Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Today is the feast day of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
Saint Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton (August 28, 1774 – January 4, 1821) was the first native-born citizen of the United States to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church (September 14, 1975).
14 Sep 1975 Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton Becomes the First American Saint Canonized by the Roman Catholic Church
On December 18, 1959, Elizabeth was declared Venerable by the Sacred Congregation of Rites of the Catholic Church. She was beatified by Pope John XXIII on March 17, 1963, and canonized by Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975, making her the first native-born United States citizen to be canonized. Her feast day is January 4.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is popularly considered a patron saint of Catholic schools. Her name appears on the front two doors of St. Patrick's Cathedral, as a "Daughter of New York". The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, is open to the public. In addition, In New York City, the Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was built on the site of her home in Manhattan, and is accessible to the public. She had many schools named after her
Blessed John XXIII declared Elizabeth venerable December 18, 1959, and also beatified her March 17, 1963. Pope Paul VI canonized Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton September 14 during the Holy Year of 1975 and the International Year of the Woman. The Holy See accepted three miracles through her intercession. These included the cures of Sister Gertrude Korzendorfer, D.C., (1872-1942), of Saint Louis, of cancer; a young child, Ann Theresa O’Neill, (b.1948), of Baltimore, from acute, lymphatic leukemia; and the miraculous recovery of Carl Kalin, (1902-1976), of New York, from a rare form of encephalitis.
On September 14, 1975, Pope Paul VI enrolled Mother Seton in the Church's official list of saints. She is commemorated on January 4, the day of her death, considered by the Church her heavenly birthday. Because that day falls this year on a Sunday, American Catholics will not hear about her until 2010. All the more reason to thank God for the spiritual courage and strength of this woman, the first native-born American to be canonized, and to invoke her prayers.
Prayer in Honor of St. Elizabeth Seton
Lord God, you blessed Elizabeth Ann Seton with gifts of grace as wife and mother, educator and foundress, so that she might spend her life in service to your people.
Through her example and prayers, may we,
whose Faith Community is dedicated in her honor, learn to express our love for you in our love for all your children.
We ask this through Christ, Our Lord.
Elizabeth Ann Seton: An Overview of Her Life
Birth: Elizabeth Ann Bayley is born in New York to well-to-do Episcopalian parents two years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence (1774).
Loses Mother: When she is only three her mother dies (1777).
Teenager: As first medical officer of New York her father is often away from home; she misses her mother greatly; her father remarries but relations with her step family are strained; in her loneliness Elizabeth contemplates suicide (1790).
Marries: At the age of 19 she finds happiness and marries William Magee Seton (1794).
Children: William and Elizabeth have five children - Anna, William, Richard, Catherine, and Rebecca (1795-1802).
Bankruptcy: William's shipping business fails, resulting in bankruptcy, and leaving them struggling (1800).
Loses Father: Elizabeth's father dies (1801).
Husband dies: William suffers from
tuberculosis. Elizabeth goes to Italy with him for the sake of his health, but he dies leaving her a grieving widow at 29 (1803).
Loves Mass: While staying with Catholic friends she is attracted to the Catholic Mass and their devotion to the Blessed Sacrament (1804).
Becomes Catholic: A year after returning home she is received into the Catholic Church, a move which causes her to lose the support of family and friends (1805).
First Catholic School: Encouraged by Archbishop Carroll, she moves her children to Baltimore and opens a school, the first Catholic free school in America (1808).
Becomes Religious: Even though she has children for whom she must care, she receives permission to become a nun and receives the religious habit (1809).
Death of Children: Having already lost her mother, father, and husband she now loses her oldest and youngest child to tuberculosis, Anna and Rebecca (1812, 1816).
Daughters of Charity: She forms a religious community and 17 women pronounce vows (1813).
First Orphanage: Three of her Sisters found the first orphanage in America.
Her Death: Suffering from tuberculosis as did her husband and two daughters, she dies with her eyes fixed on the Blessed Sacrament in the presence of her daughter Catherine and the sisters.
First Miracle: The first miracle credited to her intercession, the cure of a nun with cancer, occurs in New Orleans, Louisiana (1935).
Blessed: She is declared Blessed by Pope John XXIII, the first step on the road to canonization (1963).
Canonized a Saint: She is declared a Saint by Pope John Paul VI (September 14, 1975).
Parish Founded: Our parish community is officially established by Bishop Gerard Frey on the same day that she is canonized (September 14, 1975).
A More Complete Look At Who Elizabeth Ann Seton Is?
To begin the story of our church's patron, I would like you to picture, if you will, the world in which Elizabeth Ann Bayley (later to be Seton) was born. The year is 1774. The scene is bustling New York City, a principal trade center of the colonies.
Elizabeth's mother is the daughter of an Episcopal minister. Her father is a hard working doctor who becomes New York's first health officer. It is a comfortable home where many of the leading figures of the day are entertained, and there is much lively conversation.
Elizabeth is born two years before the American Revolution. The time is one of plots and secret meetings and concern for the future of the New World. Her childhood and that of her older sister, Mary, are overshadowed first by the war and then by the death of their mother in 1777. Elizabeth is told her mother is in heaven, and from that moment wants to become holy so she can be with her.
