Elizabeth Ann Seton becomes first American-born saint

Elizabeth Ann Seton becomes first American-born saint

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Elizabeth Ann Seton is canonized by Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in Rome, becoming the first American-born Catholic saint.

Born in New York City in 1774, Elizabeth Bayley was the daughter of an Episcopalian physician. She devoted much of her time to charity work with the poor and in 1797 founded the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children in New York. She married William Seton, and in 1803 she traveled with him to Italy, where she was exposed to the Roman Catholic Church. After she herself was widowed and left with five children in 1803, she converted to Catholicism and in 1808 went to Baltimore to establish a Catholic school for girls.

In 1809, she founded the United States’ first religious order, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. A few months later, Mother Seton and the sisters of the order moved to a poor parish where they provided free education to poor children. Mother Seton’s order grew rapidly, and she continued to teach until her death in 1821. In 1856, Seton Hall University was named for her. She was canonized in 1975.

Biography of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

SETON, Elizabeth Ann, born in New York city, 28 August, 1774 died in Emmittsburg, Maryland, 4 January, 1821.

Elizabeth Ann Bayley, one of two daughters of a prominent Episcopal family, was born in New York on August 28, 1774. She was a charming little girl, small-boned and dainty, with great brown eyes. Having lost her mother at the age of three, she was deeply attached to her physician father and used to sit beside her schoolroom window watching for him on the street. When he appeared, she would slip out quickly and run for a kiss.

Beautiful, vivacious, fluent in French, a fine musician, and an accomplished horsewoman, she grew up and became a popular guest at parties and balls. Long afterward she wrote of all this as quite harmless, except for distractions at night prayers and the bother of fussing over dresses. Small wonder young William Seton fell head over heels in love with her. She returned his love adoringly and they were married, surely to live happily ever after.

It began felicitously enough in a gracious home on Wall Street, William busy at his family’s shipping business, Elizabeth with the beginnings of a family. Anna Maria was born, then young Willy, and then came a thin thread of worry in the form of William’s ill health. With the death of his father, their fortunes began to decline. William was tormented by visions of debtor’s prison, while Elizabeth was certain that God would help them to survive. “Troubles always create a great exertion of my mind,” she wrote, “and give it a force to which at other times it is incapable… I think the greatest happiness of this life is to be released from the cares of what is called the world.”

In two and a half years, they were bankrupt. Elizabeth spent that Christmas watching the front door to keep out the seizure officer. The following summer she and the children stayed with her father, who was health officer for the Port of New York on Staten Island. When she saw the babies of newly arrived Irish immigrants starving at their mothers’ breasts, she begged her physician father to let her nurse some of them since she was weaning her fourth child, but he refused. By summer’s end, he too was a victim of the yellow fever epidemic, and Elizabeth was grief-stricken. More and more she turned to the Scriptures and the spiritual life, and in May of 1802 she wrote in a letter that her soul was “sensibly convinced of an entire surrender of itself and all its faculties to God.”

Then in 1803, the doctor suggested a sea journey for William’s health. Against Elizabeth’s better judgment they set sail for Italy to visit their friends, the Felicchi family. To pay for the voyage, she sold the last of her possessions-silver, vases, pictures, all probably inherited from her father. The voyage was pleasant, but arriving at Leghorn they were quarantined in a stone tower on a cane outside the city because of the yellow fever epidemic in New York. There she endured for forty days the cruelest suffering she was ever to know, possibly the key to all that happened during the rest of her life. She wept, then reproached herself for behaving as though God were not present. She tended the racked patient, now coughing blood amused Anna Maria, who had come with them, with stories and games and held little prayer services. When the cold numbed them beyond bearing, she and Anna Maria skipped rope. William died two days after Christmas in Pisa, at the age of thirty-seven. Only the laundress would help the young widow to lay out his body.

While waiting to return to America, Elizabeth attended the churches of her Italian friends where she was deeply impressed by the Catholic belief in the real presence. If this teaching about the Blessed Sacrament had been held in the Episcopal church in New York at the time, Elizabeth Seton’s story might have been very different, for this doctrine was at the very heart of her conversion. Returning to New York, poor now and living upstairs in a little house supplied by friends, the news of her interest in the church stirred up consternation on all sides. She agonized with indecision about it until finally, on March 14, 1805, she became a Roman Catholic.

