On January 4th, the Church celebrates the feast of the first American-born citizen saint — St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. She was one of the first families of New York and grew up in high society as an Episcopalian. Despite the prosperity of her family, St Elizabeth knew pain and grief, having lost her mother at the age of three and then her baby sister. These early crosses in her life did not create pity or resentment in her heart. Rather as “she faced each new ‘holocaust’, as she put it, with “hopeful cheerfulness.” (Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton story)
“Afflictions are the steps to heaven.”
St. Elizabeth married the wealthy William Seton whom she loved dearly. They were blessed with five children. However, her husband’s business failed, and he grew very sick. They traveled to Italy for better weather and to visit some of his business friends. Sadly, shortly after arriving in Italy, William died; and St. Elizabeth was widowed with five children.
“Go to him with faith, love and confidence – He will help.
Fill yourself with his Spirit and He himself will govern.”
The gentle and unending love of God continued to guide her. It was during this time of loss in Italy that she was introduced to Catholicism for the first time by the witness of family friends. Her heart was drawn to Christ truly Present in the Eucharist, to the love of the Blessed Mother, and to the fact that the Catholic Church was truly apostolic having been established by Christ and guided by the Apostles. These three beautiful and holy aspects of the Catholic Church helped her persevere even when her family rejected her for her new faith. Life changed, but St. Elizabeth found new meaning and purpose. She returned to America and within a year became a Catholic.
“All in the hands of our God so dear
and infinitely good, that is my comfort.”
Though her heart found new joy in her Catholic faith, it was not easy. Many did not accept her new faith. “She suffered great trials of sickness, misunderstanding, the death of loved ones (her husband and two young daughters) and the heartache of a wayward son.” (Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton story) Her life became a way for her to fulfill a longing in her heart to serve and to teach. She trusted in God knowing that He was faithful and true.
“Do what we can and God will do the rest.
What seems so impossible to nature is quite easy to grace.”
Elizabeth left New York after being invited to Emmitsburg, Maryland. She opened a school for women there, and over time many joined her. She formed the religious order entitled the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. This was the first woman’s religious sisterhood to be established in America. She came to be called Mother Seton as she became the superior of her order. Mother Seton, in her service to others, established two orphanages and another school. Her love and dedication to teaching children about the faith paved the way for centuries of amazing Catholic education. She took her gifts and used them for the good of others by sharing the gift of faith she had received. She did not seek fame or recognition but served with love and humility.
“I resign the present and the future to Him
who is the author and conductor of both.”
Mother Seton spent her remaining years serving others and guiding her schools. She died on January 4 at the age of 46. Her life was such a witness to all who met her. She is the patron saint of Educators/Teachers, Catholic Schools, Loss of Parents, Loss of Children, In-law problems, and Widows. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s life reminds us that we must follow God’s will and live with hearts filled with love for God. May this last quote of hers inspire you to remember how close God is for each of us:
“You know the general principle: that God is everywhere.
On the throne of His glory among the blessed indeed, but also throughout the whole universe which He fills, governs, and preserves, ruling it by wisdom and grace. This we learn in our infancy, as in all of our memory in childhood. Yet in the practice of life, we live along as if we scarcely remembered that God sees us.”
In this new year, may we resolve to commit our hearts and lives more fully to God. May we remember that God is always with us and gives us the graces we need for the path He asks us to walk. May we pray to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for courage to be steadfast in a culture that wants to strip away our faith and tell us we are alone. May we be bold in our sharing of the faith with our children and the people we meet so that the future generations of America will stay connected to their faith and be united with God.
To honor St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s love for teaching children, I would like to offer up a recommendation of a fabulous podcast for children (and parents) called Catholic Sprouts. My family has just recently been listening and has greatly enjoyed it. It is usually about a 5-minute listen and is packed with inspiration, reflection on saints of the day, and profoundly simple Catholic teaching. Check it out at this link-https://catholicsprouts.com/catholic-sprouts-podcast/. I just want to find time to go back and listen to the podcasts we have missed!
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us and for America!
What will America look like for generations to come if we fail in our duty to teach and serve? What part can we play in this new year to lead others closer to truth, love, and holiness?
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton story retrieved from https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-of-the-day/saint-elizabeth-ann-seton
Quotes from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton retrieved from https://setonshrine.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/St-Elizabeth-Ann-Seton-Quotes.pdf
Author: Laura Stephens, FF Sacrament Preparation Catechist