This, then, was the birth of our saint. As we have learned more about her, we on the committee have been struck over and over by the way Mother Seton's life and experiences remind us of people in this parish. It would be hard for us to have a more appropriate patron saint. As we review St. Elizabeth's life, see if you don't think of people you know.
Picture a child losing a sick mother. She tries hard to adjust to a new step-mother, but she's pushed aside as more children join the family.
She's a bookworm. Her father adores her and though she's a girl, provides an excellent education. However, between his patients and his growing family, he has very little time for her. Once in a while he takes his daughter with him to care for the sick poor. From her youngest years she wants to make life better for others.
Then picture her a troubled, depressed teenager. At 16, she even contemplates suicide. This was a fact of St. Elizabeth Seton's life which came as a shock to us, but it's made her seem very human.
She goes to live with her older sister after that and is happier there. In time she becomes a popular, pretty socialite. She loves dancing and parties. Still, she is also drawn to prayer.
At nineteen she meets the love of her life, William Magee Seton, a merchant in business with his father. The couple marries the following year and are the toast of New York. They host a birthday party for George Washington. The Alexander Hamiltons are their neighbors.
Elizabeth becomes a parent for the first time in 1795 and in the next few years brings into the world three daughters and two sons.
She is active in her Episcopal church. She and her sister-in-law, Rebecca, organize women like themselves to work among the city's poor and they become known as Protestant Sisters of Charity.
But this happy time is not to last. Elizabeth's life changes dramatically before the last child is born.
Her father-in-law dies, leaving Will with a failing business and Elizabeth with Will's seven brothers and sisters to add to her already full household.
She takes over the bookkeeping for her husband's business, working long hours at night after the children are settled. They cut expenses every way they can think of, but eventually have to declare bankruptcy and move to a smaller, less comfortable house.
She loses her beloved father. She worries over her husband's poor health. Will's tuberculosis advances rapidly, and in a last ditch attempt to save his life, Elizabeth and their eldest daughter, Anna, sail with him to sunny Italy where business friends, the Filliccis, have urged them to come. For her husband's sake, she suffers the painful separation from her other children, leaving them in the care of relatives.
But no healing sun awaits the little family. On their arrival in Italy they're placed in quarantine in a cold, damp dungeon-like room because of a yellow fever outbreak. It takes days for the Fillichis to obtain their release. For Elizabeth those are exhausting days of prayer and nursing and trying to keep up their morale.
She watches her husband's life fade away, but sees him turn to God before he dies in her arms.
Now she is a grieving widow in a strange country, dependent on the kindness of new friends.
Seeing how the Fillichis' Catholic faith sustains them, she longs for their certainty, and the sight of the Blessed Sacrament passing in procession by her window creates in her a great desire to believe as they do.
She returns to the United States, a homeless single parent with little worldly goods and no income.
Her family and friends are solicitous , but when she expresses her religious doubts and speaks of her attraction to the Catholic Church, they're horrified. She prays fervently for direction.
To support herself and her children, she opens a boarding house for students. The boarding house has a brief life, though, because Elizabeth at last takes the step of becoming Catholic, and because of this, the students leave. Her conversion also isolates her from family and friends, even her beloved sister, who is married to an Episcopal clergyman.
It is a bleak time, but Elizabeth's faith is strong. With the encouragement of a priest advisor and Archbishop Carroll, she takes her children and moves to Baltimore. The boys are put in a nearby boarding school and Elizabeth opens a school for girls. It is the first Catholic free school in America.
With her spiritual life steadily deepening, Elizabeth feels called to religious life. Because of this, she faces new obstacles and misunderstandings. Problems arise with one priest in particular, and Elizabeth has to appeal to the bishop. For a woman of the 18th century, none of this is easy.
An arrangement is agreed upon that she may always care for her children, and so she receives the habit, a modified version of her widow's garb.
Months later she moves once more - this time to Emmitsburg - and establishes community life with the first of her Daughters of Charity.
As their school grows, the days take on a routine of prayer and study, but leave room for fun and laughter. There is singing, too, and Elizabeth loves playing the piano for the children. Her letters from the time are full of joy and her wonderful sense of humor.
Even so, it's a very harsh life. They're hungry. They're cold. They haven't much furniture, only a few books. The winter is cruel.
The nuns and students are often sick. Tuberculosis strikes one after another of Elizabeth's family. She nurses her daughter Anna around the clock, and is holding her when she dies. Under a tree outside her window, Elizabeth buries first Anna , then her much loved sister-in-law and soulmate, Rebecca Seton, and just a few years later, her fourteen year old daughter, also named Rebecca.
Numb with grief, she hardly knows what she's doing, but she works on.
Her sons are growing up and they give her trouble. They become rebellious and disrespectful, they quit the jobs she gets for them, they cause her money problems. Elizabeth fears for their souls. They come around, but she doesn't live to see it.
All the while more and more women are being drawn to her work. In 1812 the community's rule is approved and in 1813, seventeen of Elizabeth's Daughters of Charity are allowed to pronounce vows.
Three of them found the first orphanage in the United States, in Philadelphia. Elizabeth and her Sisters continue to care for children and the poor.
