Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton's
February 25, 1996
Brother John Raymond
Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born in New York on August 28, 1774. She
seemed to have had everything growing up__beauty, intelligence, a
good family and wealth. Yet, at eighteen years of age Elizabeth
thought of suicide. She saw no purpose to her life. Her father, a
doctor, although an Episcopalian, was a deist (believing, at heart,
that God created the world and just let it go.) He brought up his
daughter in the rationalist spirit of men like Voltaire and
In 1794 Elizabeth married the merchant Willam Seton. They had
five children, two boys and three girls. She was a very charitable
woman and became known in New York as the "Protestant Sister of
Charity." She founded the "Society for the Relief of Poor Widows
with Small Children."
After four years of marriage the family business failed and
Elizabeth found herself destitute for the first time in her life.
Then five years later her husband became ill with tuberculosis. It
was decided that he would recover better in Italy with friends of
the Setons there. But he died in Italy not long after their arrival.
Elizabeth was befriended by a Catholic family. In Italy she pondered
the mystery of Our Lord's Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. The
turning point in her conversion came when Elizabeth knelt down in a
Catholic church and professed her belief in the Real Presence. From
then on she always had a great love for the Blessed Sacrament.
Shortly after her return to America Elizabeth became Catholic
along with her five children. This made her and the children
outcasts in a predominately Protestant New York. A school where
Elizabeth worked as a schoolmistress was closed when false rumors
spread around New York that it was owned by Catholics who hoped to
force Protestant children to become Catholic.
Elizabeth was fortunate to meet a priest from Baltimore who
wanted to open a parish Catholic school. He asked her to help and
she agreed to move to Baltimore. Young women gathered around
Elizabeth and her work. The school opened in 1808. In a year they
became a religous community called the Sisters of St. Joseph with
Mother Seton as their superior. The Sisters established orphanages
and hospitals. But they mainly were known for their work in parish
Elizabeth died in 1821 with twenty communities spread across the
United States. She was canonized in 1975, the first native-born
North American saint.
I (Br. Joseph-John) recommend visiting the beautiful Basilica of
the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg,
Maryland were she is buried. I enjoyed my visit there last year when
we were traveling to give talks. Here are two prayers composed by
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.
O Father, the first rule of Our dear Savior's life was to do Your
will. Let his Will of the present moment be the first rule of our
daily life and work, with no other desire but for its most full and
complete accomplishment. Help us to follow it faithfully, so that
doing what You wish we will be pleasing to You. Amen.
Lord Jesus, Who was born for us in a stable, lived for us a life
of pain and sorrow and died for us upon a cross; say for us in the
hour of death, "Father, forgive," and to Your Mother, "Behold your
child." Say to us, "This day you shall be with Me in paradise." Dear
Savior, leave us not, forsake us not. We thirst for You, Fountain of
Living Water. Our days pass quickly along, soon all will be
consummated for us. To Your hands we commend our spirits, now and