Posted by: fvbcdm | January 5, 2012

Feast of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton (4 Jan 2012)

If you ever travel to and in New York City, you might stand on Wall Street looking west, uphill, to where the street ends with Trinity Church.  And you might even want to go inside the church to make a sort of pilgrimage to the place where one of our saints prayed for years.  She was Elizabeth Ann Bayley, the daughter of a prominent family at the time.  She was born in New York City in 1774, two years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.  Thus, when she was a little girl of two, these united states of ours became a nation, and their members, citizens of the United States of America.  When she was a teenager of fifteen, she danced at the inaugural ball of the newly elected president George Washington, since at that time, New York City was our national capital.  

Elizabeth married William Seton with whom she had five children.  His health failed; his doctors recommended a trip to Italy for its milder climate, but there Seton died, leaving his very young widow and her five children in financial straits.  However, one great grace occurred while they were in Italy.  They came to know and receive the hospitality of an  Italian family who were devout Catholics.  Elizabeth was deeply impressed by their faith and their love of God and neighbor, and upon her return to New York, she became a Catholic.  That caused her family and many of her friends to reject and renounce her, adding greatly to her sufferings. She had a great desire to devote herself to a life of religious education for the Catholics of this country, but she also had five children to raise.  It was not easy, but with the help of Bishop John Carroll and two Sulpician bishops from France—Dubourg and Dubois—she was able to accomplish both.  She went first to the one and only diocesan seat in our country which was Baltimore.  Shortly afterwards, she moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland, very close to the Pennsylvania border. There she established a Catholic school, continued to raise her children, and organized a group of like-minded women into a religious community: the Sisters of Charity. Eventually they were united with the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul who today operate the Emmitsburg shrine where the tomb of the now SAINT Elizabeth Ann Seton is held in great veneration.  

The Mother Seton shrine in Emmitsburg is a lovely, quiet place out in the country which consists almost entirely of religious institutions, including the college of Mount Saint Mary.  Large, shady trees are to be found everywhere; the white house where Mother Seton lived and taught and died is there, and then the large visitors’ center where those who come can learn the interesting story of this remarkable woman who mothered Catholic education in our country.  Connected with it is the basilica which shelters her tomb, one of the very few burial places of canonized saints in our country.

So, on the fourth day of this new year of ours, we celebrate Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, affectionately known to many as “Mother Seton.”  This is the one hundred and ninety-first anniversary of her death in Emmitsburg in 1821.   

Let me suggest that one day you visit the Pennsylvania Dutch country, the Gettysburg battlefield, and the shrine of Mother Seton, all within a very few miles of one another. You will learn much about the history of our country, and especially the history of the Church in America.  That’s one of the most valuable kinds of travel there is. Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.


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