Born August 28, 1774 New York City
Died January 4, 1821 (aged 46) Emmitsburg, Maryland
Honored in Roman Catholic Church, Episcopal Church (United States)
Beatified March 17, 1963 by Pope John XXIII
Canonized September 14, 1975 by Pope Paul VI
Feast January 4
Saint Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton (August 28, 1774 – January 4, 1821) was the first native-born citizen of the United States to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church (September 14, 1975). She established Catholic communities in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
CANONIZATION OF ELISABETH ANN SETON
HOMILY OF THE HOLY FATHER PAUL VI
14 September 1975
Yes, Venerable Brothers and beloved sons and daughters! Elizabeth Ann Seton is a Saint! We rejoice and we are deeply moved that our apostolic ministry authorizes us to make this solemn declaration before all of you here present, before the holy Catholic Church, before our other Christian brethren in the world, before the entire American people, and before all humanity. Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton is a Saint! She is the first daughter of the United States of America to be glorified with this incomparable attribute! But what do we mean when we say: «She is a Saint»? We all have some idea of the meaning of this highest title; but it is still difficult for us to make an exact analysis of it. Being a Saint means being perfect, with a perfection that attains the highest level that a human being can reach. A Saint is a human creature fully conformed to the will of God. A Saint is a person in whom all sin-the principle of death-is cancelled out and replaced by the living splendor of divine grace. The analysis of the concept of sanctity brings us to recognize in a soul the mingling of two elements that are entirely different but which come together to produce a single effect: sanctity. One of these elements is the human and moral element, raised to the degree of heroism: heroic virtues are always required by the Church for the recognition of a person's sanctity. The second element is the mystical element, which express the measure and form of divine action in the person chosen by God to realize in herself-always in an original way-the image of Christ (Cfr. Rom. 8, 29).
The science of sanctity is therefore the most interesting, the most varied, the most surprising and the most fascinating of all the studies of that ever mysterious being which is man. The Church has made this study of the life, that is, the interior and exterior history, of Elizabeth Ann Seton. And the Church has exulted with admiration and joy, and has today heard her own charism of truth poured out in the exclamation that we send up to God and announce to the world: She is a Saint! We shall not now give a panegyric, that is, the narrative which glorifies the new Saint. You already know her life and you will certainly study it further. This will be one of the most valuable fruits of the Canonization of the new Saint: to know her, in order to admire in her an outstanding human figure; in order to praise God who is wonderful in his saints; to imitate her example which this ceremony places in a light that will give perennial edification; to invoke her protection, now that we have the certitude of her participation in the exchange of heavenly life in the Mystical Body of Christ, which we call the Communion of Saints and in which we also share, although still belonging to life on earth. We shall not therefore speak of the life of our Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. This is neither the time nor the place for a fitting commemoration of her.
But at least let us mention the chapters in which such a commemoration should be woven. Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton is an American. All of us say this with spiritual joy, and with the intention of honoring the land and the nation from which she marvellously sprang forth as the first flower in the calendar of the saints. This is the title which, in his original foreword to the excellent work of Father Dirvin, the late Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York, attributed to her as primary and characteristic: «Elizabeth Ann Seton was wholly American»! Rejoice, we say to the great nation of the United States of America. Rejoice for your glorious daughter. Be proud of her. And know how to preserve her fruitful heritage. This most beautiful figure of a holy woman presents to the world and to history the affirmation of new and authentic riches that are yours: that religious spirituality which your temporal prosperity seemed to obscure and almost make impossible. Your land too, America, is indeed worthy of receiving into its fertile ground the seed of evangelical holiness. And here is a splendid proof-among many others-of this fact.
