Posted by: fvbcdm | January 4, 2016

Feast of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton (4 Jan 2016)

On August 28, 1774, a little girl was born in New York City, still a part of the thirteen American colonies of Great Britain.

Less than twenty-three months later, the founding fathers of our nation assembled in Philadelphia, just a few miles away, and signed the Declaration of Independence. We date the beginning of our nation to that momentous event. The little girl in New York City was Elizabeth Ann Bayley, the daughter of well-to-do and prominent members of New York society who were Episcopalians. She only lived for forty-six years, but she had a remarkably full life in that short period of time. She married another New Yorker by the name of William Seton. Within eight years, they had five children. However, he contracted tuberculosis, so their doctors advised them to go to a gentler climate for the sake of his health. They went to Leghorn in Italy because they had friends there. But it was too late; William died there, leaving his young widow and five children and very little money since his company had suffered financial reverses in the recent past.

His death was a great blow to the twenty-eight year old mother of five. But while in Italy, she had become acquainted with the Catholic Church. Always a devout person, she found Catholicism tremendously attractive, and upon returning to New York, she became a Catholic. She wanted to devote herself to the service of God and the Church in America by teaching, and with the help of Bishop John Carroll, she was able to open a Catholic school and even found a community of Sisters — the first native religious congregation of our country. A wealthy man gave them over 200 acres of land in Emmitsburg, Maryland. There Mother Seton, as she was called, spent the rest of her life, welcoming students and teaching them, welcoming young women who aspired to her way of life and training them in the ways of religious vocation. Three of her children died in their childhood or teenage years. One lived only to be 25; the last one lived into his sixties.

Emmitsburg, where her original foundation is still to be found and where her tomb is located, is just a two-hour ride from Washington, D.C., and even closer to Baltimore. And it is just about 12 miles from the famous battlefield of Gettysburg where the great battle was fought during the Civil War and where Lincoln delivered his very short but immortal address a year later. But by then, Saint Elizabeth Seton had lain in her grave for over forty years while her Sisters carried on her work of Catholic education just a few miles away.

She died on January 4, 1821, so today we celebrate her feastday — the first native-born American saint and the foundress of the first religious community to be founded in our country. We need more American Catholics like Mother Seton. Let us ask her intercession for them.  Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This message was composed some years ago.


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