Several plans to support her family failed, and finally she opened a boardinghouse for schoolboys but when her sister-in-law, Cecelia Seton, became a Roman Catholic also, her angry supporters withdrew. Hearing of her need, the president of St. Mary’s College in Baltimore offered her a residence with a teaching position in that city. She accepted and left New York for good on June 8, 1808.

In March of 1809, she pronounced her vows before Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore, was given some property in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and in June she, her three daughters, her sisters-in-law, Cecelia and Harriet Seton, and four young women who had joined them, began what was to become the American foundation of the Sisters of Charity. For special occasions they wore black dresses with shoulder capes, a simple white bonnet tied under the chin (like Elizabeth’s mourning dress) and for everyday they wore whatever else they had. Their temporary abode provided four rooms, two cots, mattresses on the floor under a leaky roof where in winter snow sifted down over them. Vegetables, now and then a bit of salt pork or buttermilk, and a beverage called carrot coffee was their fare-all flavored with that great zest for survival which had become a habit with Elizabeth. When they moved to their unfinished permanent home they were invaded by fleas which had infested the horsehair for the plaster. Finally the home was completed and they had “an elegant little chapel, 30 cells, an infirmary, refectory, parlor, school, and workroom.”

In 1811 Mother Seton adopted the rules and constitution of St. Vincent de Paul, with some modifications, and the institution, having received the sanction of the highest ecclesiastical authority, became a religious order. Afterward a group of buildings, embracing a residence for the Sisters, a novitiate, a boarding-school for young girls, a school for poor children, and an orphan asylum, was erected.

In 1814 Mother Seton sent a colony of Sisters to Philadelphia to take charge of the orphan asylum. In 1817, in response to another application from New York, another body came to that city. At her death there were more than twenty communities of Sisters of Charity, conducting free schools, orphanages, boarding-schools, and hospitals, in the states of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Delaware, Massachusetts, Virginia, Missouri, and Louisiana, and in the District of Columbia. Although, according to the constitution of her order, no one could be elected to the office of mother-superior for more than two terms successively, an exception was made in her favor by the unanimous desire of her companions, and she held the office during life.

Elizabeth Seton died slowly and painfully of the tuberculosis which had stricken all her family. At the last she was sustained on nothing but a little port wine. She had written to her best friend not long before, “I’ll be wild Betsy to the last.” The night of her death, January 4, 1821, she began the prayers for the dying herself, and one of the sisters, knowing that she loved French, prayed the Gloria and the Magnificent in French with her. The spirited young woman who had wanted only to marry a handsome man, be a happy wife, and raise a pretty family, had had adventures beyond her wildest dreams. Loving by nature, she grew in faith and hope because of trial, not in spite of it. And with each trial God revealed resources, strength, and courage she did not know she possessed.

Mother Seton was canonized the first American-born saint by Pope Paul VI in 1975.


In the late 1960’s, the St. Louis Metropolitan Area began a dramatic demographic movement to St. Charles County. The Archdiocese of St. Louis realized a need to establish of a new parish in St. Charles. On May 29, 1975, John Cardinal Carberry, the Archbishop of St. Louis, canonically erected such a new parish with Father John Hickel as founding pastor. That following Fall, the first American-born saint would be canonized, and it was decided the new parish would be named after her, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Detailed plans were made for the new parish in the southwest corner of the city of St. Charles and the eastern portion of the city of St. Peters. Property was purchased and a design for a temporary church (later to become a gymnasium) and a school building were approved, and the fledgling parish first met for weekly worship in the Saint Andrew’s Cinema.

On September 14, 1975, the parishioners gathered with the new pastor on a field where the parish plant would be constructed the same day in Rome, Pope Paul VI canonized Mother Seton. They celebrated with an outdoor Mass, a formal ground breaking, and a picnic lunch.

As the neighboring parish, St. Robert Bellarmine, founded in 1963, had never opened an elementary school, it was decided that St. Elizabeth and St. Robert Parishes would partner in the work of Catholic education. Inspired by Mother Seton’s dedication to Catholic education, this new elementary school would be called St. Elizabeth/St. Robert Regional Catholic School.

Construction was completed in the summer of 1976, and classes began that September. Registration outstripped the capacity of the new building. Plans were immediately made, even before the school opened, to add a new addition to the building. In the Fall of 1976, Cardinal Carberry blessed the new buildings.

