Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
The sound of Alleluias fills the 50 days of Easter Sunday to Pentecost as we give thanks for the gift of our salvation. The Easter Triduum recalls the passion and resurrection of Christ in the sacred journey from Holy Thursday to Easter Vigil. "Dying he destroyed our death. Rising he restored our life."
Elizabeth Ann Seton, Mother and Religious, 1774-1821
Our saint this week experienced the kindness and sympathy of others in her time of grief. In turn, she spent much of the remainder of her life caring for others.
Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was born in New York City on August 28, 1774, just two years before the Declaration of Independence was signed. She might truly be called a daughter of the American Revolution.
Elizabeth’s father, Dr. Richard Bayley, was a professor in the medical school of what is now Columbia University. Her mother, and later, her stepmother, were staunch Episcopalians who instilled in her an appreciation of prayer and the Scriptures. At nineteen, Elizabeth married a handsome, wealthy businessman, William Magee Seton, with whom she had five children.
In the first years of her marriage, Elizabeth plunged into social work and in 1797, helped to found the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children. Just a few years later, in 1803, her husband's business failed and William contracted tuberculosis. He and Elizabeth went to Italy hoping to effect a cure, but he died shortly after they arrived.
Elizabeth remained in Italy for some months after, and while there, observed Catholicism in action through a compassionate couple with whom she was staying. She became convinced that the Catholic Church led back to the Apostles and to Christ. After her return to the United States in 1805, she became a Catholic. This action angered her family and friends; in turn, they rejected her and left her without support. To provide for herself and her children, she opened a school in Boston.
In 1809, the rector of St. Mary's seminary in Baltimore invited Elizabeth to open a school there. Shortly thereafter, Elizabeth founded a religious community along with four companions. The sisters opened a school for poor children in Emmitsburg, Maryland, which was the beginning of the Catholic parochial school system in the United States.
Archbishop Carroll of Baltimore approved the rule of Elizabeth’s religious community's rule in 1812 and, in 1813 Elizabeth and eighteen other women took vows in the new order, the Sisters of Charity, the first American religious society. The order spread throughout the United States and numbered some twenty communities by the time of her death.
Elizabeth Ann Seton became the first American-born saint when she was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1975. She is honored by a Memorial on January 4th.
Elizabeth’s message today: Accepting our faith sometimes leads to rejection by those we love. Remembering that God loves both us and those who have forsaken us can help to ease the pain of rejection. We must learn to pray not just for those who love us and accept us, but also for those who have turned their backs on us.