A year after a tribute to Mother Cabrini was skipped by City Hall’s much vaunted “She Built NYC” commission, Governor Andrew Cuomo gave America’s first saint the respect she deserved with the unveiling of the new statue in Battery Park City Monday afternoon for Columbus Day.
Normally, Cuomo would be leading the Columbus Day Parade up Fifth Avenue, but COVID-19 resulted in the cancellation of most every major parade in the city. The governor told members of the Columbus Citizens Foundation on Saturday that he would unveil the statue Monday to mark the Columbus Day celebration.
Cuomo stepped in to establish the Mother Cabrini statue with state funds when controversy erupted after City Hall — led by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife and the city’s first lady, Chirlane McCray — failed to include the patron saint of immigrants on the list of famous women to be honored.
The firestorm over the snub led to the mayor being ostracized by the Italian-American community, even after Mother Cabrini received the most nominations from the public.
De Blasio apparently turned down an invitation to attend the unveiling, but did send a representative to the event.
Cuomo pulled the red cloth off of the bronze statue that faces the Statue of Liberty across the harbor. He aid he was proud that they could get this statue done in a year.
“This Columbus Day, the celebration of Mother Cabrini is even more appropriate than when we announced it last year because of the difficulties that we are facing,” Cuomo said. “We all know that these are challenging times, but we also know that in the book of life, it is not what one does when the sun is shining that tests our metal – it’s what one does in the fury of the storm, and that’s where we are today. In this complex world, may this statue serve to remind us of the principles that made us great as a country and as a people and the principles that keep us special on this globe – the values of Mother Cabrini: compassion, acceptance, community, freedom, faith, hope and love.”
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, leader of the Diocese of Brooklyn, expressed pride in the new statue and said it should serve as an example to all of her accomplishments in education, health care and taking care of the downtrodden.
“I’m so happy that so many people were behind it, and I’m happy with the design of the statue – it’s unique,” said DiMarzio. “We hope people recognize history, that there was care for the outcast and the marginalized that she understood and we need that same care today, with the understanding of the new way. we need to take care of people.”
The artists, Giancarlo Biagi and his co-artist Jill Burett Biagi, were on hand with their two adopted children from China, Layla Marie and Michelle. Giancarlo, himself an immigrant of Italy, expressed pride in their ability to capture the essence of Mother Cabrini even in the shot period of time they had to do it.
“For us, because we worked so hard on this we still pinch each other to see if we are dreaming or is this really happening, for us it’s our glorious moment, like Andy Warhol said in 1968, ‘We are living our 15 minutes. We’re really happy its here and we are here,” Giancarlo said of their marathon to finish the statue on time for Columbus Day.
“It’s one of those pieces that you do very fast, because there is no time – to look for any errors, but our expertise, Jill and I have been working on these since 1975, so we’ve been doing this a long time,” Biagi said of his duet with his partner on the statue. “Its like playing a piano with four hands. We create all the notes in there, we were going around sculpting and I was surprised by what she was doing and I was trying to catch up with her, and she was surprised by the things I was doing. We have the achievement and it came out perfectly in the end, we did the drawing and its almost identical.”
His co-artist Jill described the scene, Mother Cabrini crossing the Atlantic to immigrate to the United States making her “kind of a sailor.” One of the children represents Mother Cabrini when she was younger – with a book, representing a dedication to education and her hand on the book showing “steadfastness in the face of adversity that Mother Cabrini faced in her life.”
The boy is an immigrant, as is Giancarlo, “I felt that the role of the boy, you can see his expression his facing uncertainty – a little scared, fresh off the boat. It signifies that we all come from some place else while carrying our traditions, culture, our beliefs to the new land.”