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Statuary St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

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St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

St Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton (1774 – 1821) was born in New York City and was the first native-born citizen of the United States to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. She established the first Catholic school in the nation, in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where she founded the first American congregation of Religious Sisters, the Sisters of Charity. She is the patroness for Catholic schools.


Early Life

Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born on August 28, 1774, the second child of a socially prominent couple, Dr. Richard Bayley and Catherine Charlton of New York City. The Bayley and Charlton families were among the earliest colonial settlers of the New York area. Her father's parents were prominent French Huguenots living in New Rochelle, New York. He later served as the Chief Health Officer for the Port of New York. Her mother was the daughter of an Episcopal minister, who served as Rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church on Staten Island for 30 years; Elizabeth was raised in the Episcopal Church.

Her mother, Catherine, died in 1777, when Elizabeth was three years old. This was possibly a result of childbirth, as their youngest child, also Catherine, died early the following year. Bayley then married Charlotte Amelia Barclay, a member of the Roosevelt family, to provide a mother for his two surviving daughters. The new Mrs. Bayley became active in the social action of the Church and would visit the poor in their homes to distribute food and needed items. She would take the young Elizabeth with her on her rounds of charity.

The couple had 5 children, but the marriage ended in separation as a result of marital conflict. Elizabeth and her older sister, Mary Magdalene, were rejected by their stepmother in this breakup. Their father then traveled to London for further medical studies at that time, so the girls lived temporarily in New Rochelle with their paternal uncle, William Bayley, and his wife, Sarah Pell Bayley. Losing a mother for the second time, Elizabeth experienced a period of darkness during this time, which she reflected about later in her journals. In these journals, Elizabeth shows a natural bent toward contemplation, she loved nature, poetry, and music, especially the piano. She was given to introspection and frequently made entries in her journal expressing her sentiments, religious aspirations, and favorite passages from her reading.

Marriage and motherhood

On 25 January 1794, at age 19, Elizabeth married William Magee Seton, aged 26, a wealthy businessman in the import trade. Samuel Provoost, the first Episcopalian bishop of New York, witnessed the wedding vows of the couple.

William, along with his father William and brother James, was a founding partner in the import-export mercantile firm, the William Seton Company, which had become Seton, Maitland and Company in 1793. He had visited important counting houses in Europe in 1788 and was a friend of Filippo Filicchi, a renowned merchant in Leghorn, Italy, with whom his firm was a major trading partner.

Five children were born to the marriage: Anna Maria (Annina) (1795–1812), William the Second, Richard (1798–1823), Catherine (1800–1891) (who was to become the first American to join the Sisters of Mercy) and Rebecca Mary (1802–1816), whom Elizabeth called "my soul's sister".

Although busy with raising a large family and managing their home, Seton continued to show the concern for the poor of the city which her father and stepmother had taught her. She helped to organize a group of prominent ladies who would visit the sick poor in their homes to render what aid they could. This circle was informally called the "Ladies of Charity" due to their conscious inspiration by the work of St. Vincent de Paul in 17th-century France.

Widowhood and conversion

By 1802, the effects of the blockade by the United Kingdom of Napoleonic France and the loss of several of her husband's ships at sea led to his bankruptcy. Soon after this, he fell ill and his doctors sent him to Italy for the warmer climate, with Elizabeth and their eldest daughter accompanying him. Landing at the port of Leghorn, they were held in quarantine, during which time William died on 27 December 1803 and was buried in the Old English Cemetery. Elizabeth and Anna Maria were received by the families of her late husband's Italian business partners. While staying with them, she was introduced to the actual practice of Roman Catholicism.

After her return to the United States, she converted to the Catholic Church, into which she was received on 14 March 1805 by the Rev. Matthew O'Brien, pastor of St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church, New York, the only Catholic church in the city then. (Anti-Catholic laws had been lifted just a few years before.) A year later, she received the sacrament of Confirmation from the Bishop of Baltimore, the Right Reverend John Carroll, the only Catholic bishop in the nation.

In order to support herself and her children, Seton had started an academy for young ladies, as was common for widows of social standing in that period. After news of her conversion to Catholicism spread, however, most of the parents withdrew their daughters from her tutelage, due to the anti-Catholic sentiment of the day. By chance, around this time she met a visiting priest, the Abbe Louis William Valentine Dubourg, S.S., who was a member of the French emigre community of Sulpician Fathers. They had taken refuge in the United States from the religious persecution of the Reign of Terror in France, and were in the process of establishing the first Catholic seminary for the United States, in keeping with the goals of their society. For several years, Dubourg had envisioned a religious school to meet the educational needs of the small Catholic community in the nation.