She is 46 when the disease that has taken so many of her loved ones attacks her, too. As she wastes away with tuberculosis, her sick bed is placed so she can see at all times the tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament. Only her daughter, Catherine, and her Sisters are with her when she dies. Her last words to them are, "Be children of the Church. Be children of the Church."
One of the miracles used in her canonization was the healing of a nun in New Orleans. So this is our patroness. She experienced many of the things we do.
She was lonely, scared, rejected. She loved deeply and had children who were the light of her life. She knew what it was to be sick, and broke and homeless. She cooked and cleaned and worried over the bills. She studied her Bible and knelt in prayer. Her faith was her abiding strength. We pray the church we build will help others to know and love and serve the God she served so well.
CANONIZATION OF ELISABETH ANN SETON
HOMILY OF THE HOLY FATHER PAUL VI
14 September 1975
Yes, Venerable Brothers and beloved sons and daughters! Elizabeth Ann Seton is a Saint! We rejoice and we are deeply moved that our apostolic ministry authorizes us to make this solemn declaration before all of you here present, before the holy Catholic Church, before our other Christian brethren in the world, before the entire American people, and before all humanity. Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton is a Saint! She is the first daughter of the United States of America to be glorified with this incomparable attribute! But what do we mean when we say: «She is a Saint»? We all have some idea of the meaning of this highest title; but it is still difficult for us to make an exact analysis of it. Being a Saint means being perfect, with a perfection that attains the highest level that a human being can reach. A Saint is a human creature fully conformed to the will of God. A Saint is a person in whom all sin-the principle of death-is cancelled out and replaced by the living splendor of divine grace. The analysis of the concept of sanctity brings us to recognize in a soul the mingling of two elements that are entirely different but which come together to produce a single effect: sanctity. One of these elements is the human and moral element, raised to the degree of heroism: heroic virtues are always required by the Church for the recognition of a person's sanctity. The second element is the mystical element, which express the measure and form of divine action in the person chosen by God to realize in herself-always in an original way-the image of Christ (Cfr. Rom. 8, 29).
The science of sanctity is therefore the most interesting, the most varied, the most surprising and the most fascinating of all the studies of that ever mysterious being which is man. The Church has made this study of the life, that is, the interior and exterior history, of Elizabeth Ann Seton. And the Church has exulted with admiration and joy, and has today heard her own charism of truth poured out in the exclamation that we send up to God and announce to the world: She is a Saint! We shall not now give a panegyric, that is, the narrative which glorifies the new Saint. You already know her life and you will certainly study it further. This will be one of the most valuable fruits of the Canonization of the new Saint: to know her, in order to admire in her an outstanding human figure; in order to praise God who is wonderful in his saints; to imitate her example which this ceremony places in a light that will give perennial edification; to invoke her protection, now that we have the certitude of her participation in the exchange of heavenly life in the Mystical Body of Christ, which we call the Communion of Saints and in which we also share, although still belonging to life on earth. We shall not therefore speak of the life of our Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. This is neither the time nor the place for a fitting commemoration of her.
But at least let us mention the chapters in which such a commemoration should be woven. Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton is an American. All of us say this with spiritual joy, and with the intention of honoring the land and the nation from which she marvellously sprang forth as the first flower in the calendar of the saints. This is the title which, in his original foreword to the excellent work of Father Dirvin, the late Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York, attributed to her as primary and characteristic: «Elizabeth Ann Seton was wholly American»! Rejoice, we say to the great nation of the United States of America. Rejoice for your glorious daughter. Be proud of her. And know how to preserve her fruitful heritage. This most beautiful figure of a holy woman presents to the world and to history the affirmation of new and authentic riches that are yours: that religious spirituality which your temporal prosperity seemed to obscure and almost make impossible. Your land too, America, is indeed worthy of receiving into its fertile ground the seed of evangelical holiness. And here is a splendid proof-among many others-of this fact.
May you always be able to cultivate the genuine fruitfulness of evangelical holiness, and ever experience how-far from stunting the flourishing development of your economic, cultural and civic vitality -it will be in its own way the unfailing safeguard of that vitality. Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was born, brought up and educated in New York in the Episcopalian Communion. To this Church goes the merit of having awakened and fostered the religious sense and Christian sentiment which in the young Elizabeth were naturally predisposed to the most spontaneous and lively manifestations. We willingly recognize this merit, and, knowing well how much it cost Elizabeth to pass over to the Catholic Church, we admire her courage for adhering to the religious truth and divine reality which were manifested to her therein. And we are likewise pleased to see that from this same adherence to the Catholic Church she experienced great peace and security, and found it natural to preserve all the good things which her membership in the fervent Episcopalian community had taught her, in so many beautiful expressions, especially of religious piety, and that she was always faithful in her esteem and affection for those from whom her Catholic profession had sadly separated her.
