Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
This first American-born Saint accomplished more in twelve years than most people do in a whole lifetime. From 1809 to 1821, the year she died, she laid the foundation for the Catholic parochial system in the United States, founded her Sisters of Charity, and ran her school and lived with her community at her headquarters in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
Elizabeth Ann Bayley was the daughter of a distinguished colonial family in New York City, her father a physician and professor at what later became Columbia University. Her grandfather was rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church on Staten Island.
Born in 1774 she married William Magee Seton, a wealthy young businessman, in 1794. They had five children. Mr. Seton had reversals in business and lost his fortune, and a sea voyage was recommended to recover his health. The couple, along with their eldest daughter, embarked for Italy in 1803 and were given hospitality by the Filicchi family of Leghorn. William Seton died in Pisa less than three months later.
Influenced by her stay in Italy, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
became a Catholic upon her return to the United States, against the
opposition of her family. In August 1807, she was invited by the
superior of the Baltimore Sulpicians to found a school for girls near
the Sulpician seminary in Baltimore. With the help of Archbishop
Carroll, she organized a group of young women to assist her in her
work, received a religious rule and habit from him, and took the vows
In March of 1809, she pronounced her vows before Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore, was given some property in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and in June she, her three daughters, her sisters-in-law, Cecelia and Harriet Seton, and four young women who had joined them, began what was to become the American foundation of the Sisters of Charity. For special occasions they wore black dresses with shoulder capes, a simple white bonnet tied under the chin (like Elizabeth's mourning dress); and for everyday they wore whatever else they had. Their temporary abode provided four rooms, two cots, mattresses on the floor under a leaky roof where in winter snow sifted down over them. Vegetables, now and then a bit of salt pork or buttermilk, and a beverage called carrot coffee was their fare-all flavored with that great zest for survival which had become a habit with Elizabeth. When they moved to their unfinished permanent home they were invaded by fleas which had infested the horsehair for the plaster. Finally the home was completed and they had "an elegant little chapel, 30 cells, an infirmary, refectory, parlor, school, and workroom."<>But once again death became a familiar. Harriet died, then Cecelia, and torrents of invective from New York condemned Elizabeth as "that pest of society, that hypocrite and bigot." In the eleven years left she would lose Anna Maria and little Bec (Rebecca) as well; her grief over the loss of her loved ones was long and terrible.
In 1809, she moved her headquarters to Emmitsburg, adopted a modified version of the rule of St. Vincent de Paul for the French Sisters of Charity, and laid the foundation for the Catholic parochial school system in the United States. She trained her sisters for teaching, wrote textbooks for classrooms, worked among the poor, the sick, and the black people of the region, and directed the work of her congregation. In 1814, she sent her nuns to open an orphanage in Philadelphia and another in New York City in 1817. She died at Emmitsburg on January 4, 1821, after a slow painful infection of turberculosis: The night of her deathshe began the prayers for the dying herself, and one of the sisters, knowing that she loved French, prayed the Gloria and the Magnificent in French with her. She was canonized by Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975. Her body is enshrined at the motherhouse of the American Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg [link for the Shrine below].
Prayer in Honor of St. Elizabeth Seton
the Anima Christi of St. E. Seton.
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