04 January 2013

The first U.S. saint, Elizabeth Seton

On January 4th, we celebrate the feast of the first canonized saint born in the United States, Elizabeth Ann Bailey Seton (1774-1821). Born in New York City, she was a devout Episcopalian. Married in 1794 to William Magee Seton, Elizabeth and his sister Rebecca became known as the "Protestant Sisters of Charity" because of their missions of mercy.

William's poor health led to a doctor's suggestion that a warmer climate might be beneficial. William, Elizabeth and their eldest daughter sailed in 1803 to Italy where business friends named Filicchi resided. After William's death in December 1803, Elizabeth and her daughter remained with their friends until June 1804 when Antonio Filicchi accompanied them on their return to New York.

The story of Elizabeth's reception into the Catholic Church in 1805 includes attempts by family and friends to dissuade her from doing so, but she cited three basic points that led to her conversion: belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the conviction that the Catholic Church led back to the apostles and to Christ.

Elizabeth opened a school in the Baltimore area with women who eventually joined her in establishing a religious community, Sisters of Charity, in 1809. To her sisters, she gave this advice: "The first end I propose in our daily work is to do the will of God; secondly to do it in the manner he wills it; and thirdly to do it because it is his will."

To learn more about the life of this remarkable woman, I suggest visiting the website below:


Sr. Joanne Gonter, V.H.M.

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