SAINT ELIZABETH ANN SETON (1774-1821)
Religious and foundress
Patron saint of widows and against the death of children
Today, the Church honors Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, a woman who truly exemplifies what it means to be a follower of Christ.
Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born on August 28, 1774 in New York City, the daughter of an eminent physician and professor at what is now Columbia University. Her mother died when Elizabeth was only three years old. She was raised as an Episcopalian and received an excellent education; and, from her early years, she manifested an unusual concern for the poor.
In 1794, Elizabeth married William Seton, with whom she had five children. Her husband fell into financial difficulties, and later died of tuberculosis in 1803 while they where staying with Catholic friends at Livorno, Italy. When Elizabeth returned to New York City some six months later, she was already deeply drawn to the Catholic faith. She was met with stern opposition from her Episcopalian friends, but was baptized a Catholic on March 4, 1805.
Abandoned by her friends and relatives, Elizabeth was invited to found a school for girls in the city of Baltimore, Maryland. The school prospered and, with the approval of Archbishop John Carroll of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and encouraged by priests from the Society of Saint Sulpice (Sulpicians), Elizabeth and her assistants were permitted to make a religious profession modeled on the rule of the Daughters of Charity of Paris and to wear a religious habit.
In 1809, Sister Elizabeth moved her young community to Emmitsburg, Maryland, where she became the Foundress of a new Order of the Sisters of Charity, which became the first Order of religious sisters in America. Although she never neglected the ministry to the poor, and especially to African-Americans, she actually laid the foundation for what became the American parochial school system. She trained teachers and prepared textbooks for use in the schools, and she saw the expansion of her small community of teaching sisters in Philadelphia, New York City and as far west as St. Louis, Missouri.
In a conference she once gave to her religious community, Mother Seton stated, “…what was the first rule of our Savior’s life? You know it was to do His Father’s will. Well then, the first end I propose in our daily work is to do the will of God; secondly, to do it in the manner He wills; and thirdly, to do it because it is His will.”
Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton died at Emmitsburg on January 4, 1821 where she is buried. She became the first American-born citizen to be beatified in 1963, and was canonized a saint by Pope St. Paul VI in 1975.
We commemorate her feastday on January 4.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org, newadvent.org and emmitsburg.net/setonshrine)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton)
“Lord God, You blessed Elizabeth 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 learn to express our love for You in love for our fellow men and women.
“We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”