May you always be able to cultivate the genuine fruitfulness of evangelical holiness, and ever experience how-far from stunting the flourishing development of your economic, cultural and civic vitality -it will be in its own way the unfailing safeguard of that vitality. Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was born, brought up and educated in New York in the Episcopalian Communion. To this Church goes the merit of having awakened and fostered the religious sense and Christian sentiment which in the young Elizabeth were naturally predisposed to the most spontaneous and lively manifestations. We willingly recognize this merit, and, knowing well how much it cost Elizabeth to pass over to the Catholic Church, we admire her courage for adhering to the religious truth and divine reality which were manifested to her therein. And we are likewise pleased to see that from this same adherence to the Catholic Church she experienced great peace and security, and found it natural to preserve all the good things which her membership in the fervent Episcopalian community had taught her, in so many beautiful expressions, especially of religious piety, and that she was always faithful in her esteem and affection for those from whom her Catholic profession had sadly separated her.
For us it is a motive of hope and a presage of ever better ecumenical relations to note the presence at this ceremony of distinguished Episcopalian dignitaries, to whom-interpreting as it were the heartfelt sentiments of the new Saint-we extend our greeting of devotion and good wishes. And then we must note that Elizabeth Seton was the mother of a family and at the same time the foundress of the first Religious Congregation of women in the United States. Although this social and ecclesial condition of hers is not unique or new (we may recall, for example, Saint Birgitta, Saint Frances of Rome, Saint Jane Frances Fremiot de Chantal, Saint Louise de Marillac), in a particular way it distinguishes Saint Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton for her complete femininity, so that as we proclaim the supreme exaltation of a woman by the Catholic Church, we are pleased to note that this event coincides with an initiative of the United Nations: International Women's Year. This program aims at promoting an awareness of the obligation incumbent on all to recognize the true role of women in the world and to contribute to their authentic advancement in society. And we rejoice at the bond that is established between this program and today's Canonization, as the Church renders the greatest honor possible to Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton and extols her personal and extraordinary contribution as a woman -a wife, a mother, a widow, and a religious.
May the dynamism and authenticity of her life be an example in our day-and for generations to come-of what women can and must accomplish, in the fulfillment of their role, for the good of humanity. And finally we must recall that the most notable characteristic of our Saint is the fact that she was, as we said, the foundress of the first Religious Congregation of women in the United States. It was an offspring of the religious family of Saint Vincent de Paul, which later divided into various autonomous branches-five principal ones-now spread throughout the world. And yet all of them recognize their origin in the first group, that of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's, personally established by Saint Elizabeth Seton at Emmitsburg in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The apostolate of helping the poor and the running of parochial schools in America had this humble, poor, courageous and glorious beginning. This account, which constitutes the central nucleus of the earthly history and vorldwide fame of the work of Mother Seton, would merit a more extended treatment. But we know that her spiritual daughters will take care to portray the work itself as it deserves.
And therefore to these chosen daughters of the Saint we direct our special and cordial greeting, with the hope that they may be enabled to be faithful to their providential and holy institution, that their fervor and their numbers may increase, in the constant conviction that they have chosen and followed a sublime vocation that is worthy of being served with the total gift of their heart, the total gift of their lives. And may they always be mindful of the final exhortation of their Foundress Saint those words that she pronounced on her deathbed, like a heavenly testament, on January 2, 1821: «Be children of the Church». And we would add: for ever! And to all our beloved sons and daughters in the United States and throughout the entire Church of God we offer, in the name of Christ, the glorious heritage of Elizabeth Ann Seton. It is above all an ecclesial heritage of strong faith and pure love for God and for others-faith and love that are nourished on the Eucharist and on the Word of God. Yes, brethren, and sons and daughters: the Lord is indeed wonderful in his saints. Blessed be God for ever!
Alors que Nous proclamons l'élévation d'une femme au rang suprême par l'Eglise catholique, Nous relevons avec joie que cet événement coïncide avec une initiative des Nations Unies, l'Année internationale de la Femme. Ce programme vise à promouvoir une meilleure prise de conscience des obligations qui incombent à tous pour reconnaître le véritable rôle des femmes dans le monde, et pour contribuer à leur authentique avancement dans la société. Et Nous nous réjouissons du lien qui est établi entre ce programme et la canonisation d'aujourd'hui, alors que l'Eglise rend le plus grand honneur possible à Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, et exalte son apport personnel extraordinaire comme femme, comme épouse, comme mère, comme veuve, comme religieuse. Puissent le dynamisme et l'authenticité de cette vie être un exemple pour notre époque - et pour les générations à venir - de ce que les femmes peuvent et doivent réaliser, dans le parfait accomplissement de leur rôle, pour le bien de toute l'humanité.