For us it is a motive of hope and a presage of ever better ecumenical relations to note the presence at this ceremony of distinguished Episcopalian dignitaries, to whom-interpreting as it were the heartfelt sentiments of the new Saint-we extend our greeting of devotion and good wishes. And then we must note that Elizabeth Seton was the mother of a family and at the same time the foundress of the first Religious Congregation of women in the United States. Although this social and ecclesial condition of hers is not unique or new (we may recall, for example, Saint Birgitta, Saint Frances of Rome, Saint Jane Frances Fremiot de Chantal, Saint Louise de Marillac), in a particular way it distinguishes Saint Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton for her complete femininity, so that as we proclaim the supreme exaltation of a woman by the Catholic Church, we are pleased to note that this event coincides with an initiative of the United Nations: International Women's Year. This program aims at promoting an awareness of the obligation incumbent on all to recognize the true role of women in the world and to contribute to their authentic advancement in society. And we rejoice at the bond that is established between this program and today's Canonization, as the Church renders the greatest honor possible to Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton and extols her personal and extraordinary contribution as a woman -a wife, a mother, a widow, and a religious.
May the dynamism and authenticity of her life be an example in our day-and for generations to come-of what women can and must accomplish, in the fulfillment of their role, for the good of humanity. And finally we must recall that the most notable characteristic of our Saint is the fact that she was, as we said, the foundress of the first Religious Congregation of women in the United States. It was an offspring of the religious family of Saint Vincent de Paul, which later divided into various autonomous branches-five principal ones-now spread throughout the world. And yet all of them recognize their origin in the first group, that of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's, personally established by Saint Elizabeth Seton at Emmitsburg in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The apostolate of helping the poor and the running of parochial schools in America had this humble, poor, courageous and glorious beginning. This account, which constitutes the central nucleus of the earthly history and vorldwide fame of the work of Mother Seton, would merit a more extended treatment. But we know that her spiritual daughters will take care to portray the work itself as it deserves.
And therefore to these chosen daughters of the Saint we direct our special and cordial greeting, with the hope that they may be enabled to be faithful to their providential and holy institution, that their fervor and their numbers may increase, in the constant conviction that they have chosen and followed a sublime vocation that is worthy of being served with the total gift of their heart, the total gift of their lives. And may they always be mindful of the final exhortation of their Foundress Saint those words that she pronounced on her deathbed, like a heavenly testament, on January 2, 1821: «Be children of the Church». And we would add: for ever! And to all our beloved sons and daughters in the United States and throughout the entire Church of God we offer, in the name of Christ, the glorious heritage of Elizabeth Ann Seton. It is above all an ecclesial heritage of strong faith and pure love for God and for others-faith and love that are nourished on the Eucharist and on the Word of God. Yes, brethren, and sons and daughters: the Lord is indeed wonderful in his saints. Blessed be God for ever!
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Foundress and First Superior of the Sisters of Charity in the United States
Convert to Roman Catholicism; foundress of the American Sisters of Charity, which was the first sisterhood native to the United States; a wife, mother, widow, sole parent, foundress, educator, social minister, and spiritual leader, Elizabeth Bayley Seton was the first person born in the United States to become a canonized saint (September 14, 1975); b. August 28, 1774, New York City; d. Emmitsburg, Maryland, January 4, 1821. Of British and French ancestry, Elizabeth was born into a prominent Anglican family in New York and was the second daughter of Dr. Richard Bayley (1744-1801) and Catherine Charlton (d.1777). The couple's first child, Mary Magdalene Bayley (1768-1856), married (1790) Dr. Wright Post (1766-1828) of New York. Catherine Bayley (1777-1778), the youngest child, died the year after the untimely death of her mother, which was probably a result of childbirth.
Native of New York
The Bayley and Charlton families were among the earliest colonial settlers of the New York area. Elizabeth's paternal grandparents were William Bayley (c.1708-c.1758) and Susannah LeConte (LeCompte, b.1727), distinguished French Huguenots of New Rochelle. Her maternal grandparents, Mary Bayeux and Dr. Richard Charlton (d.1777), lived on Staten Island. where Dr. Charlton, was pastor at Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church.
After the death of his first wife, Dr. Bayley married (1778) Charlotte Amelia Barclay (c.1759-1805), of the Jacobus James Roosevelt lineage of New York, but the marriage ended in separation as a result of marital conflict. The couple had seven children, three daughters and four sons. Among them was Guy Carleton Bayley (1786-1859), whose son, James Roosevelt Bayley (1814-1877), converted to Roman Catholicism and became the first bishop of Newark (1853-1872) and eighth archbishop of Baltimore (1872-1877).
Elizabeth and her sister were rejected by their stepmother. On account of her father's travel abroad for medical studies, the girls lived temporarily in New Rochelle, New York, with their paternal uncle, William Bayley (1745-1811), and his wife, Sarah Pell Bayley. Elizabeth experienced a period of darkness around the time when her stepmother and father separated. Reflecting about this period of depression in later years in her journal entitled Dear Remembrances, she expressed her relief at not taking the drug laudanum, a opium derivative: "This wretched reasoning-laudanum-the praise and thanks of excessive joy not to have done the ‘horrid deed’- thoughts and promise of eternal gratitude." Elizabeth had a natural bent toward contemplation; she loved nature, poetry, and music, especially the piano. She was given to introspection and frequently made entries in her journal expressing her sentiments, religious aspirations, and favorite passages from her reading.
