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 of religion.
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, and 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.
Thought for the Day: Mother Seton seems almost like a neighbor down the street. But she is St. Elizabeth Seton, who found God through very difficult times. She was loving wife, devoted mother, foundress, and saint.
From ‘The Catholic One Year Bible’: . . . “Come along with me and I will show you how to fish for the souls of men!” And they left their nets at once and went with him. Matthew 4:19-20
(Taken from “The One Year Book of Saints” by Rev. Clifford Stevens published by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., Huntington, IN 46750.)