A new 7.4-metre sculpture was recently installed at Cabrini Hospital to celebrate the life and work of St Frances Xavier Cabrini, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the doctors, nurses and staff who have served the local community for more than 70 years.

Entitled “VIGIL – The Heart of Cabrini”, the sculpture was created by the award-winning artist Simon Perry, who said he wanted to create a sculpture that would be both thought-provoking and visually striking; one that made a positive contribution to the site and community long into the future.

My intention was to create an innovative public artwork that would commemorate the life, work and legacy of Mother Cabrini and the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, whilst also highlighting the site of the contemporary hospital and the incredible work undertaken by its staff in their care of the Melbourne community.’

The sculpture was unveiled on Friday 19 November and was blessed by Bishop Tony Ireland, Episcopal Vicar for Health, Aged and Disability Care.

Cabrini Health is a not-for-profit health service owned and operated by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who came to Australia in 1948. Their founder, the Italian-born Francesca Cabrini (later Mother Cabrini), had a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and dreamed of becoming a missionary to the East. However, her friend and confidant Pope Leo XIII exhorted her to 'go West' instead, to serve the thousands of Italian migrants in New York who were living in ghettoes, enduring hardships, and in great need of care. A teacher by training, her ministry soon extended from schools to catechism classes, orphanages, social support and hospitals.

Mother Cabrini travelled extensively responding to requests for assistance. She would begin a work, set it on its course, and then leave it in the hands of her sisters as she moved on to her next work. By the time of her death in 1917, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus had more than a thousand sisters working in ministries across the USA, Latin America, Europe and England.

In 1948, the Sisters arrived in Australia to manage a small community hospital in Malvern and look after the Italians who had migrated to Melbourne after the Second World War. They worked hard to get to know and assist the local community, and helped enable the comprehensive healthcare system that Cabrini Health is today.

Cabrini now has more than 800 beds and a comprehensive range of health services, including a residential aged care home in Ashwood, a rehabilitation service in Elsternwick and the Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub in Brunswick.

Plans for the sculpture began in late 2016, as part of the commemorations for the centenary of the death of St Frances Xavier Cabrini. The sculpture incorporates the Sacred Heart and various themes from the saint's life, combining them with more contemporary references relating to medicine and technology, such as the heartbeat rhythm graphs seen on electrocardiogram monitors.

The Cabrini Health website says that the resulting form is ‘comprised of a series of interconnected vertical spires, which vary in height and resemble an unfolding landscape.’ Each spire has a heart-shaped crown on top which is designed to slowly move in the wind. As the hearts turn, ‘the reading of them shifts between the open heart-shaped motif and a stylised head. They are also reminiscent of ship propellers, making reference to the role of international shipping, immigration and Mother Cabrini’s many ocean journeys around the world.’

Cabrini Board Member Sister Sharon Casey MSC said after having worked on the sculpture project for the past five years, she was ‘astonished and in momentary awe’ to see it installed.

It is an extraordinary work of art that is visually arresting and, as you look at it, gently invites you into it, in the hope of finding light and inspiration,’ Sr Sharon said.

The sculpture is positioned near the main entrance to the Malvern hospital, and was partly funded by the Cabrini Italians of Melbourne. Cabrini Foundation Acting Director Susie Santilli said thanks to the Cabrini Italians of Melbourne, the community now has a ‘beautiful sculpture to reflect our rich Italian heritage’.

‘Due to their support we now have this sculpture, which offers a place of reflection for our patients, visitors and our staff to enjoy,’ Mrs Santilli said.

Images courtesy of Cabrini Health