St. Elizabeth Ann Seton: Part Four of the Summer Saints Series: Saints for the Working Catholic Mom

Elizabeth Ann SetonSt. Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first saint I was ever introduced to personally.  Shocking?  Not when you consider the circumstances…our first daughter’s baptism – Elizabeth Ann Wallace.  The priest, Fr. Dan, who happened to share a birthday with our baby girl, introduced Elizabeth to the parish as named after St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.  From that moment on, we would always buy Elizabeth books about St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and made sure she understood St. Elizabeth’s walk in holiness.

Date of Birth:  August 28, 1774
Date of Death:  January 4, 1821
Beatification:  March 17, 1963 by Pope John XXIII
Canonization:  September 14, 1975 by Pope Paul VI
Career Path:  Teacher, Headmaster at first Catholic School in America
Vocation:  Married; Widowed – then founder of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was always a very pious little girl, who then grew up knowing and loving God through her Episcopal faith, and then through her conversion to the Catholic Church after her husband’s death.  She is the first native-born citizen to the United States to be canonized.  She was born in New York City, during a time of revolution!

Elizabeth’s mother died when she was 3 years old.  Her father, Dr. Richard Bayley, was 33 years old, and his career as an Army surgeon ended with his wife’s death.  He remarried a year later to Charlotte Barclay, and she became their stepmother.  Although Elizabeth and her sister did not get along all the time with their new stepmother, Charlotte did teach Elizabeth the 23rd Psalm, which she then memorized.  Dr. Bayley was able to turn back to his professional pursuits.

Because of family strife, and increased tension and feminine in New York, Elizabeth and her sister were sent to live in the country with her aunt and uncle.  It was here that Elizabeth was able to express her love of nature, with the understanding that God was the giver of all of the earth.

Elizabeth was prone to sadness in the absence of her father.  He would remain silent to Elizabeth and her sister for long periods of time, including a whole year at one time.  She wrote about her melancholy in her journal on many occasions, saying:

“There is a certain temper I am sometimes subject to.  It is not sullenness or absolute discontent.  It is a kind of melancholy.  Still, I prefer it to those effusions of cheerfulness, that hilarity of spirits, which a good night’s rest and a fine morning often inspire.  I prefer the sadness, because I know it may be removed; it may change to cheerfulness.  The gaiety, I am sure, will change to sadness before the day ends, and perhaps to sorrow.  It is not a natural temper, rather the influence of a particular situation.  I trust the day may come when I shall show a more regular and Christian disposition.  Perhaps it may; it may not.  Those passions must be governed.”

William Magee Seton was smitten with Elizabeth, and soon asked for her hand in marriage.  Though he was a little sickly, Elizabeth’s father agreed to the marriage.  They were married on January 25, 1794.

Elizabeth had 5 children, and when William’s father died, she took responsibility for William’s 6 siblings.  William also took care of the family business, which was failing.  Eventually the business went bankrupt, and Elizabeth had more to pray about.  Elizabeth said in her journal:

“Although time and chance and sorrow come to all and I must take my share, they all united will only draw me nearer to that Friend to whom I look for comfort.”

She also wrote after the bankruptcy,

“…how much reason I have had (this twelve month past) to bless my Maker for his goodness to my children, none of whom have been ill.”

She was always finding ways to thank the Lord for His kindness and mercy.

Over the next few years, Elizabeth would see her father and her husband die from disease.  Her husband died on a trip to Italy at the age of 37.  Because of issues with quarantine and with the ship, Elizabeth stayed with her friends in Italy, and began to attend Catholic church with them.  She was impressed by the reverence of the Mass, and by the lighting of candles for the poor.  The tradition and reverence drew Elizabeth to the heart of the church, and when she returned to New York, she converted to Catholicism.

In 1908, Elizabeth was invited to Baltimore to begin a school for girls, which was a counterpart to St. Mary’s College for boys.  This was a dream come true for Elizabeth.  This was also the first Catholic school to be established in America.

During this time, Elizabeth was poor, and she took in clothes for her children.  She, however, wore a very simple black bonnet and dress.  At the same time, women began to arrive wanting to be nuns.  Not being a convent, Elizabeth would explain this to their fathers, who still wanted the young women to stay with Elizabeth.  Elizabeth’s bishop saw what was going on and invited Elizabeth to start an order.  Elizabeth’s first priority was to her children, and the Bishop was happy about this.  Eventually, Elizabeth’s order, Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph was formed.

Elizabeth’s first priority was always to the education of her children.  She considered it a joy and a responsibility.  She is certainly a role model to follow in terms of being a mother, a stepmother, and a spiritual mother.

What a working Catholic mom!  Stick around for the follow up:  Reading, Writing and Arithmetic:  Choosing the Right Educational Path for Your Children.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Pray for us.

Peace of Christ to you and yours,

Mary

Pascucci, Philip J. (2000).  A Courageous Soul:  A Brief Account of the Life of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.  Salesian Missions.  New Rochelle, NY.

Last at bat:  St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross

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