Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born into a wealthy and socially prominent family on August 28, 1774, in New York. Her grandfather was rector of an Episcopal church, and she was a member of the church for 30 years. Elizabeth married William Magee Seton in 1794. He was heir to his family's shipping and importing interests. They had five children.
Elizabeth and her sister-in-law, Rebecca, seized every opportunity to share their worldly abundance with the city’s needy and were known as the Protestant Sisters of Charity. After William’s business failed, he contracted tuberculosis. For health reasons, the Setons traveled to Italy, where William died shortly after their arrival.
Elizabeth was befriended by an Italian family and was exposed to Roman Catholic dogma. After returning to New York, Elizabeth examined the faith thoroughly. She tried to establish a school, but her leanings towards Catholicism repulsed the families and they withdrew their children. In 1806, Elizabeth was confirmed in the Catholic Church. The Archbishop of Baltimore invited her to establish a girls’ school in 1808. Her sisters-in-law, Harriet and Cecilia Seton, joined her. In 1809, Elizabeth took her first vows and received the title “Mother.” This was the beginning of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph.
In the summer of 1809, 16 women and children occupied a log cabin on St. Mary’s Mountain in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Construction began on St. Joseph’s House, a free school for boys and girls, and classes were first held in 1810. By establishing this school, Mother Seton earned the title of Foundress of the American Parochial School System. From her original foundation of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, six North American religious communities trace their origins.
Elizabeth died in 1821 at the age of 46. She was canonized on Sept. 14, 1975, and is the first American-born saint.
Prayer Lord God, You blessed Elizabeth Ann Seton with gifts of grace as wife and mother, educator and foundress, so that she might spend her life in service to Your people. Through her example and prayers may we learn to express our love for You in love for one another.We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen
Photo from the St. Elizabeth Seton School (Naples Florida) from Ordinary People Extraordinary Lives.