Vemos hoy exaltar al supremo honor de los altares a la Madre Isabel Ana Bayley Seton. Ella encarna de manera admirable el ideal de una mujer como joven, esposa, madre, viuda y religiosa. Pueda el ejemplo, la luz y dinamismo admirables que se desprenden de la nueva Santa ser siempre una guía para las actuales generaciones femeninas; de modo especial durante el presente Año International de la Mujer.
Liebe Söhne und Töchter! Die Heiligsprechung der seligen Elisabeth Ann Bayley Seton gewinnt im internationalen Jahr der Frau eine besondere Bedeutung. Die neue Heilige ist in ihren einzelnen Lebensabschnitten als Frau, ais Mutter, ais Witwe, ais Ordensfrau ein leuchtendes Vorbild, wie die christliche Frau in jeder Lebenslage in der Nachfolge Jesu Christi ihre Sendung zum Wohle der Mitmenschen zu erfüllen hat. Möge sie uns allen eine mächtige Fürsprecherin am Throne Gottes sein!
Concludiamo ora il nostro discorso con una parola per i fedeli di lingua italiana, perché anche ad essi la nuova Santa, che conobbe ed amò l'Italia, propone l'alto esempio del suo singolare itinerario spirituale. Autentica figlia del nuovo Mondo, ella già sposa e madre approdò ai lidi italiani, e fu qui che, dopo l'immatura scomparsa del consorte, in lei e per lei ebbe inizio quel profondo travaglio interiore che, sotto la mozione dello Spirito, dopo un'assidua ricerca personale, ma anche grazie ai contatti con una buona ed amica famiglia Livornese dei Signori Filicchi, la portò ad abbracciare la fede cattolica. Il soggiorno in Italia segnò, dunque, per lei l'«ora di Dio», un momento privilegiato cioè, da cui scaturirono poi coraggiose decisioni ed operose realizzazioni per il bene della sua Patria e della santa Chiesa. Confidiamo e preghiamo che anche a questa terra, da Dio benedetta, Santa Elizabeth Ann Seton voglia riguardare dal Cielo con affetto singolare, estendendo ad essa il potere della sua intercessione ed illuminandola con la luce delle sue virtù genuinamente evangeliche.
Foundress and first superior of the Sisters of Charity in the United States; born in New York City, 28 Aug., 1774, of non-Catholic parents of high position; died at Emmitsburg, Maryland, 4 Jan., 1821.
Her father, Dr. Richard Bayley (born in Connecticut and educated in England), was the first professor of anatomy at Columbia College and eminent for his work as health officer of the Port of New York. Her mother, Catherine Charlton, daughter of an Anglican minister of Staten Island, N.Y., died when Elizabeth was three years old, leaving two other young daughters. The father married again, and among the children of this second marriage was Guy Charleton Bayley, whose convert son, James Roosevelt Bayley, became Archbishop of Baltimore. Elizabeth always showed great affection for her stepmother, who was a devout Anglican, and for her stepbrothers and sisters. Her education was chiefly conducted by her father, a brilliant man of great natural virtue, who trained her to self-restraint as well as in intellectual pursuits. She read industriously, her notebooks indicating a special interest in religious and historical subjects. She was very religious, wore a small crucifix around her neck, and took great delight in reading the Scriptures, especially the Psalms, a practice she retained until her death.
