Radio Show

Bringing Mother Cabrini’s Story to the Big Screen With Screenwriter Rod Barr

Friday, March 8 is International Women’s Day, as well as the release date of a new movie all about the Italian-American saint, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini. The film “Cabrini” portrays the immigrant’s mission to secure housing and healthcare for New York City’s most vulnerable and stars Cristiana Dell’Anna, David Morse, and John Lithgow. Father Dave welcomes producer and screenwriter Rod Barr to discuss bringing Mother Cabrini’s life’s story to movie theaters nationwide.

Rod describes the trials Mother Cabrini faced after immigrating to the United States. “[She] came to America in 1889 to serve Italian immigrants in New York, specifically [in the] Five Points neighborhood], which was a desperately poor part of New York slums; really tenements, terrible living conditions,” he says. “The Italians at that time, and this is hard for many Americans to picture, but they really were the lowest class citizens; often considered barely better than animals. Strictly cheap labor was basically what they were considered.”

“She came as a woman to a man’s world, and she came as an Italian in a [country] that really was not very welcoming to Italians,” Rod continues. “The deck was stacked against her, to say the least. She went on to found one of the greatest entrepreneurial empires that the world had ever seen, equal to Vanderbilt and Rockefeller, but she did it for others, not for profit as those gentlemen did.”

RELATED: Spiritual Streaming: 5 Catholic-Themed Films for Your Next Movie Night

Father Dave notes, “We certainly see movies about Catholic saints, but not very often with this high production value and Hollywood star power. What made this take hold?” Rod explains the passion of executive producer and businessman Eustace Wolfington who has a strong devotion to Mother Cabrini. Rod says, “He had been asked to do a movie on Cabrini….They were going to do a very pious, saintly, quiet, demure, and obedient movie. He said, ‘No, you can’t do that to Cabrini.’ She was a powerhouse and a disrupter. Of course she was pious, but you can’t forget her energy, drive, and business acumen.”

“We wanted to make this as a movie for everyone,” he continues. “It is absolutely a movie for Catholics; Catholics will understand everything, and they’ll feel very at home in this movie. But we’ve screened it enough to general audiences to know that Protestants of every stripe feel just as strongly about it. Atheists, agnostics, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and every kind of person has seen this movie and finds something beautiful in it.”

Rod describes the joy and challenge of writing her story in this film. “It’s a difficult balance to strike, but in this case it was made easier by the fact that what she did was so dynamic,” he says. “It wasn’t a glass ceiling; it was a stone ceiling, there was no way for her to get through. So she’s the ultimate underdog…she’s ‘Rocky,’ nobody believes that she should be able to do what she does.”

“When you have someone who’s driven by faith, because her engine was 100% faith and love, every one of those actions in the movie becomes imbued, in a very subtle way, with that faith and love,” he says.

LISTEN: Exploring Forgiveness in the New Film ‘The Miracle Club’ With Director Thaddeus O’Sullivan

They discuss how Mother Cabrini can teach us many lessons today in our divided country. Rod says, “Mother Cabrini is the patron saint of the immigrant; not the patron saint of immigration. Immigration is a policy issue, and it’s contentious. Mother Cabrini was always focused on [how] the immigrant is always a human being first. Laws were completely different in 1890 than they are today, so I don’t believe that Mother Cabrini can speak to us from 1889 about what border policy should be in 2024…they don’t compare to each other.”

“But what she can do is say [that] our job as Catholics, Christians, and I would argue, as human beings is to look at people first through the lens of dignity and love,” he continues. “If we do, then I believe we will create better policy out of that. I can’t tell you what it’ll be, but we actually do agree – right, left and center – on certain transcendent values that she espouses: dignity, love, hope, and determination.”

“Cabrini” is in theaters nationwide Friday, March 8 and you can find tickets near you here.