Before its current popular usage, “Nevertheless, she persisted” could certainly have been applied to Francesca Cabrini, a 19th century nun from what is now Northern Italy. Determined, organized, successful in her aim to aid the neediest, she went to Rome to ask the Pope to send her to the Far East to continue missionary work.

Pope Leo XIII had some other ideas; she was needed in the West, specifically New York City where an influx of Italians were struggling and starving on the Lower East Side. The story of her travel there and her further struggles is told in glossy Hollywood style in the new film “Cabrini.”

Big-eyed Italian actress Cristiana Dell’Anna portrays the title character, a woman who won’t be deterred from her objective, won’t take no for an answer from even the highest of church officials and yet has a persistent health condition (depicted in the film as a kind of drowning).

That the film comes from the grassroots religious studio Angel, who is behind the current series about Jesus on TV, “The Chosen,” and the recent film “The Shift,” shouldn’t be a worry. They surprisingly keep any evangelism and Lord’s touch at a minimum. This is a story about a woman trying to help the homeless, hungry children in the streets and eventually the sick who are turned away from the established hospitals.

Still, it is directed by the Mexican director Alejandro Monteverde, who co-wrote and directed Angel’s controversial “Sound of Freedom,” last year’s film about child trafficking that had some connections to QAnon conspiracy theories but nonetheless grossed $250 million worldwide and ended up No. 10 on the list of top grossing films of 2023. 

Monteverde, who is credited with coming up with the story with screenwriter Rod Barr, keeps the controversy at bay here, with seamless if predictable storytelling, sumptuous cinematography by Gorka Gómez Andreu, and swelling music from Gene Back.

Shot in Buffalo, N.Y. and Rome, the sets are remarkable and meant to make one give pause to the blocks of neglected slums where Italian immigrants were forced to dwell. 

Like a lot of Angel films, some money was spent on getting some recognizable faces who pop in here and there, mostly as high officials. Of them, David Morse appears most often as New York’s scolding Archbishop Corrigan, forever taking the brunt for Cabrini’s ambition. John Lithgow appears only briefly a couple of times as a pig-headed and fictional New York City mayor. 

But not recognizable at all is Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini of the mid-70s art films “Swept Away” and “Seven Beauties” as the silver-haired and kindly Pope Leo III.

For all its length and ambition, “Cabrini” is a film wanting in secondary characters and stories. As it is, there’s a kindly ex-prostitute (Romana Maggiora Vergano) who joins the nun’s cause after some initial skepticism. But that’s about it.

Of course it’s heartening to see the story of defying odds to champion the downtrodden, but one hopes that the large audiences that are sure to be organized by Angel’s aggressive marketing strategies will also pick up on the strong themes of the ugly and needless bigotry toward immigrants. 

Younger audiences may be surprised that Italians were so discriminated against, refused entry into hospitals or society itself, where one’s mother can be dying in a cart, as one does in the film’s start, and nobody stops to help.

It can all be very easily applied to the ugly vilification of immigrants today and the politically-motivated hatefulness applied along the border. Here’s hoping that the likely accompanying study guides help point this out. 

“Cabrini” opens in theaters March 8.