St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821)

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Wife, mother, widow, convert, foundress, and saint. Born in New York City to a prominent family, she was raised in the Anglican tradition and educated at home. She married William Magee Seton in 1794 and bore him five children. When her husband contracted tuberculosis in 1803, the couple traveled to Italy to seek a cure. William, however, died at Pisa on December 27 and she was left a widow at the age of 31. It was during this trip that Elizabeth was first exposed to Catholicism by the Filicchis, the family she stayed with while in Italy.

She entered the Catholic Church in 1805, not long after she returned to New York. Ostracized by her family and with few resources to provide for her children, she came to Baltimore in June 1808 with the support and encouragement of Rev. Louis DuBourg, P.S.S. (1766-1833), and Archbishop John Carroll (1735-1815). She took up residence with her children in a house owned by the Sulpician Fathers on Paca Street and it was here that she opened a Catholic school for girls.

After pronouncing her private vows for one year of chastity and obedience before Archbishop John Carroll in St. Mary’s Seminary Lower Chapel on March 25, 1809, she and the group of women that had gathered around her departed for Emmitsburg, Maryland, where they founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s on July 31, 1809, the first community of religious women established in this country. The Sisters of Charity were founded as an apostolic women’s religious community devoted to serving the poorest of the poor and were soon involved not only in the founding and staffing of schools, but hospitals, orphanages, social outreach and pastoral programs. Mother Seton remained in Emmitsburg until her death on January 4, 1821. She was canonized in 1975, the first native-born American to be proclaimed a saint.