Elizabeth Ann Seton
|Elizabeth Ann Seton
Elizabeth Ann Seton
|August 28, 1774
|January 4, 1821, Emmitsbrg, Maryland
|New York City, New York, USA
|March 17, 1963
|September 14, 1975
Elizabeth Bayley Seton (28 August 1774 in New York City – 4 January 1821) was the first United States-born canonized Saint in the Roman Catholic Church. She was the foundress of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's, the first community of religious women founded in the United States. Her establishment of St. Joseph's School for girls later became St. Joseph's Academy in 1828. Mother Seton was a pioneer Catholic educator in the United States, an innovator who made values-based academic education, religious instruction, and faith formation accessible to children from impoverished families. By 1852, Catholic education blossomed in the United States through the work of Saint John Nepomucene Neumann, CSsR, 4th bishop of Philadelphia, who established the first diocesan parochial school system in the United States.
Mother Seton came from a Protestant Episcopal background, converted to Roman Catholicism, and was friend of John Carroll in the formative years of the Catholic Church in the new nation of the United States. She was one of the most influential Catholic women in the early nineteenth century; her legacy and influence continues in the twenty-first century.
She was canonized by Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975. Her feast day is January 4.
Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born into a prominent Episcopalian family in New York City, August 28, 1774, the second of three daughters of Dr. Richard Bayley and Catherine Charlton Bayley. Catherine Bayley's father was Dr. Richard Charlton, rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church on Staten Island. Dr. Bayley was a physician and professor of medicine (anatomy) at King's College (now known as Columbia University). He was the first health officer of the port of New York. Catherine Charlton Bayley died in 1777, probably as a result of childbirth. The first child born to Richard Bayley and Catherine Charlton Bayley was Mary Magdalene Bayley (1768-1856, married in 1790 to Dr. Wright Post [1766-1828] of New York). The third child was Catherine Charlton Bayley (1777-1778).
In 1778, the year after the death of his first wife, Richard Bayley married Charlotte Amelia Barclay; three daughters and four sons were born to them. One of these was Guy Carleton Bayley (1786-1859). His son, James Roosevelt Bayley (1814-1877), became an Episcopal priest and then converted in 1842 to Roman Catholicism. He was ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood on March 2, 1844 in New York, became first bishop of Newark (1853-1872) and served as eighth archbishop of Baltimore (1872-1877).
Charlotte Barclay Bayley did not accept Elizabeth and her sister. During their father's travel abroad for medical studies, the girls lived temporarily in New Rochelle, New York, with his brother, William Bayley (1745-1811) and his wife, Sarah Pell Bayley. Ultimately, the marriage of Richard Bayley and Charlotte Amelia Barclay ended in separation.
Elizabeth married William Magee Seton, scion of a wealthy New York mercantile family with international connections, January 25, 1794, at the home of her sister, Mary Bayley Post. Five children were born between 1795 and 1802, Anna Maria, William, Richard, Catherine, and Rebecca. As a young society matron, Elizabeth enjoyed a full life of loving service to her family, care for the indigent poor, and religious development in her Episcopal faith, nurtured by the preaching and guidance of Rev. John Henry Hobart, an assistant at Trinity Church. She and her sister-in-law, Rebecca Mary Seton, became known as the "Protestant Sisters of Charity" and were volunteers with the Society to Aid Poor Widows with Small Children.
As the eighteenth century drew to a close, a double tragedy visited Elizabeth. Political and economic turmoil took a severe toll on William Magee Seton's business and on his health. He became increasingly debilitated by the family affliction, tuberculosis. Hoping to arrest the disease, Elizabeth, William, and Anna Maria embarked on a voyage to Italy. On their arrival in Leghorn (Livorno), they were placed in quarantine; soon after, December 27, 1803, William Magee died. At age twenty-nine, Elizabeth had become a widow with five children.
While waiting to return to their family the the United States, Elizabeth and Anna Maria spent several months with the Filicchi family of Leghorn, business associates of her husband.
For the first time Elizabeth experienced Roman Catholicism in her social equals. She was deeply impressed, especially by the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. She returned to New York in June 1804, full of faith that turned to religious conflict when the Setons heard of her inclinations.
After almost a year of searching and discernment, she made her profession of faith as a Roman Catholic in March 1805, a choice which triggered three years of financial struggle and social discrimination.
To support her children, she accepted a teaching position in New York City but the school failed financially before her employment began. She then worked as a housemother for a boarding house for boys attending St. Mark's School, but parental dissatisfaction resulted in removal of their sons and the resignation of Mrs. Seton. By chance Rev. William Dubourg, P.S.S., met the widow and learned of her situation. Dubourg invited her to Baltimore to begin a small boarding school for Catholic girls next to Saint Mary's Seminary. In June, 1808 she moved with her family to open the school.
Gradually, the Sulpicians were referring directees to join Mrs. Seton in establishing a community of religious women based on the apostolic model of the Daughters of Charity founded by St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac at Paris in 1633. Soon Catholic women from along the east coast came to join her work. As a result of property purchased for this purpose by Samuel Sutherland Cooper, a wealthy seminarian. The women soon moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland, where they formally established the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph's on July 31, 1809. Elizabeth Seton was named first superior and served in that capacity until her death.
As the community took shape, Elizabeth directed its vision. A Rule was adapted from that of the French Daughters of Charity, a novitiate was conducted, and the first group, including Elizabeth, made annual vows for the first time July 19, 1813. These vows were: service of the poor and to live in poverty, chastity, and obedience. In 1814 the community accepted its first mission outside Emmitsburg, an orphanage in Philadelphia. By 1817 sisters had been sent to staff a similar work in New York.
During her years in Emmitsburg, Elizabeth suffered the loss of two of her daughters to tuberculosis, Anna Maria in 1812 and Rebecca in 1816. By that time she herself was weak from the effects of the disease. She spent the last years of her life directing St. Joseph's School and her growing community. She died of tuberculosis January 4, 1821, at the age of forty-six.
The Elizabeth Bayley Seton Collected Writings (New City Press) offer a rich insight into her life and her times. Her spirituality and deep personal relationships as well as the detail of her life as widow, convert, single mother, educator and religious leader are revealed in hundreds of letters, personal journals, meditations, and instructions to the sisters, some never before published.
In 1882 James Cardinal Gibbons (then Archbishop), who succeeded Elizabeth's nephew James Roosevelt Bayley as Archbishop of Baltimore, urged that steps be taken toward Mother Seton's canonization. After official inquiries in the cause of Mother Seton were held in Baltimore for several years, the results were given to the postulator of the cause in Rome on June 7, 1911. She was beatified in 1963.
On September 14, 1975, Pope Paul VI canonized Elizabeth Seton, the first native-born saint of the United States.
The National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland
[[Category: Vincentian Family Elizabeth Ann Seton]]