St Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821)
Feast day: 4th January
Patron Saint of Widows
Elizabeth Ann Seton: wife, mother, teacher, charity-worker, foundress, and first American-born saint. She was, for all that, born a very ordinary person, and can be an inspiration to us all.
Elizabeth grew up in comfort of the upper classes of New York in the late 1700s, the granddaughter of an Episcopal minister and the daughter of a doctor with a great humanitarian zeal. She first engaged in the social ministry of her church with her stepmother, tending to the sick and the poor, and became a member of The Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children.
Tragedy struck when Elizabeth’s beloved husband died of tuberculosis after only 9 years of marriage, leaving her with five children and in financial ruin. She had experienced the loss of loved ones before, and through tragedy, increasingly her desire to accept and embrace the will of God grew. She converted to Catholicism and developed a deep devotion to Our Lady, the Eucharist and Sacred Scripture.
Elizabeth took annual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, holding both the position of religious sister and mother. The school she founded to provide for her children was the first of many works of mercy which led to her founding the Sisters of Charity, the first American religious community for women. The historical society of Emmitsberg (home of the national shrine) explains further: “In considering her future and examining alternatives, Elizabeth remained a mother first and foremost. She regarded her five “darlings” as her primary obligation over every other commitment.”
Under Mother Seton, further schools and orphanages were established, and many religious communities in the USA today trace their roots back to Elizabeth.
St Elizabeth Ann Seton’s life was an example of total self-giving for others. She shows us what we can do for God if only we let Him. We pray that, through the intercession of St Elizabeth Ann Seton, we may devote ourselves more to prayer and the service of our neighbour.
Below are photos of the Seton Shrine at the Church of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, 7 State Street, Lower Manhattan, New York. Nestled between skyscrapers, it faces the ferry terminal to Staten Island. Next door, at no. 8, is where the Seton family lived from 1801-1803.