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Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

Elizabeth Ann Seton, convert and saint

Today is the feast of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton! She holds a special place in history as the first American-born person to be canonized, and led a winding life of trials and joys. From her early days as a privileged child in New York to her many charitable works with schools and the religious life, Saint Elizabeth is a particular example for Americans.

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

Born in New Rochelle in 1774, Elizabeth was raised Episcopal until her mother did when she was three years old. Her father remarried, and it was her stepmother, Charlotte Amelia Barclay, who brought Elizabeth along during activities with the Church. Though she grew up Episcopal, and was married in the Episcopal Church, Saint Elizabeth would later convert after the death of her husband, William Seton.

She had many happy years of marriage, but that was only the precursor to her later efforts in the Catholic Church. After her husband died of Tuberculosis, she converted in 1805 in New York City. Because she was newly widowed, Elizabeth needed a source of income, and thus established an academy for young women; a few years later, she accepted an invitation from the emigrant Suplican nuns in Maryland, moved there, and founded Saint Joseph's Academy and Free School. Geared toward educating young Catholic girls, the Academy was the foundation for Saint Elizabeth's future works.

Later that year, she established a religious community nearby, dedicated to the care of poor children; it also featured a free Catholic school, the first of its kind in America. The community was also the first such community of religious sisters in the country, the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph. Thus did Elizabeth become Mother Seton.

Saint Elizabeth spent the rest of her life tending to her community and working to spread their congregation. She died in 1821, but only nine years later the Sisters of Charity had spread orphanages and schools nearly to the Mississippi.

Today, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton's legacy is strong in the United States, with schools, churches, and universities named after her. Her example of charity and caretaking for the poor and foundation of education resonates.



Ian Rutherford is the President and founder of AquinasAndMore.com, one of the largest and oldest on-line Catholic stores.

He lives with his lovely wife and eleven kids in northern Colorado.

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