Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first American ever canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, lived and performed some of her holy work in the Verdugo Mountains above Burbank, at a “preventorium” she started for poor girls.
Mother Cabrini was born in Italy in 1850 and orphaned at age 13. She traveled to America to serve her own order, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, among poor immigrants from. In 1905 she came to Los Angeles to help the city’s poorest children.
She managed to obtain 475 acres in the Verdugos. Mother Cabrini and her followers planted olive trees and grapevines, and built a school and chapel where girls could learn without fear of catching tuberculosis. She prayed daily in a one-room shrine to the Virgin Mary, built atop a hill overlooking the Valley.
Mother Cabrini became a naturalized American citizen before her death in 1917. The Missionary Sisters presented evidence of miracles attributed to her: a New York schoolboy who regained his sight, a Seattle woman who was cured of terminal cancer after Mother Cabrini appeared to her in a vision. She was declared the saint of immigrants in 1946.
Her compound above Glenoaks Boulevard just across the Burbank city line in Sun Valley became the Villa Cabrini Academy, a school for girls, and later served as the interim campus of California Institute of the Arts. It now houses Woodbury University.
The shrine where Mother Cabrini prayed remained for decades as a landmark visible to travelers in the east Valley. It survived several threatening wildfires before being moved to the grounds of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Burbank.