Sister Francis Xavier Cain, O.P.
Sister Francis Xavier Cain was born Margaret Emma Cain in Sebastopol, California of immigrants from Nova Scotia. One of four children, she and her family had moved to Berkeley by the time she was of school age. Her early years were taken up with the study of music, particularly in the fields of piano and voice. She became a highly skilled teacher and musician.
Margaret entered the novitiate February 19, 1925 and in June of that year received the habit. Soon after, however, one of her brothers became ill, and she went home to take care of him. She returned eleven years later on August 17, 1936. During her second novitiate, to the delight of postulants and novices far younger than she, Sister Francis Xavier was sought out as an entertainer on the piano (others would sort laundry around a big table while she played marches and other boisterous pieces). She taught piano to musically advanced novices and postulants who found that what they learned went far beyond learning to play the piano. She shared her love of music, and opened up a whole world of appreciation to those who had her.
Sister Francis Xavier was for many a teacher, advisor and endearing friend. Always an avid reader of all kinds of contemporary books, periodicals and newspapers, she was widely conversant in much that characterized the secular world and the life of the Church. She rose early and prayed frequently, but she had an unbelievable capacity for action. From 1943 to 1959 she was Chairperson of the Dominican Conservatory of Music in San Rafael, a task that involved administrating and teaching in both the Lower and Upper Schools, and the College. Not enough for her to do all this; she added to it the task of backstage manager for all recitals. She played the organ and taught students music for Mass, Benediction and the Christmas Tableaux. She made the choral music teaching delightful, coming into the study hall fifteen minutes before dinner. Not wasting a minute, she got the girls “in tune” by letting them sing Turkey in the Straw or any fun song while the books were being distributed, and then down to serious business for ten minutes. One learned more than how to sing with sophisticated subtlety from her; one also learned how to prefer the best in all music.
Sister Francis Xavier remained in charge of the entire Conservatory until she was seventy-two years old. In 1959 the College formed a separate music department. But Sister Francis Xavier continued to manage all Lower and Upper School musical affairs. In 1966, when San Domenico opened and Sister was almost seventy-nine years old, she delegated the chair position of the newly located Lower and Upper School music departments to Faith France, and left for herself the task of arranging times for lessons and for coaching students during their practice periods. And in June 1972, at the age of eighty-five, she retired from coaching and supervising, and moved to the convent at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Stockton. As was typical of her even in these later years, she rose early, her favorite time for prayer and solitude. While sitting in a chair, rosary in hand, waiting for the priest to bring her Holy Communion, she slipped to her end almost imperceptibly. At her own request made some time before, a Low Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated in the convent chapel in Stockton on August 12, with internment following in the sisters’ plot of San Joaquin Catholic Cemetery behind the convent.