Elizabeth wed William Magee Seton (1768-1803), a son of William Seton, Sr., (1746-1798) and Rebecca Curson Seton (c.1746-c.1775), January 25, 1794, in the Manhattan home of Mary Bayley Post. Samuel Provoost (1742-1815), the first Episcopal bishop of New York, witnessed the wedding vows of the couple.
William Magee, a descendant of the Setons of Parbroath, was the oldest of thirteen children of his father's two marriages. The elder Seton married (1767) Rebecca Curson (c.1746-1775) and the year after her death he married (1776) his sister-in-law, Anna Maria Curson (d.1792). William Magee, educated in England, along with his father and brother James, was a founding partner in the import-export mercantile firm, the William Seton Company, which became the Seton, Maitland and Company in 1793. He had visited important counting houses in Europe in 1788 and was also a friend of Filippo Filicchi (1763-1816), a renowned merchant of Livorno, Italy.
Socially prominent in New York, the Setons belonged to the fashionable Trinity Episcopal Church. Elizabeth was a devout communicant there under the influence of Rev. John Henry Hobart (1775-1830, later bishop), who was her spiritual director. Elizabeth, along with her sister-in-law Rebecca Mary Seton (1780-1804), her soul-friend and dearest confidant, nursed the sick and dying among family, friends, and needy neighbors. Elizabeth was among the founders and charter members of The Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children (1797) and also served as treasurer of the organization.
Happily married, Elizabeth and William Magee Seton had five children: Anna Maria (1795-1812), William (1796-1868), Richard Bayley (1798-1823), Catherine Charlton (1800-1891), and Rebecca Mary (1802-1816).
Anna Maria, who had accompanied her parents to Italy in 1803, became afflicted with tuberculosis as an adolescent and made her vows as a Sister of Charity on her deathbed. Rebecca fell on ice sometime before 1812, causing a hip injury which resulted in lameness and early death, also from tuberculosis. Both Anna Maria and Rebecca are buried in the original cemetery of the Sisters of Charity at Emmitsburg, Maryland. After joining the United States Navy (1822), Richard died prematurely off the coast of Liberia on board the ship Oswego.
Catherine Charlton (also called Josephine), was beautiful and witty. She distinguished herself by her linguistic and musical talents, developed at Saint Joseph's Academy, Emmitsburg. She was the only Seton present at her mother's death. Catherine later lived with her brother William and his family and traveled to Europe with them several times before entering the Sisters of Mercy in New York City (1846). As Mother Mary Catherine, she devoted herself for more than forty years to prison ministry in New York. William received a commission as lieutenant in the United States Navy in February 1826 and married (1832) Emily Prime (1804-1854). Seven of their nine children lived to adulthood, including Archbishop Robert Seton (1839-1927) and Helen (1844-1906), another New York Sister of Mercy (Sister Mary Catherine, 1879-1906).
Change of Tide
After the death (1798) of William Seton, Sr., her father-in-law, responsibility was thrust on Elizabeth's husband for both the Seton, Maitland and Company and the welfare of his younger half-siblings. About six months pregnant with her third child at the time, Elizabeth managed the care of both families in the Seton household. There she enjoyed her initial teaching experience with her first pupils, Charlotte (1786-1853), Henrietta (Harriet) (1787-1809), and Cecilia (1791-1810), her youngest sisters-in-law.
During their monetary crisis Elizabeth tried to assist her husband at night by doing the account books of his firm, but the Company went bankrupt (1801), and the Setons lost their possessions and the family home at 61 Stone Street in lower Manhattan. William Magee began to show evidence of tuberculosis as their financial problems escalated.
Elizabeth, William Magee, and their oldest daughter Anna Maria made a sea voyage (1803) to the warm climate of Italy in a desperate effort to restore her husband's health. Italian authorities at the port of Livorno feared yellow fever then prevalent in New York. As a result the officials quarantined the Setons in a cold, stone lazaretto. The Filicchi family did all they could to advocate for them and to provide some relief during their month of isolation. Two weeks after his discharge, William Magee died in Pisa, December 27, and was buried in the English cemetery in Livorno, leaving Elizabeth a widow at age twenty-nine with five young children.
The experiences in Italy of Elizabeth and her daughter (now called Annina) transformed their lives forever. Antonio Filicchi (1764-1847) and his wife, Amabilia Baragazzi Filicchi (1773-1853) provided gracious hospitality to the widow and child until the Setons returned to the United States the next spring. Filippo and his wife, the former Mary Cowper (1760-1821) of Boston, along with Antonio and Amabilia Filicchi, introduced Elizabeth to Roman Catholicism. Elizabeth came upon the text of the Memorare, and began to inquire about Catholic practices, first from her lack of familiarity with the religion, then her inquisitiveness arose out of sincere interest. She asked about the Sacred Liturgy, the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and the Church’s direct unbroken link with Christ and the apostles. The Italian Journal, her long memoir written for her sister-in-law Rebecca Seton, reveals the intimate details of Elizabeth's heart-rending personal journey of inner conflict and conversion (cf. Bechtle and Metz, p. 243). Antonio, who had business interests in America, accompanied the Setons back to America, and instructed Elizabeth about the faith and offered wise counsel during her indecision. Elizabeth felt deeply for Antonio, who provided not only emotional support but also substantial financial resources to her.