She was married on 25 Jan., 1794, in St. Paul's Church, New York, to William Magee Seton, of that city, by Bishop Prevoost. In her sister-in-law, Rebecca Seton, she found the "friend of her soul", and as they went about on missions of mercy they were called the "Protestant Sisters of Charity". Business troubles culminated on the death of her father-in-law in 1798. Elizabeth and her husband presided over the large orphaned family; she shared his financial anxieties, aiding him with her sound judgment. Dr. Bayley's death in 1801 was a great trial to his favourite child. In her anxiety for his salvation she had offered to God, during his fatal illness, the life of her infant daughter Catherine. Catherine's life was spared, however, she died at the age of ninety, as Mother Catherine of the Sisters of Mercy, New York. In 1803 Mr. Seton's health required a sea voyage; he started with his wife and eldest daughter for Leghorn, where the Filicchi brothers, business friends of the Seton firm, resided. The other children, William, Richard, Rebecca, and Catherine, were left to the care of Rebecca Seton.
From a journal which Mrs. Seton kept during her travels we learn of her heroic effort to sustain the drooping spirits of her husband during the voyage, followed by a long detention in quarantine, and until his death at Pisa (27 Dec., 1803). She and her daughter remained for some time with the Filicchi families. While with these Catholic families and in the churches of Italy Mrs. Seton first began to see the beauty of the Catholic Faith. Delayed by her daughter's illness and then by her own, she sailed for home accompanied by Antonio Filicchi, and reached New York on 3 June, 1804. Her sister-in-law, Rebecca, died in July.
A time of great spiritual perplexity began for Mrs. Seton, whose prayer was, "If I am right Thy grace impart still in the right to stay. If I am wrong Oh, teach my heart to find the better way." Mr. Hobart (afterwards an Anglican bishop), who had great influence over her, used every effort to dissuade her from joining the Catholic Church, while Mr. Filicchi presented the claims of the true religion and arranged a correspondence between Elizabeth and Bishop Cheverus. Through Mr. Filicchi she also wrote to Bishop Carroll. Elizabeth meanwhile added fasting to her prayers for light. The result was that on Ash Wednesday, 14 March, 1805, she was received into the Church by Father Matthew O'Brien in St. Peter's Church, Barclay Street, New York. On 25 March she made her first Communion with extraordinary fervour; even the faint shadow of this sacrament in the Protestant Church had had such an attraction for her that she used to hasten from one church to another to receive it twice each Sunday. She well understood the storm that her conversion would raise among her Protestant relatives and friends at the time she most needed their help. Little of her husband's fortune was left, but numerous relatives would have provided amply for her and her children had not this barrier been raised. She joined an English Catholic gentleman named White, who, with his wife, was opening a school for boys in the suburbs of New York, but the widely circulated report that this was a proselytizing scheme forced the school to close.
A few faithful friends arranged for Mrs. Seton to open a boarding-house for some of the boys of a Protestant school taught by the curate of St. Mark's. In January, 1806, Cecilia Seton, Elizabeth's young sister-in-law, became very ill and begged to see the ostracized convert; Mrs. Seton was sent for, and became a constant visitor. Cecilia told her that she desired to become a Catholic. When Cecilia's decision was known threats were made to have Mrs. Seton expelled from the state by the Legislature. On her recovery Cecilia fled to Elizabeth for refuge and was received into the Church. She returned to her brother's family on his wife's death. Mrs. Seton's boarding-house for boys had to be given up. Her sons had been sent by the Filicchis to Georgetown College. She hoped to find a refuge in some convent in Canada, where her teaching would support her three daughters. Bishop Carroll did not approve, so she relinquished this plan. Father Father Dubourg, S.S., from St. Mary's Seminary, Baltimore, met her in New York, and suggested opening in Baltimore a school for girls. After a long delay and many privations, she and her daughters reached Baltimore on Corpus Christi, 1808. Her boys were brought there to St. Mary's College, and she opened a school next to the chapel of St. Mary's Seminary and was delighted with the opportunities for the practice of her religion, for it was only with the greatest difficulty she was able to get to daily Mass and Communion in New York. The convent life for which she had longed ever since her stay in Italy now seemed less impracticable. Her life was that of a religious, and her quaint costume was fashioned after one worn by certain nuns in Italy. Cecilia Conway of Philadelphia, who had contemplated going to Europe to fulfill her religious vocation, joined her; soon other postulants arrived, while the little school had all the pupils it could accommodate.