During Father John Hickel’s tenure as pastor, the parish grew by leaps and bounds. The first rectory, a subdivision house on Sunny Days Court, would eventually be transformed into a convent for two Sisters of St. Joseph, Sisters Catherine Ingolia, CSJ (1922-1990) and Patricia Flavin, CSJ (1932-2018). The current rectory was built on the parish grounds in 1981.

Many organizations were founded that made St. Elizabeth a vibrant parish family. One particular organization was the parish Apostolic Works Ministry (AWM). This group was formed in response to the financial need of both parishioners and non-parishioners. The reach of the AWM has grown over the years as a means to provide emergency assistance to all in the area, with mortgages, rent, food, utilities and medical expenses.

In 1989, the parish agreed that a larger permanent Church building was necessary, with more adequate gathering space for the growing parish family. The Church was dedicated in 1991 by Archbishop John May, with a chapel for the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament open 24 hours a day, and a spacious hall for parish social gatherings.

By 2010, work began on a renovation the Church, including an enhanced vestibule, addition of a bell tower and elevator, and overall transformation of the worship space. Archbishop Robert Carlson came to rededicate the renewed Church in 2011.

In September of 2017, the regional school expanded to include students from St. Peter’s Parish, and was renamed Seton Regional Catholic School.

Over the years Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton has been the proud home for thousands of Catholics in St. Charles County and many fine priests have served the parish, working to build up a family of faith in Christ Jesus.


When the orphan and Scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean — aka Alexander Hamilton — finally made his way to New York City as a budding revolutionary, he rubbed elbows with other influential members of early American society - including a future Catholic saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton.

The Setons do not feature in “Hamilton,” Lin Manuel-Miranda’s wildly popular Broadway show. But they did work, worship, and otherwise socialize with Alexander, Eliza and the Hamilton family, who were their neighbors. Eventually, Elizabeth Ann Seton and Eliza Hamilton collaborated on charitable projects together.

“They ran in the same circles,” Catherine O’Donnell, a history professor at Arizona State University, and author of a biography on Seton, told The Pillar. The Hamiltons and Setons had similar levels of education and social status, and were part of a social circle comprised mostly of people of Scottish descent.

Seton's legacy as America's first native-born saint is being showcased this year at the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, as part of the 200th anniversary of her death.

‘History is happening in Manhattan’

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was born Elizabeth Ann Bayley in 1774 to a colonial family in New York. Both Elizabeth’s father and her future father-in-law were supporters of the British during the Revolutionary War, but became key players in the building of the United States afterwards.

Elizabeth’s father, Dr. Richard Bayley, served for a time as New York’s health officer, a position which put him in close contact with Alexander Hamilton, Founding Father Gouverneur Morris, and other men of “superior sense” and “great brilliancy of wit,” according to the Sisters of Charity, founded by St. Elizabeth.

In a letter to Elizabeth, Dr. Bayley wrote: “I esteem it a high good fortune to be on a footing of communication, of feeling, and sentiment with them.”

Before Elizabeth married, her future father-in-law — William Seton Sr. — worked as a cashier for the Bank of New York, which was founded by Alexander Hamilton. He played an important role during the financial panic of 1792.

Elizabeth’s future husband, William Seton Jr., also had an apprenticeship at Hamilton’s bank.

When Elizabeth and William married in 1794, they lived on Wall Street, “which was Hamilton’s stomping grounds,” O’Donnell explained, and the street on which the Hamiltons lived until 1802.

The Setons and the Hamiltons both attended Trinity Church, an Episcopalian Church on Wall Street which counted many socially prominent New Yorkers as its parishioners at the time.

Elizabeth and Eliza might have bonded over being more religiously devout than their husbands, O’Donnell said. Alexander’s faith was known to have waxed and waned throughout his life, though he always considered religion to be a pillar of society, and he requested to receive communion on his deathbed.

Elizabeth Seton and Eliza Hamilton were especially connected through their charitable work for widows and single mothers — a cause they took up before they were both widowed themselves.

Along with philanthropist Isabella Graham, Elizabeth Seton helped in 1797 to found the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children. Eliza joined the project soon after it began.

Seton and Hamilton “were women of privilege, but women who also saw vulnerability and came to experience it themselves. And they worked to try to create some kind of charitable organization that would help other women,” O’Donnell said.

Years later, Isabella and Eliza would found an orphanage in Alexander Hamilton’s honor, the one memorialized at the end of the “Hamilton” musical. It still functions today, as a service for foster children, and is called Graham Windham.

