St. Frances Cabrini: From 1857 to Now

St. Frances Cabrini is home to Little Italy on the corner of 10th and Williams Street. Although it isn’t the first Catholic church to build in Omaha, it is the first Catholic parish in Omaha. The church’s history dates all the way back to 1857. It’s a historic site and on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

Father Damian Zuerlein is the current priest at St. Frances Cabrini. After his term limit was up at St. Columbkille, he was sent by the archbishop to reinvigorate the parish. It will be Fr. Damian’s two-year anniversary at the parish come this July.

“When the archbishop asked me to help, I snuck in on a Sunday. There were around 30 people at mass, which is not very many,” said Fr. Damian. “Now we probably have around 120-150 people at each mass.”

It has been Fr. Damian’s mission to draw in more families, youth and millennials. He loves the new parish, the area and feels blessed with the job he has.

“I love working with people and the issues they present—their struggles and their joys. Walking with people in the journey of life, I always think, I have a great job,” said Fr. Damian. “I get to be with people, form community, and form relationships. I get to bring people together and engage them in their spiritual journey.”

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St. Frances Cabrini church draws in people from Little Italy, the Old Market, northern downtown Omaha, South Omaha and some “old time” Italians who live all over town who grew up in the area, according to Fr. Damian. Those who committed their time here growing up in the neighborhood continue to come back here and bring their families every Sunday.

1 church sign

Fr. Damian’s favorite crowd of church-goers attend the 11 a.m. mass. It’s a very diverse bunch.

4 church view from organs

At full capacity the church fits about 300 people. Here is a view of the church from above, where the pipe organs are.

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One of the most colorful and intricate stained glass windows faces the front of the church. The organs, some of which are the originals from 1857 (and unfortunately no longer work), are in close proximity to the window.

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Only a few original Tiffany-style stained glass windows from 1857 are left in the church. At the bottom of these dated windows, each said “In memory of…”

6 original alter from 1857

The altar at St. Francis Cabrini is from the original 1857 church. It’s made from black and white marble, imported from Italy.

7 mural above alter

A breathtakingly beautiful mural is painted above the altar. The gold cross at the bottom of the image is part of the altar.

9 st patrick, lucia, frances

As you enter the church to the right is a glass case. Behind the glass case (from left to right) sits Saint Patrick, Saint Lucia, and Saint Frances of Rome. The church has ties to both Irish and Roman Catholicism.

11 lucia floor view

Fr. Damian stated how Saint Lucia was one of the world’s first radical feminists. She was a Roman Catholic martyr. She refused to be treated like property and disagreed with arranged marriages. For that, it is said, according to Fr. Damian, her eyes were gouged out, hence why she’s holding a chalice of two eyeballs.

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In the sacristy room (where the priest and altar boys prepare for service), Fr. Damian gets inspiration from the photo of Pope Francis, which hangs to the right of the door. “Yep, that’s my boss,” joked Fr. Damian.

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