On January 4th, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Who is she and how does her example inspire us today?
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s story is one of loss, grief, and struggle. It’s also a story of love, charitable service, and fervent devotion to Christ.
Born in New York City, she is the first United States-born canonized saint. Locally, her legacy lives on in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul — Madison’s St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Program.
A mother, widow, Catholic convert, and Daughter of Charity
Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born to an upper-class Episcopal family in 1774. Her first loss occurred at age three when her mother passed away. She read extensively and knew her Bible well. At 19, Elizabeth married wealthy businessman William Magee Seton and were blessed with five children. When the family business struggled and fell into bankruptcy after the loss of William’s father, she and the children went to live with her father. Elizabeth sold their remaining possessions to join William in Italy who was convalescing with advancing tuberculosis. He succumbed to the disease in 1803.
Amid the loss and grief of her husband’s death, Elizabeth became familiar with the Catholic Church drawn particularly by the Eucharist and surrendering to God’s will. She drew close to Our Lady and “felt great comfort in the idea that the Blessed Virgin was truly her mother.” She converted to Catholicism in 1805.
Upon her return to the United States, Elizabeth established several schools; including Saint Joseph’s Academy and Free School, the first free parochial school for girls in the United States dedicated to Catholic education. Elizabeth’s leadership of the school laid the foundation for the United States parochial school system.
In Maryland, Elizabeth co-founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, the first community for religious women established in the United States, professing her vows in 1809. Now Mother Seton, she continued her maternal duties to her children while carrying out her roles as a sister. In 1811, the Sisters of Charity adopted the rules of the Daughters of Charity; the congregation co-founded in France by St. Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac. During this time, Elizabeth lost two daughters to illness and guided the Sisters’ growth by establishing two orphanages and a second school. God called Mother Seton home to Him in 1821, at the age of 46.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is the patron saint of Catholic schools, educators/teachers, loss of parents, widows, orphans, and people rejected/persecuted for their faith.
Preventing family homelessness
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul — Madison shares a particular devotion to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. In 1989, they honored her as a single mother, a Vincentian, and one dedicated to charitable service by establishing the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton House as transitional housing for single women and single mothers struggling with homelessness.
Its successor, the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Program now provides individualized supportive services to single adult families who have recently moved from homelessness into permanent housing. Program staff accompany families to work on issues negatively impacting their well-being and help them create manageable goals that bring stability, prevent future homelessness, and help them thrive. Help is individualized to meet each family’s unique needs.
If you too have a heart for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and her living legacy, visit: /program/seton-program/
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us.
Sources: https://setonshrine.org/elizabeth-ann-seton/, https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=180, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Ann_Seton, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Joseph_College_and_Mother_Seton_Shrine,
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