches and schools by making a donation through the production’s GoFundMe page. The goal is to raise $6,800.

“The life of Mother Cabrini is being resurrected as the public, especially New Yorkers, learn about her contributions,” organizers state on that page. “The goal is to not only share her trailblazing story but to inspire others to stand in their power and become their own ‘happening’ person.”

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