Although Elizabeth left the United States a firm Protestant, she returned to New York with the heart of a Roman Catholic in June 1804. Immediately opposition and insecurity threatened her resolve. Elizabeth's religious inclinations incurred the ire of both family and friends. Their hostility coupled with the death of her beloved Rebecca, her sister-in-law and most intimate confidant, caused Elizabeth deep anguish. She was also troubled by her strained financial situation. Her five children were all less than eight years of age. As their sole parent Elizabeth faced many challenges and frequently had to relocate into less expensive housing.
While Elizabeth was discerning God's will for her future, the Virgin Mary became her prism of faith. In her discernment she relied on several advisors among the clergy, especially Rev. John Cheverus (1768-1836), the first bishop of Boston, and his associate Rev. Francis Matignon (1753-1818). After wrestling with doubts and fears in her search for truth, Elizabeth resolved her inner conflict regarding religious conversion and embraced Roman Catholicism.
Reverend Matthew O'Brien (1758-1815) received Elizabeth's profession of the Catholic faith at Saint Peter's Church, Barclay Street in lower Manhattan, March 14, 1805. Elizabeth received her First Communion two weeks later on March 25. Bishop John Carroll (1735-1815, later archbishop), whom she considered her spiritual father, confirmed her the next year on Pentecost Sunday. For her Confirmation name Elizabeth added the name of Mary to her own and thereafter frequently signed herself "MEAS," which was her abbreviation for Mary Elizabeth Ann Seton. Accordingly the three names, Mary, Ann, and Elizabeth, signified the moments of the mysteries of Salvation for her.
Elizabeth's initial years as a Catholic (1805-1808) in New York were marked by disappointments and failures. Rampant anti-Catholic prejudice prevented her from beginning a school, but she secured a teaching position at the school of a Protestant couple, Mr. & Mrs. Patrick White but they failed financially within a short time. Elizabeth's next venture was a boarding house for boys who attended a school directed by Rev. William Harris of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, but disgruntled parents withdrew their sons. Seton family members also distrusted Elizabeth's influence on younger family. members. Their fears were realized when Cecilia converted to Catholicism (1806), then Harriet also made her profession of faith (1809). During Cecilia's struggles as a new convert, Elizabeth wrote an instructive Spiritual Journal (1807) for her, offering her wise counsel.
Although Elizabeth was frustrated in establishing herself to provide for the welfare of her children, she remained faith-filled. She was convinced that God would show her the way according to the Divine Plan. In considering her future and examining alternatives, Elizabeth remained a mother first and foremost. She regarded her five "darlings" as her primary obligation over every other commitment.
Rev. Louis William Dubourg, S.S., (1766-1833), was visiting New York when Elizabeth met him quite providentially about 1806. Dubourg had desired a congregation of religious women to teach girls in Baltimore since 1797. He, with the concurrence of Bishop John Carroll, invited Elizabeth to Baltimore with the assurance that the French priests belonging to the Society of Saint Sulpice (Sulpicians), who were émigrés in Maryland would assist her in forming a plan of life which would be in the best interests of her children. The Sulpicians wished to form a small school for religious education of children.
After her arrival in Maryland, June 16, 1808, Elizabeth spent one year as a school mistress in Baltimore. The Sulpicians envisioned the development of a sisterhood modeled on the Daughters of Charity of Paris (founded 1633), and they actively recruited candidates for the germinal community. Cecilia Maria O'Conway, (1788-1865), of Philadelphia, was the first to arrive, December 7, 1808. She was followed in 1809 by Mary Ann Butler (1784-1821)of Philadelphia, Susanna Clossey (1785-1823) of New York, Catharine Mullen (1783-1815) of Baltimore, Anna Maria Murphy Burke (c.1787-1812) of Philadelphia, and Rosetta (Rose) Landry White (1784-1841), a widow of Baltimore. Only Elizabeth pronounced vows of chastity and obedience to John Carroll for one year in the lower chapel at Saint Mary's Seminary, Paca Street, March 25, 1809. The Archbishop gave her the title "Mother Seton." On June 16, 1809, the group of sisters appeared for the first time dressed alike in a black dress, cape and bonnet patterned after the widows weeds of women in Italy whom Elizabeth had encountered there.
Samuel Sutherland Cooper, (1769-1843), a wealthy seminarian and convert, purchased 269 acres of land for an establishment for the sisterhood near Emmitsburg in the countryside of Frederick County, Maryland. Cooper wished to establish an institution for female education and character formation rooted in Christian values and the Catholic faith, as well as services to the elderly, job skill development, and a small manufactory, which would be beneficial to people oppressed by poverty. Cooper had Elizabeth in mind to direct the educational program.
Their stone farmhouse (c.1750) was not yet ready for occupancy when Elizabeth and her first group arrived in Emmitsburg, June, 1809. Reverend John Dubois, S.S., (1764-1842), founder of Mount Saint Mary's College and Seminary (1808), offered his cabin on Saint Mary's Mountain for the women to use until they would be able to move to their property in the nearby valley some six weeks later. According to tradition, Elizabeth named the area Saint Joseph's Valley. There the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's began July 31, 1809 in the Stone House, the former Fleming farmhouse (c.1750). In mid-February, 1810, Elizabeth and her companions moved into Saint Joseph’s House (now The White House.) Elizabeth opened Saint Joseph's Free School February 22, 1810. It educated needy girls of the area and was the first free Catholic school for girls staffed by sisters in the country. Saint Joseph's Academy began May 14, 1810, with the addition of boarding pupils who paid tuition which enabled the Sisters of Charity to subsidize their charitable mission. Saint Joseph's Academy and Free School formed the cradle of Catholic education in the United States.
