Feast Day: January 4
This wife, mother and foundress of a religious congregation was born Elizabeth Ann Bayley in New York City, the daughter of an eminent physician and professor at what is now Columbia University. Brought up as an Episcopalian, she received an excellent education, and from her early years, she manifested an unusual concern for the poor. In 1794, Elizabeth married William Seton, a wealthy New York merchant, with whom she had five children. The eventual loss of their fortune so affected William’s health that in 1803 Elizabeth and William went to stay with Catholic friends (the Filicchi’s) in Livorno, Italy. William died six weeks after their arrival, and when Elizabeth returned to New York City some six months later, she was already a convinced Catholic. In March of 1805, she was received into the Catholic Church. Some friends and family members were so appalled by her decision that they shunned her.
She eventually left New York and traveled with her children to a new life in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where she founded the American Sisters of Charity, the first religious congregation of women in the United States. She modeled them after the Sisters of Charity founded in France by St. Vincent de Paul. Elizabeth established the first Catholic orphanage in the United States and the first free Catholic day school, which marked the beginning of the American parochial school system. She trained teachers and prepared textbooks for use in the schools; she also opened orphanages in Philadelphia and New York City.
Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton died on January 4, 1821 at the age of 46, only 16 years after becoming a Catholic. Her spiritual director, Father Simon Gabriel Brute, wrote a glowing tribute to her character. In a letter from her long-time friend and benefactor, Antonio Filicchi, he wrote: “Her distinguishing characteristic was compassion and indulgence for poor sinners. Her charity made her watchful never to speak evil of others, always to find excuses or to keep silence. Her other special virtues were her attachment to her friends and her gratitude, her religious respect for the ministers of the Lord, and for everything pertaining to religion. Her heart was compassionate, religious, lavish of every good in her possession, disinterested in regard to all other things.” Pope Paul VI canonized Elizabeth Ann Seton in 1975, making her the first native-born American citizen to be recognized as a saint.
Words from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton:
“I will go peaceably and firmly to the Catholic Church: for if faith is so important to our salvation, I will seek it where true Faith first began, seek it among those who received it from God Himself.”
“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.”
“Our misery is not to conform ourselves to the intentions of God as to the manner in which he will be glorified. What pleases Him does not please us. He wills us to enter in the way of suffering, and we desire to enter in action. We desire to give rather than receive – and do not purely seek his Will.”
“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 it; and, thirdly, to do it because it is His will.”
Ball, Ann. “Modern Saints: Their Lives and Faces.” Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishers, 1990.
Gallick, Sarah. “The Big Book of Women Saints.” New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007.
Ghezzi, Bert. “Voices of the Saints.” Chicago: Loyola Press, 2000.
Lodi, Enzo. “Saints of the Roman Calendar.” New York: Alba House, 1992.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons