Who Is St. Elizabeth Ann Seton?

  • ImageWe are proud to to have St. Elizabeth Ann Seton as our Patron Saint!  Elizabeth Bayley Seton was the first native born American to be canonized by the Catholic Church.

    Born two years before the American Revolution, Elizabeth grew up in the "cream" of New York society as a member of the Episcopal Church. She was a prolific reader, and read everything from the bible to contemporary novels.  In spite of her high society background, Elizabeth's early life was quiet, simple, and often lonely. As she grew a little older, the bible was to become her source of instruction, support and comfort; she would continue to love the Holy Scriptures for the rest of her life.

    In 1794, Elizabeth married the wealthy young William Seton, with whom she was deeply in love. The first years of their marriage were happy and prosperous.  However, this time of Elizabeth's life was to be a brief moment of earthly happiness before the many deaths and partings she was to suffer in her life. Within four years, Will's father died, leaving the young couple in charge of Will's seven half brothers and sisters, as well as the family's import business. After that, events began to move fast - and with devastating effect. Their business began to fail, and they were eventually forced to file a petition of bankruptcy. If that wasn't bad enough, Will also developed serious health problems.  In a final attempt to save Will's life, the Setons sailed for Italy, where the climate was better, and where they had friends. Will died of tuberculosis while in Italy. Elizabeth's one consolation was that Will had recently awakened to faith in God.  The many separations from dear ones by death and distance, served to draw Elizabeth's heart to God and eternity. Accepting and embracing God's will - "The Will," as she called it - would be a keynote in her spiritual life.

    During her time in Italy, Elizabeth captivated everyone by her own kindness, patience, good sense, wit and courtesy. During this time Elizabeth became interested in the Catholic faith, and over a period of months, her Italian friends guided her in Catholic instructions.  It was Elizabeth's desire for the the Eucharist, the Bread of Life, which was a strong force leading her to the Catholic Church.  Having lost her mother at an early age, Elizabeth also found great comfort in the idea that the Blessed Virgin was truly her mother. She asked the Blessed Virgin to guide her decision, and  Elizabeth joined the Catholic Church in 1805.

    Upon returning to the U.S., Elizabeth realized that she had to find a way to support herself and her five children.  At the suggestion of the president of St. Mary's College in Baltimore, Maryland, Elizabeth started a school in that city. She and two other young women, who helped her in her work, established the first free Catholic school in America. They also began a religious community of sisters.  Elizabeth became a nun, but she was also a mother.  When the young community adopted their rule, they made provisions for Elizabeth to continue raising her children.

    On March 25, 1809, Elizabeth Seton pronounced her vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. From that time she was called Mother Seton.  Although Mother Seton was now afflicted with tuberculosis, she continued to guide her children. The Rule of the Sisterhood was formally ratified in 1812. It was based upon the Rule St. Vincent de Paul had written for his Daughters of Charity in France. By 1818, in addition to their first school, the sisters had established two orphanages and another school. Today six groups of sisters trace their origins to Mother Seton's initial foundation.

    For the last three years of her life, Elizabeth felt that God was getting ready to call her, and this gave her joy. Mother Seton died in 1821 at the age of 46, only sixteen years after becoming a Catholic. She was canonized in 1975.  The Church celebrates her feast day on January 4.