‘Dying is easy, living is harder’

Elizabeth and Eliza eventually came to have a difficult experience in common: The untimely death of their husbands, which left them both as widows and single mothers of multiple children.

In 1803, Elizabeth, her husband William and their eldest daughter, Anna Maria, traveled to Italy in a last-ditch effort to save the health of William, who had tuberculosis. Two weeks after they were released from their mandated quarantine in Italy, William died, and Elizabeth, then 29, became a bankrupt widow and single mother to five children.

The Italian friends who surrounded Elizabeth after William's death wasted no time in trying to convince Elizabeth to convert to Catholicism.

“The Italian friends immediately decided the thing to do with this grieving widow is convert her, as one does, right?” O’Donnell said. “Actually [Elizabeth] finds it amusing too, there's some line where she says ‘Oh these charitable Romans, they’re not going to let a minute go by!’”

Elizabeth had been interested in religion for some time, O’Donnell said. As her husband’s health and business had both started ailing in New York, a charismatic new pastor came to Trinity Church, and Elizabeth had become interested in Episcopalian liturgy, and in having a personal experience of and relationship with God.

Her faith transformed from something more “cosmopolitan” — i.e., going to church because it is what was expected of good people — and became more of a personal passion, O’Donnell said.

Once in Italy as a “worldly New Yorker,” she didn’t shy away from invitations to attend Mass with her friends.

“To her surprise, she finds herself reacting not just as a tourist but as someone who is moved by Catholicism,” O’Donnell said. “She’s moved by the figure of the Virgin Mary, who is much more important in Catholicism than in the kind of Protestantism that she'd known. She loves the art, she loves the culture of the saints and the idea of intercession, and she loves the Mass.”

Elizabeth did not convert immediately, and instead returned with her daughter to New York in 1804, where she would face pressure to drop her notions of conversion.

Within a month of her return, Alexander Hamilton was shot and killed in a duel with Aaron Burr.

Elizabeth heard of Hamilton’s death as bells tolled throughout the streets and businesses were ordered to close for the day. She recorded it as a “melancholy event – the circumstances of which are really too bad to think of.”

‘Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?’

Elizabeth Seton converted to Catholicism in 1805, despite the best efforts of family and friends at Trinity Church to convince her to remain an Anglican.

“To the Trinity Church ministers, Catholicism was superstitious and an old-world thing,” O’Donnell said, a view shared by many in the United States at the time.

As for Seton’s family, O’Donnell said she thinks they are often portrayed unfairly as especially anti-Catholic. In reality, the historian said, they likely just wanted Elizabeth to do the most sensible thing: find and marry a rich Protestant, and quickly.

“They had a kind of distaste for Catholicism, but a lot of it is just that these are cosmopolitan New Yorkers who were uncomfortable with someone trying to evangelize other people,” she said. “They respected her view, she should respect other people's choices. And underlying it, also, I think, was the thought: ‘How are we ever going to marry this woman?’”

Seton ultimately converted because she could not reason her way out of Catholicism, O’Donnell said. She saw that Catholicism had raised the stakes of salvation, in a way: the Church’s claims about heaven and hell were bolder than what she had heard in Protestant churches, and so she wanted to choose what seemed to be the surest path of salvation.

“It’s almost like a version of Pascal's Wager, you know, she says, ‘Well. the Catholics are kind of more terrifying with the consequences of getting this wrong,” O’Donnell said. “But she also feels this pull to Catholicism and so she decides, whatever the consequences, she's going to covert.”

Once Catholic, Seton faced resistance within the Church when she tried to found the Sisters of Charity, O’Donnell said. Seton’s inexperience with religious life was part of that, O’Donnell added, but also, Church leaders didn’t want to add to the suspicions with which the Church in America was already viewed.

“They don't want her to go beyond doctrinal bounds, but they also don't want her to convince people that, ‘yeah, the Catholic Church really is a place of crazy enthusiasts who keep women captive in convents,’” the historian said.

Eventually, with the help of clergy, friends, and boarding schools, Elizabeth founded and led the Sisters of Charity, an order dedicated to serving the poor through soup kitchens, hospitals, schools, orphanages and other ministries, while raising her children at the same time. After years of service, she died at the age of 46, having contracted tuberculosis, which had killed her husband and two of her children.

