A Heartfelt Welcome
Our Patron Saint
The United States is just a little over two hundred years old as a country, and in comparison to many other countries of the world, it is a very short time indeed. This is one reason why, in 1975, there was such special joy in the United States when Elizabeth Ann Seton was canonized a saint by the Church. She was the first person born here to be declared a saint.
Elizabeth was born to a Protestant family just before the American Revolution, in 1774. Her mother died when she was three years old. Although her father married again, Elizabeth and her sister spent most of their time with their uncle in New Rochelle, N.Y. When Elizabeth was eighteen, she married William Seton. They had five children: Anna Maria, Rebecca, Bill, Dick, and Kit. They were a very happy family until William became ill with tuberculosis in 1803.
Thinking that a warmer climate would benefit William’s health, Elizabeth, William and their eight-year old daughter, Anna, sailed from New York to Italy where they had friends. When they arrived in Italy they were quarantined for one month in a cold, damp, hospital room with a brick floor and only a bench to lie on. William’s health worsened, and he died within a few weeks of their release from the hospital.
The people with whom Elizabeth stayed were very kind to her. Through them she came to know about the Catholic Church, and when she returned to New York she decided to become a Catholic. This decision was very difficult for Elizabeth as Catholicism was not widely accepted at that time, and her conversion separated her from many friends and family. Elizabeth had to find a way to take care of her family. She decided to open a boarding school for young children. At the same time she began to go to St. Peter’s Church, which was then the only Catholic Church in New York City. In 1805 she made her Profession of Faith and was received into the Catholic Church. The school she founded became very successful, but upon her conversion to Catholicism, many families turned against her. Due to the success of the school, Archbishop John Carroll of Baltimore encouraged her to open a boarding school there for Catholic girls. Elizabeth went to Baltimore, along with other women who shared her faith and ideals. The school grew and soon another building was needed. She was given money to buy a farm in Emmitsburg, Maryland for a school, and was asked to become a religious.
In 1808 Elizabeth made private vows to Archbishop John Carroll. She took the vows that Sisters profess, even though she was not a member of a religious order. Instead, she was to begin one!
The other women who helped her with the school also wanted to be Sisters. In 1812 Elizabeth and the others made formal vows. They were called the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Elizabeth became the head of this community of Sisters, and from that time on she was known as Mother Seton.
During these years, Elizabeth knew much sorrow. Her husband’s sisters, Cecilia and Harriet, had both become Catholics and had come to Baltimore to join her. Sadly, both died shortly after their arrival in Baltimore. The following year 1812, Elizabeth’s daughter Anna also died. Four years later, Becky died. Elizabeth knew that she herself was ill and would not have long to live. She died in 1821.