Divine Providence guided Elizabeth and her little community through the poverty and unsettling first years. Numerous women joined the Sisters of Charity. During the period 1809-1820, of the ninety-eight candidates who arrived in Elizabeth's lifetime, eighty-six of them actually joined the new community; seventy percent remained Sisters of Charity for life. Illness, sorrow, and early death were omnipresent in Elizabeth's life. She buried eighteen sisters at Emmitsburg, in addition to her two daughters Annina and Rebecca, and her sisters-in-law Harriet and Cecilia Seton.
The Sulpicians assisted Elizabeth in adapting the seventeenth-century French Common Rules of the Daughters of Charity (1672) for the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's in accord with the needs of the Catholic Church in America. Elizabeth formed her sisters in the Vincentian spirit according to the tradition of Louise de Marillac (1591-1660) and Vincent de Paul (1581-1660). Eighteen Sisters of Charity, including Elizabeth, made private, annual vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and service of the poor for the first time, July 19, 1813; thereafter they made vows annually on March 25.
Elected by the members of the community to be the first Mother of the Sisters of Charity, Elizabeth was reelected successively and remained at its head until her death. The Sulpicians, who had conceived and founded the community, filled the office of superior general through 1849. Elizabeth worked successively with three Sulpicians in this capacity: Rev. Louis William Dubourg, S.S., Rev. Jean-Baptiste David, S.S., (1761-1841) and Rev. John Dubois, S.S.
The Sisters of Charity intertwined social ministry with education in the faith and religious values in all they undertook in their mission. Elizabeth dispatched sisters to Philadelphia to manage Saint Joseph's Asylum, the first Catholic orphanage in the United States in 1814. The next year she opened a mission at Mount Saint Mary’s to oversee the infirmary and domestic services for the college and seminary near Emmitsburg. In 1817 sisters from Saint Joseph's Valley went to New York to begin the New York City Orphan Asylum (later Saint Patrick's Orphan Asylum).
The Seton Legacy
Reverend Simon Gabriel Bruté, S.S., (1779-1839), of Mount Saint Mary's served as the chaplain to the Sisters of Charity and Elizabeth's spiritual director until her death. He was her principle guide along the path to sanctity. He, along with DuBois, actively inculturated the spirit of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac among the Sisters of Charity. Bruté advised Elizabeth to read and translate the lives of Louise and Vincent and some of their spiritual writings.
The work of education and charity lives on in Elizabeth's spiritual daughters around the world. James Gibbons (1834-1921, later cardinal), archbishop of Baltimore, initiated her cause for canonization in 1882. Officially introduced at the Vatican in 1940, it made steady progress. Blessed John XXIII declared Elizabeth venerable December 18, 1959, and also beatified her March 17, 1963. Pope Paul VI canonized Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton September 14 during the Holy Year of 1975 and the International Year of the Woman. The Holy See accepted three miracles through her intercession. These included the cures of Sister Gertrude Korzendorfer, D.C., (1872-1942), of Saint Louis, of cancer; a young child, Ann Theresa O’Neill, (b.1948), of Baltimore, from acute, lymphatic leukemia; and the miraculous recovery of Carl Kalin, (1902-1976), of New York, from a rare form of encephalitis.
The extraordinary manner in which Elizabeth lived an ordinary life flowed from the centrality of the Word of God and the Eucharist in her life. These strengthened her enabling her to be a loving person toward God, her family, her neighbor, and all of creation. She undertook works of mercy and justice. Not only did she and hers Sisters of Charity care for orphans, widows, and poor families, but they also addressed unmet needs among persons oppressed by multiple forms of poverty. Elizabeth had a special concern for children who lacked educational opportunities, especially for religious instruction in the faith.
Her life-long response to God's will throughout her life led her to sanctity. Her holiness developed from her early religious formation as an Episcopalian. Her longing for Eternity began at a young age. Throughout her earthly journey of forty-six years, Elizabeth viewed herself as a pilgrim on the road of life. She faced each day with eyes of faith, looking forward to eternity.
Dominant themes in her life and writings include her pursuit of the Divine Will, nourishment from the Eucharist and the Bible, confidence in Divine Providence, and charitable service to Jesus Christ in poor persons. From her deathbed in Emmitsburg she admonished those gathered about her: "Be children of the Church, be children of the Church."
She prayed her way through life’s joys and struggles using sacred scripture. This enabled her to live serenely come what may. Psalm 23, which she learned as a child, remained her favorite treasury of consolation throughout her life of suffering and loss. Elizabeth's pathway to inner peace and sanctity flowed from her way of living the Paschal Mystery in her own life.