Mr. Cooper, a Virginian convert and seminarian, offered $10,000 to found an institution for teaching poor children. A farm was bought half a mile from the village of Emmitsburg and two miles from Mt. St. Mary's College. Meanwhile Cecilia Seton and her sister Harriet came to Mrs. Seton in Baltimore. As a preliminary to the formation of the new community, Mrs. Seton took vows privately before Archbishop Carroll and her daughter Anna. In June, 1809, the community was transferred to Emmitsburg to take charge of the new institution. The great fervour and mortification of Mother Seton, imitated by her sisters, made the many hardships of their situation seem light. In Dec., 1809, Harriet Seton, who was received into the Church at Emmitsburg, died there, and Cecilia in Apr., 1810.
Bishop Flaget was commissioned in 1810 by the community to obtain in France the rules of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Three of these sisters were to be sent to train the young community in the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul, but Napoleon forbade them to leave France. The letter announcing their coming is extant at Emmitsburg. The rule, however, with some modifications, was approved by Archbishop Carroll in Jan., 1812, and adopted.
Against her will, and despite the fact that she had also to care for her children, Mrs. Seton was elected superior. Many joined the community; Mother Seton's daughter, Anna, died during her novitiate (12 March, 1812), but had been permitted to pronounce her vows on her death-bed. Mother Seton and the eighteen sisters made their vows on 19 July, 1813. The fathers superior of the community were the Sulpicians, Fathers Dubourg, David, and Dubois. Father Dubois held the post for fifteen years and laboured to impress on the community the spirit of St. Vincent's Sisters of Charity, forty of whom he had had under his care in France. The fervour of the community won admiration everywhere. The school for the daughters of the well-to-do prospered, as it continues to do (1912), and enabled the sisters to do much work among the poor. In 1814 the sisters were given charge of an orphan asylum in Philadelphia; in 1817 they were sent to New York. The previous year (1816) Mother Seton's daughter, Rebecca, after long suffering, died at Emmitsburg; her son Richard, who was placed with the Filicchi firm in Italy, died a few years after his mother. William, the eldest, joined the United States Navy and died in 1868. The most distinguished of his children are Most. Rev. Robert Seton, Archbishop of Heliopolis (author of a memoir of his grandmother, "Roman Essays", and many contributions to the "American Catholic Quarterly" and other reviews), and William Seton.
Mother Seton had great facility in writing. Besides the translation of many ascetical French works (including the life of Saint Vincent de Paul, and of Mlle. Le Gras) for her community she has left copious diaries and correspondence that show a soul all on fire with the love of God and zeal for souls. Great spiritual desolation purified her soul during a great portion of her religious life, but she cheerfully took the royal road of the cross. For several years the saintly bishop (then Father) Bruti was her director. The third time she was elected mother (1819) she protested that it was the election of the dead, but she lived for two years, suffering finally from a pulmonary affection. Her perfect sincerity and great charm aided her wonderfully in the work of sanctifying souls. In 1880 Cardinal Gibbons (then Archbishop) urged the steps be taken toward her canonization. The result of the official inquiries in the cause of Mother Seton, held in Baltimore during several years, were brought to Rome by special messenger, and placed in the hands of the postulator of the cause on 7 June, 1911.
Her cause is entrusted to the Priests of the Congregation of the Mission, whose superior general in Paris is also superior of the Sisters of Charity with which the Emmitsburg community was incorporated in 1850, after the withdrawal of the greater number of the sisters (at the suggestion of Archbishop Hughes) of the New York houses in 1846. This union had been contemplated for some time, but the need of a stronger bond at Emmitsburg, shown by the New York separation, hastened it. It was effected with the loss of only the Cincinnati community of six sisters. With the Newark and Halifax offshoots of the New York community and the Greenburg foundation from Cincinnati, the sisters originating from Mother Seton's foundation number (1911) about 6000. The original Emittsburg community now wearing the cornette and observing the rule just as St. Vincent gave it, naturally surpasses any of the others in number. It is found in about thirty dioceses in the United States and forms a part of the worldwide sisterhood, whilst the others are rather diocesan communities.