She was canonized in 1975 as the first United States-born saint, and is a co-patron of the United States.

‘History has its eyes on you’

As a historian, O’Donnell became interested in the story of Seton after a student submitted a project on her. She said she’s learned that Seton is a saint whose passion and devotion can continue to inspire Catholics today.

“On the one had, she was a woman who ended up being a single and working mother, who. succeeded in finding time to lead a life of faith also,” she said.

“And she does have this single-minded devotion, and throughout her life she struggled with how to live a kind of faith-filled, single-minded life in a way that doesn't harm other people, or that doesn't cause arguments or cause people pain who think differently, or even cause her children harm, as she's figuring out how to devote herself to God and devote herself to them at the same time.”

Not unlike her friend Alexander Hamilton, Seton was a force to be reckoned with - so much so that it earned her the nickname “Wild Betsy.”

“She managed to present herself as kind of demure and genteel, and she minds what she says,” O’Donnell said, “but she was this force who will do what she will do.”

The saint in the narrative

In commemoration of 200 years since the death of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the National Shrine of Elizabeth Ann Seton is planning for 2021 multiple events and exhibitions, including the display of artifacts from her life, including as her iconic bonnet, writing tablets, and wedding portraits, which have been donated by the Sisters of Charity. The sisters and shrine staff hope the items will bring the person of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton to life.

“These treasures have always had a great significance for us,” Sister Donna Dodge, president of the Sisters of Charity of New York, said in a statement. “It is with great joy that we send them on a new mission where more people can appreciate them and draw closer to Mother Seton.”

Rob Judge, executive director of the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, said he hopes the artifacts will help more people relate to Mother Seton.

“The more she’s relatable, the more she becomes an example, an inspiration and a friend in heaven,” he said.

St Elizabeth Ann Seton, Founder of the First American Religious Community for Women, the Sisters of Charity

Mother Seton is one of the keystones of the American Catholic Church.

She founded the first American religious community for women, the Sisters of Charity. She opened the first American parish school and established the first American Catholic orphanage. All this she did in the span of 46 years while raising her five children.

Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton is a true daughter of the American Revolution, born August 28, 1774, just two years before the Declaration of Independence. By birth and marriage, she was linked to the first families of New York and enjoyed the fruits of high society.

Reared a staunch Episcopalian, she learned the value of prayer, Scripture and a nightly examination of conscience. Her father, Dr. Richard Bayley, did not have much use for churches but was a great humanitarian, teaching his daughter to love and serve others.

The early deaths of her mother in 1777 and her baby sister in 1778 gave Elizabeth a feel for eternity and the temporariness of the pilgrim life on earth. Far from being brooding and sullen, she faced each new “holocaust,” as she put it, with hopeful cheerfulness.

At 19, Elizabeth was the belle of New York and married a handsome, wealthy businessman, William Magee Seton. They had five children before his business failed and he died of tuberculosis. At 30, Elizabeth was widowed, penniless, with five small children to support.

While in Italy with her dying husband, Elizabeth witnessed Catholicity in action through family friends. Three basic points led her to become a Catholic: belief in the Real Presence, devotion to the Blessed Mother and conviction that the Catholic Church led back to the apostles and to Christ. Many of her family and friends rejected her when she became a Catholic in March 1805.

To support her children, she opened a school in Baltimore. From the beginning, her group followed the lines of a religious community, which was officially founded in 1809.

The thousand or more letters of Mother Seton reveal the development of her spiritual life from ordinary goodness to heroic sanctity. 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. She died January 4, 1821, and became the first American-born citizen to be beatified (1963) and then canonized (1975).

She is buried in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Elizabeth Seton had no extraordinary gifts. She was not a mystic or stigmatic. She did not prophesy or speak in tongues.

She had two great devotions: abandonment to the will of God and an ardent love for the Blessed Sacrament.

She wrote to a friend, Julia Scott, that she would prefer to exchange the world for a “cave or a desert.” “But God has given me a great deal to do, and I have always and hope always to prefer his will to every wish of my own.”

Her brand of sanctity is open to everyone if we love God and do his will.


St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

On September 14, 1975, Elizabeth Ann Seton was canonized, becoming the first American born person so honoured. An Episcopalian at birth in 1774, she converted to Catholicism while mourning her husband’s death in Italy. Known as the mother of the U.S. parochial school system, she devoted much of her ministry to education until her death in 1821. for further details, please refer to a detailed entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia or visit the St. Elizabeth Seton Shrine website.

