“Elizabeth Ann Seton is a saint. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is an American. All of us say this with special joy, and with the intention of honoring the land and the nation from which she sprang forth as the first flower in the calendar of the saints. Elizabeth Ann Seton was wholly American! Rejoice for your glorious daughter. Be proud of her. And know how to preserve her fruitful heritage.”
Pope Paul VI
The first native born citizen of the United States to be canonized, Elizabeth Ann Seton had an unlikely path to sainthood. Born to a prominent New York family, Dr. Richard Bayely and his wife Catherine, her mother died when she was three years old. Her father remarried and had five children with his new wife. Sadly, the marriage ended in separation, and her stepmother rejected Elizabeth and the full sister of Elizabeth. Elizabeth viewed this as the loss now of two mothers. At 19 she wedded William Magee Seton, a wealthy merchant. Their wedding was presided over the local Episcopalian Bishop. The couple would have five children and would also take in William’s five younger siblings after his father died. Her husband suffered from tuberculosis throughout most of his marriage, and in 1803 traveled to Italy with Elizabeth and their eldest daughter in hopes that the Italian climate would prove beneficial to his health. Alas it did not, and in December of 1803 he died. His Italian business associates treated her and their daughter kindly and it was at this time that she was first exposed to Catholicism.
Received into the Catholic Church in 1805, she suffered substantial financial loss as a result due to outraged bigoted parents withdrawing their daughters from the young ladies academy she had started. A turning point came in her life when she me Abbe Louis Dubourg, a Sulpician priest. His order had taken refuge in the United States in Maryland during the French Revolution. He invited Elizabeth to come to Maryland and start a Catholic school for girls. She did so in 1809 establishing the Saint Joseph Academy and Free School in Emmitsburg, Maryland to educate Catholic girls. On July 31, 1810 she founded the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph’s with the mission of caring for the children of the poor. Her sisters adopted as their rule, the rule written by Saint Vincent de Paul for the Daughters of Charity.
Universally known as Mother Seton, during the last decade of her life she was a whirlwind of activity as her new order grew. By the 1830s it had spread throughout the country, among its many achievements founding the first hospital west of the Mississippi in Saint Louis. She did not allow her active life to deter from her spiritual life. She developed a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother and took solace from Scripture, particularly the 23rd Psalm. She needed such solace as she dealt with the deaths of two of her daughters and the deaths of young sisters in her order. Her crowded earthly life came to an end on January 4, 1821, tuberculosis claiming her life as it had the life of her husband. She is the patroness of the Sea Services, as a result of the letters she wrote to her sons William and Richard as they served in the United States Navy. The National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton each year holds a Pilgrimage for the Sea Services which is attended by members of the Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Merchant Marine and their families.