She moved from devotional reception of Holy Communion as an Episcopalian to awe as a Roman Catholic and often ecstatic adoration of the Real Presence. Her Eucharistic devotion and faith in God's abiding presence nourished her imitation of Jesus Christ, the source and model of all charity. As she established the Sisters of Charity in their mission of charity and education, she adopted The Regulations for the Sisters of Charity in the United States (1812). The choice of the Vincentian rule reflects how Elizabeth understood her mission as one of apostolic service honoring Jesus Christ through service to poor persons. Elizabeth's spiritual pathway involved other people--her advisors, friends, collaborators, and those she served. The relational aspects of her spirituality were a natural gift which she used as a religious leader and animator in community.
Seton Writings. Elizabeth was a prolific writer. Extant documents are published in Elizabeth Bayley Seton Collected Writings (New City Press: New York). Also in her hand are some of the primitive documents of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's and her own last will and testament. In addition to voluminous correspondence, Elizabeth also wrote meditations, instructions, poetry, hymns, notebooks, journals, and diaries. Her journals include both spiritual reflections and chronicle accounts, like The Italian Journal. Dear Remembrances is an autobiographical retrospective memoir or life review. Her meditations deal with the liturgical seasons, sacraments, virtue, biblical themes, and the saints, including Vincent de Paul whose rule of life the Sisters of Charity adopted. Among her instructions are those used in preparing children for their First Communion, and formation conferences for the Sisters of Charity on such topics as service, charity, eternity, the Blessed Sacrament, and Mary, the Mother of God.
Elizabeth rendered the prototypical English translation of their first biographies, The Life of Mademoiselle Le Gras (Nicolas Gobillon, 1676) and The Life of the Venerable Servant of God Vincent de Paul (Louis Abelly, 1664). Elizabeth also translated selections from the Conferences of Vincent de Paul to Daughters of Charity and Notes on the Life of Sister Françoise Bony, D.C., (1694-1759). Also included among the Seton translations are excerpts from selected conferences of Francis de Sales, portions of works by Saint Theresa of Avila, meditations by Rev. Louis Du Pont, S.J., and the beginning of the life of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Elizabeth had a habit of copying meaningful passages from books she was reading and of making marginal notes in her bible. Her copybooks containing notes from A Commentary on the Book of Psalms (1792 by George Horne, and notes on sermons of Rev. John Henry Hobart. Bibles containing her jottings and marginal notes are preserved in the Rare Books and Special Collections, Hesburgh Library, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, and in the Simon Bruté Collection of the Old Cathedral Library, Vincennes, Indiana.
The Sisters of Charity as a community grew and blossomed into independent new communities in North America: The Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul of New York (1846); the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati (1852); the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul of Halifax (1856); the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth, Convent Station, New Jersey (1859); and the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, Greensburg, Pennsylvania (1870). As a result of mandates from their General Assembly (1829 and 1845) requiring the Sulpicians to return to their founding charism of the education and formation of priests, the Sulpician superiors arranged for the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's to join (1850) the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul of Paris, France. These communities formed (1947) the Conference of Mother Seton's Daughters which developed into The Sisters of Charity Federation in the Vincentian and Setonian Tradition (1996) with member congregations from the United States and Canada. All Federation members are rooted in the rule of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac.
Elizabeth left an enduring legacy, which makes Catholic education available for needy pupils. Popular devotion acclaims Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton as a patron of Catholic schools because of her pioneer role in values-based education.
A woman whose vision of faith remains relevant for all ages. Elizabeth's journey of faith presents an outstanding model for all people. In a letter to her lifelong friend Julia Sitgreaves Scott (1765-1842), Elizabeth summarized her way of life: "Faith lifts the staggering soul on one side, hope supports it on the other, experience says it must be and love says let it be" (March 26, 1810). Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton died January 4, 1821, in the White House at Saint Joseph's Valley, near Emmitsburg, Maryland. Her remains repose there in the Basilica of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.
On December 18, 1959, Elizabeth was declared Venerable by the Sacred Congregation of Rites of the Catholic Church. She was beatified by Blessed Pope John XXIII on March 17, 1963,and canonized by Servant of God Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975, making her the first native-born United States citizen to be canonized. Her feast day is January 4.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is popularly considered a patron saint of Catholic schools. Her name appears on the front two doors of St. Patrick's Cathedral, as a "Daughter of New York".
The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, is open to the public. In addition, in New York City, the Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was built on the site of her home in Manhattan, and is accessible to the public. She had many schools named after her.
The Mother Seton House at Baltimore, Maryland was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. The house had been offered as an inducement to Elizabeth Seton to come to Baltimore in 1808 and there to found a school and occupy the then newly completed house. It is now operated as a museum by St. Mary’s Seminary.
In 2009, she was added to the Calendar of Saints for the Episcopal Church (United States) with a minor feast day on January 4.
St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church in Raleigh, North Carolina has a relic of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton inside the main altar.
MiraclesAs a pre-condition for canonization, the Catholic Church requires a saint who has not been martyred to have performed at least two miracles. The Holy See recognised that this pre-condition was met by attributing three miracles to Elizabeth:
Curing Sister Gertrude Korzendorfer of cancer.
Curing Ann Theresa O’Neill of acute lymphatic leukemia
Curing Carl Kalin of encephalitis