Biography of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
The story of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the patroness of our parish, is a beautiful story of faith. Her life is a journey of love and sorrow, trust and holiness.
Elizabeth was born August 28, 1774, just two years before the Declaration of Independence. She was raised Episcopalian, and learned as a child the value of prayer, scripture, and a nightly examination of conscience. Deaths in her family as she was growing up gave Elizabeth a feel for eternity and the shortness of life here on earth.
In 1794, Elizabeth married the wealthy young William Seton, with whom she was deeply in love. Elizabeth had always been close to God, and the happiness of the first years of their marriage brought her even closer to God. However, within a few years, William's business began to falter and he became sick with tuberculosis. William's health got much worse, and in an effort to save his life, they went to Italy to stay awhile with some business friends. Sadly, William died there in 1803, leaving Elizabeth a widow with five children, and penniless. Elizabeth's one consolation was that William had recently awakened to the things of God.
While in Italy with her dying husband, Elizabeth witnessed the generosity and kindness of her Catholic family friends. She became interested in the Catholic faith, and over a period of months, her Italian friends guided her in Catholic instructions.
She returned home, and after much prayer and reflection, on March 14, 1805, converted to Catholicism. She tells us that three important matters of faith led her to become a Catholic a belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, a devotion to the Blessed Mother, and a conviction that the Catholic Church led back to the apostles and to Christ.
Unable to support her family in New York, Elizabeth was invited by a priest to open a school in Maryland. Accepting the offer, she and three of her children moved to Baltimore and opened a school. From the beginning, she took any child that wanted an education. Her school started small, but kept growing.
Soon, many women joined her in teaching, and together they desired to follow the rules of a religious community, which was officially founded in 1809. They established the first free Catholic school in America.
On March 25, 1809, Elizabeth Seton pronounced her vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, binding for one year. From that time she was called Mother Seton. Today six groups of religious sisters trace their origins to Mother Seton's initial foundation.
The many letters Mother Seton wrote reveal the development of her spiritual life from ordinary goodness to heroic sanctity. She suffered great trials of sickness, misunderstanding, the death of loved ones (her husband and two young daughters) and the heartache of a wayward son. The accepting and embracing of God's will - The Will, as she called it - would be a keynote in her spiritual life.
She died on January 4, 1821, and became the first American-born citizen to be beatified (1963) and then canonized (1975). She is buried in Emmitsburg, Maryland.