After struggling through some trying and difficult years, in 1809 Elizabeth accepted the invitation of support the Sulpicians had made to her and moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland. A year later she established the Saint Joseph's Academy and Free School, a school dedicated to the education of Catholic girls. This was possible due to the financial support of Samuel Sutherland Cooper, a wealthy convert and seminarian at the newly established Mount Saint Mary's University, begun by John Dubois, S.S., and the Sulpicians.

On 31 July, Elizabeth established a religious community in Emmitsburg dedicated to the care of the children of the poor. It was the first congregation of religious sisters to be founded in the United States, and its school was the first free Catholic school in America. The order was initially called the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. From that point on, she became known as "Mother Seton".

The remainder of her life was spent in leading and developing the new congregation. Mother Seton was described as a charming and cultured lady. Her connections to New York society and the accompanying social pressures to leave the new life she had created for herself did not deter her from embracing her religious vocation and charitable mission. The greatest difficulties she faced were actually internal, stemming from misunderstandings, interpersonal conflicts and the deaths of two daughters, other loved ones, and young Sisters in the community. She died of tuberculosis on 4 January 1821, at the age of 46. Today, her remains are entombed in the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.


Dedicated to following the will of God, Elizabeth Ann had a deep devotion to the Eucharist, Sacred Scripture and the Virgin Mary. The 23rd Psalm was her favorite prayer throughout her life. She was a woman of prayer and service who embraced the apostolic spirituality of Louise de Marillac and Vincent de Paul. It had been her original intention to join the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, but the embargo of France due to the Napoleonic Wars prevented this connection. It was only decades later, in 1850, that the Emmitsburg community took the steps to merge with the Daughters, and to become their American branch, as their foundress had envisioned.

Today, six separate religious congregations trace their roots to the beginnings of the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg. In addition to the original community of Sisters at Emmitsburg (now part of the Vincentian order), they are based in New York City, Cincinnati, Ohio, Halifax Regional Municipality, Convent Station, New Jersey, and Greensburg, Pennsylvania.


On the 18 December 1959 Elizabeth was declared Venerable by the Sacred Congregation of Rites. Dr. J. Emmett Queen was asked by the Archdiocese of Baltimore to investigate a cure of a child, Ann O'Neill, who was suffering from leukemia. He visited Tufts University Hospital and conferred with other physicians there. The cure was attributed to the intervention of Elizabeth Ann Seton. She was beatified by Pope John XXIII on the 17 March 1963, and canonized by Pope Paul VI on the 14 September 1975, making her the first native-born United States citizen to be canonized. As a condition for canonization, the Catholic Church requires that for a saint who has not been martyred, at least two miracles take place at his or her intercession. The Holy See recognized that this condition was met when attributing three miracles to Seton's intercession: curing Sister Gertrude Korzendorfer, S.C., of cancer, curing Ann Theresa O'Neill of acute lymphatic leukemia, and curing Carl Kalin of encephalitis.

Her feast day is celebrated as a memorial in the dioceses of the United States on the 4th of January.

Elizabeth Ann Seton is popularly considered a patron saint of Catholic schools. An image of her in bronze appears on the main doors of St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York, labeled as a "Daughter of New York". The Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, located in the Church of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, was built on the site of her former home in Manhattan.

The Mother Seton House at Baltimore, Maryland was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. The house had been offered as an inducement to Elizabeth Seton to come to Baltimore in 1808 and there to found a school and occupy the then newly completed house. It is now operated as a museum by St. Mary's Seminary.

Seton Hall University was founded in 1856 by James Roosevelt Bayley, the son of one of her half-brothers, who also converted to the Catholic Church, and went on to become an Archbishop of Baltimore. Seton Hill University was founded in 1885 by the Sisters of Charity in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, and The College of St. Elizabeth was established in 1899 by another congregation of the Sisters of Charity in Convent Station, New Jersey.

In 2009, she was added to the Calendar of Saints for the Episcopal Church (United States) with a minor feast day on the 4th of January.

Many parish churches are named after her all around the U.S. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is an important saint, and many admire her.

The text in this box was generated from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the CC-BY-SA.

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