From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Elizabeth Ann Seton: Last became First

(Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton)
During some of the darker periods of her life, Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, S.C. must have felt like the last in line.

Born in 1774 in New York City, Seton was the offspring of two of the nation's earliest colonial families.  Her father, Dr. Richard Bayley, was
the son of prominent French Huguenots from New Rochelle, New York.  Her mother, Catherine Charlton, was the daughter of an Episcopal minister.  Religious roots like these may seem like an auspicious beginning for a saint-in-the-making.

Saints, however, seem more born of suffering than of ease.  When Elizabeth was only three years old, her beloved mother died.  Although her father remarried, this marriage eventually ended in discord. Elizabeth then experienced the loss of another mother.  She became quite introspective and began making entries into her journal concerning the sadness that often pervades life.

Elizabeth later married a wealthy businessman, William Magee Seton.  They had five children together. Nevertheless, Elizabeth made time to help organize the Ladies of Charity – a group that assisted the sick and the poor in their homes.  This group effort was inspired by the 17th-century work of Saint Vincent de Paul.

Seton's growing pull towards Catholicism resulted in her conversion to that faith in 1805.  One year later she received Confirmation from the only Catholic bishop in the nation at that time, John Carroll of Baltimore.  Due to the large amount of anti-Catholicism during that era, the academy for young ladies that Seton had begun in New York started to falter as word got around about her new religious allegiance.

Seton therefore accepted an offer to establish a school "dedicated to the education of Catholic girls" in Emmitsburg, Maryland.  This offer of support had been made to her by the Sulpicians, a group of Catholic priests that had fled their native France because of religious persecution.  This group of priests was involved in setting up the first training institution in the United States for Catholic clergy, St. Mary's Seminary of
Baltimore.  With their encouragement, Seton and "other women drawn to the vision of caring for the poor in a religious way of life" were then able to begin the first American congregation of Catholic Sisters. Wikipedia also reports that Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton became the "first native-born citizen of the United States" to be canonized by the Vatican.


Copyright October 17, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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