Today is the memorial of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who was the first person born in the United States to be declared a saint. She was born in 1774 into an elite family in New York, and was raised an Episcopalian.
At age twenty, she married William Seton, with whom she was deeply in love with. They raised a family, and were very happy, but this was not to last. Firstly his father died, leaving William to take care of his siblings and the family business. Then, the business failed, leaving them bankrupt, and William fell ill with tuberculosis. To recover his health, the family went to Italy to stay with friends, and he died there. Elizabeth was consoled by his spiritual journey, and her concern for her spiritual life and that of her family brought her to the Catholic Church; her instruction was provided by their friends over several months (alas! So many are under-catechized today, and you can't even count on Italians to be Catholic anymore.)
Her primary motivation to enter the Church was that so she could partake in the Eucharist. (Wow! That's awesome. Why do people choose not to partake in the ultimate act of love that God has given to us as a gift?) Having lost her own mother at a young age, she took great comfort knowing that the Blessed Virgin Mary was her mother as well.
After returning to North America, she founded a school in keeping with the practice of many upper-class widows at this time, but this quickly failed when parents learned of her conversion. However, a French priest of the Sulpician Fathers, Louis William Valentine Dubourg had recently emigrated after fleeing the anti-clerical regime in France. He desired to build a school to educate the small Catholic community in the country to go along with the college-later to include a seminary- at Emmitsburg (Mt. St Mary's University) and later the seminary in Baltimore (St Mary's Seminary and University). In 1809, Elizabeth accepted his invitation and began a school in Emmitsburg. At this time she founded a religious order known as the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph following the Rule of St Vincent de Paul.
|the National Shrine|
She spent her remaining years expanding her congregation and in the service of educating young Catholics. Elizabeth Ann Seton died in 1821 of tuberculosis at the age of forty-six following many years of suffering (many deaths and other internal struggles). She was canonized in 1975, after three miracles were attributed to her intercession. Her relics can be found at the National Shrine of St Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg.
Initially Elizabeth desired to join the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul but this proved impossible since there was an embargo with France during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1850, her order became the American province of the Daughters of Charity.
Her daughter became the first American to join the Sisters of Mercy. Seton Hall University in Newark is named for her; it was founded by the son of her half-brother who also converted to the Church, James Roosevelt Bayley and became the Archbishop of Baltimore.