The Parish

In the 1980s, with only one Catholic parish serving a rapidly expanding population in the Newmarket-East Gwillimbury area, the need for a sister parish to St. John Chrysostom was clear. Thus it was that St. Elizabeth Seton Parish came into being in the fall of 1986 with the appointment of Father Matthew Robbertz as Pastor. Father Steve Coates joined the parish as Associate Pastor while Larry Rogers served as Deacon. For the first few years, Masses were held at Sacred Heart Catholic High School in Newmarket and at Our Lady of Good Counsel Mission Church in Sharon.

Our Lady of Good Counsel Mission Church

A Parish Steering Committee was formed in October, 1986 and from this initial group, a Building Committee was established in February, 1987. Eventually, the Steering Committee evolved into a Parish Council with formal elections taking place in the spring of 1988.

During the first part of 1987, the Building Committee concerned itself with examining various site options, eventually settling on the current Leslie Street location. A number of demographic studies were developed in order to convince the Chancery office of the need for a complete Parish Complex comprised of church, assembly hall and rectory. At the same time, various fund raising activities in support of the building project were launched by other newly established groups.

The newly opened St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School became our second temporary home in November, 1988, with Father Rick McKnight assisting Fr. Matt with weekend Masses.

The planning momentum picked up again in 1989 when the Chancery office accepted the generous offer one of our parishioners, John Bloye, to donate his services as Architect for the project. Thus began the task of developing conceptual plans for the church complex.

By the summer of 1990, the Chancery office agreed that the project could proceed provided that the parish raise $750,000 and that the total project cost not exceed $2.2 million. On July 30, 1990, Bishop Wall approved the project, with Ryan Construction Co. as the general contractor. The building opened in 1991.

The Parish Centre

The Foyer provides access to all the major areas and invites people to enter the main body of the Church. It also houses the statue of St. Elizabeth Seton, sculpted by Timothy Schmalz.

St. Elizabeth Seton Parish

Inside the stained glass doors are the Baptismal font, the Rooms of Reconciliation and the oils for the Anointing of the Sick. The Ambry contains the holy oils: the Sacred Chrism, the Oil of Catechumens, and oil for the anointing of the sick.

The faithful recall their Baptism by blessing themselves with the water from the font. Architectural attention has been given to Baptism by the shape of the walls and the skylight. The overhead beam is like an axle, linking the Baptismal Font with the Eucharistic Table.

Our Lady of Good Counsel Chapel to the left of the main foyer is a lasting memorial of the previous Mission Church in Sharon, and the bell from the Mission is in the Parish’s possession. The Chapel houses the Tabernacle for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and is open for private prayer and adoration.

The Shrine area serves as a devotional place with statues of Mary and Joseph.

The stained glass windows were designed and executed by Gerald Mesterom Stained Glass Studios in Ottawa. The six windows in the Nave symbolize the six sacraments culminating in a Eucharistic theme in the steeple.

The Church proper has a ceiling height of 15 feet at the main entrance, and 28 feet above the Altar. The steeple over the altar rises 70 feet above ground level. The maximum number of rows and pews in the church is sixteen, with four rows being reversible, to face the rear of the Church for celebrations of Baptism.

The church complex sits on approximately 2.5 acres of land with a parking capacity of over 190 cars. All facilities are designed for convenient wheelchair access, including meeting rooms, washrooms, Seton Hall and parking.

“When I was a stranger…”

In 2016, St. Elizabeth Seton Parish celebrated a trifecta of anniversaries – the 40th anniversary of the canonization of St. Elizabeth Seton, the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Parish, and the 25th anniversary of the opening of the physical building.

To mark this special year, the CWG spearheaded an anniversary project – a life-size statue of Christ as an interactive installation complete with a meditative landscape path and seats for anyone who cares to meditate, reflect or participate in this art work entitled “When I was a Stranger”. This sculpture was also created by Timothy Schmalz.

The installation is located in the Gathering Space of the church building as a public statement to every person who enters about what we believe – that we are a community of faith who welcomes the stranger.

Elizabeth Ann Seton

Elizabeth Ann Seton
Foundress of the Sisters of Charity & is the Patron Saint of Catholic Schools
1774–1821 A.D.

