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A turn-of-the-century portrait of American nun and founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart Francesca Xavier Cabrini (1850 - 1917). She was canonized in 1946. =
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It takes a long time to become a saint — unless you’re Frances Cabrini, the woman who 70 years ago became the first American saint.

By the time Catholicism was well established in the United States, it was a lot harder to become a saint than it once had been, as the Catholic Church had stabilized the canonization process, as TIME explained after Cabrini’s sainthood was set. The process of investigating miracles performed by the candidate became so involved that the church was less willing to undertake it without strong preexisting support for the person, and the candidate also had to have been dead for at least 50 years.

When it came to Cabrini, however, Pope Pius XI decided that, after her death in 1917, the canonization process could begin early. (One less-savory part of the process: her body was exhumed in 1938 so one of her limbs could be brought to Rome for ceremonial use as a relic.)

What made her so special? It wasn’t just a matter of her claim to the requisite miracles. Here’s how TIME described it upon her canonization:

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Though she had been born in Italy, that citizenship would earn her the title of the first American saint. The first saint born in the U.S. would come later, when Elizabeth Ann Seton was canonized in 1975.

Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: First U.S. Saint

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