St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first American-born saint. She faced a ton of tragedy in her life, as well as scorn for becoming Catholic at a time when it was not popular, but she led one of the holiest, most beautiful, and generous lives.
Daughter of the Revolution
Elizabeth Bayley was born in New York around the time of the American Revolution to a wealthy, Protestant family, and it’s possible she crossed paths with some of the founding fathers. She attended Trinity Church, was very well-educated, and attended many social functions.
She married William Seton, wealthy owner of a shipping business, at age 19 and they had 5 children. However, not long into their marriage, William’s father died so William’s brothers and sisters came to live with them (all 7 of them!). It’s no wonder why Elizabeth was called, “Mother”.
In the early 1800s, William’s health and business was failing. They decided to sail to Italy to see if William’s health would improve, but local authorities quarantined them for quite some time (that definitely did not help the tuberculosis). They made it to their friend’s house in Italy, eventually, but William died not long after. These friends were Catholic and while grieving over her husband, Elizabeth discovered a love for Catholicism and the witness of these devout friends.
Elizabeth returned to New York, a widow and a single, penniless mother. Despite her grief and hardship, she founded a school and continued to search out and discern Catholicism. In 1805, she entered the Catholic Church, but Elizabeth was quickly ostracized by most of her friends and student’s families. She decided to move to Maryland, where Catholicism was more widely accepted.
Elizabeth and her family moved to Emmitsburg in 1809 (after a short time in Baltimore) and began the first free, Catholic, girls school in America, with the help for Fr. John DuBois, founder of Mount St. Mary’s and Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore. She also founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, modeled after the Daughters of Charity founded by St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise De Marillac in France. Mother Seton became the head of the order.
Death & Legacy
Mother Seton took in orphans, the poor, and young women from all over the country, as well as the locals . In addition, she handled poor conditions, poor housing, and disease. She died in 1821 of tuberculosis, after watching 2 of her children die (seriously, she was a strong woman!). Her remains are in the Basilica in Emmitsburg, and she was canonized in 1975.
Find out more about Mother Seton on the Seton Shrine website and definitely take the opportunity to visit her shrine in Emmitsburg.
Who would be friends with St. Elizabeth Ann Seton?
- Religious sisters
- Mothers who have lost children
- Those with financial difficulty
Maybe pick up Mother Seton’s medal for your favorite teacher in our shop.