In the 1980s, there was a push to add more minorities to the history curriculum. The desire to give different perspectives had the best of intentions. The women’s movement had won the vote, and men like Martin Luther King Jr. had led the charge for equality under the law. The American student was able to read Fredrick Douglass and Alice Paul. The dignity of the human person was front and center. Yet, as a teacher of early American history, certain people that would fit the bill have been ignored. One of these, the first American born Saint, is Elizabeth Ann Seton.

On August 28, 1774, Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born into a rich Episcopal family. She married a businessman at the age of 19 named William Seton. Elizabeth was always an avid reader of the Bible. She had written in her diary that her marriage was filled with happiness, but that didn’t last long. His business failed, forcing them into bankruptcy, and William was diagnosed with tuberculosis only to die shortly after in Italy. However, while in Europe Elizabeth was introduced to the Catholic Church by friends, and she drew closer to God. At this crossroads in her faith life she moved back to the United States.

In 1805 she converted to Catholicism and started her first school in Baltimore, Maryland. It was a secular all-girls school. Unfortunately, once word about her conversion was known, parents removed their daughters from the school. In 1809, she moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland and founded the first religious community for women in the United States. However, Elizabeth continued her calling to education, and founded St. Joseph’s Academy and Free School, the precursor to the Catholic School System in America. A woman, left alone by those closest to her, was guided by her faith.

“Love God, my dear children and you may forget there is a hell,” she would tell her students. She would become Mother Seton on March 25, 1809—taking a vow of poverty, obedience, and chastity. By that time, Seton had tuberculosis, but that didn’t stop her. She was able to start another school and two orphanages. Today, there are still groups of Sisters that can point to Mother Seton as their founder! At the age of 46 Seton died. She had been Catholic for only sixteen years but had left a mark that every American should celebrate!


Dirvin, Joseph I. Mrs. Seton: Foundress of the American Sisters of Charity. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975.

Dolan, Jay P. The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present. NY: Image Books, 1985.

Elizabeth Seton: Selected Writings. Edited by Ellin Kelly and Annabelle Melville. NY: Paulist Press, 1987.

Jarvis, William. Mother Seton's Sisters of Charity. Columbia University, 1984.

Melville, Annabelle M. "Seton, Elizabeth Ann Bayley," in Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

The “Firsts” at Mother Seton’s Canonization 45 Years Ago

Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton was canonized as the first American-born, United States-born saint. But there were other “firsts” at her canonization too.

This stained-glass window in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, depicts St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, American saint and founder of Daughters of Charity. (photo: Nancy Bauer / Shutterstock.com)

Sept. 14, 1975, was a banner day for the Catholic Church in the United States. Elizabeth Ann Seton, familiarly called Mother Seton, became the first American-born person to be canonized. She was born during America’s colonial period then was automatically a citizen of the new United States, so she’s also the first native United States saint.

That day included several other “firsts” as part of the canonization. Sister Betty Ann McNeil, who was present at St. Peter’s Basilica, vividly recalls them on this 45th anniversary year of Mother Seton’s canonization.

To set the scene, she described how as a young sister in the same Daughters of Charity congregation founded by Mother Seton, she got to go to Rome for this great religious occasion.

By the way, since that time she became an expert on Mother Seton, writing and speaking extensively on the saint, took part in the publication of her writings, and teaches courses on her at DePaul University.

She well remembers every part of that canonization from the start. “The day dawned with a beautiful blue sky, bright sun and no clouds — a result of prayers for good weather,” Sister Betty Ann began.

“Folding chairs filled St. Peter’s Square where the canonization was held. This was the first time seats had been provided for the crowds attending a canonization,” she says.

Next, “Sister Hildegardis Mahoney, General Superior of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth and Chair of the Sisters of Charity Federation, was chosen to proclaim the first reading at the Canonization Mass. This was the first time in history that a woman was lector at a papal liturgy.”

Then, what was surely a “first,” Sister Betty Ann recalled that “the gifts presented at the Offertory Procession were offered by representatives of the various roles Elizabeth Seton had in life: (1) Young Girl, (2) Unmarried Young Woman, (3) Wife, (4) Mother, (5) Widow and (6) Religious (consecrated life).

Finally, although maybe not quite a “first,” at that time it was customary to present the Holy Father with a gift at the canonization. But instead of a gift of something tangible such as vestments or a monstrance, Sister Betty Ann says, “The Sisters of Charity Federation chose to give Pope Paul VI a monetary offering to fight global hunger. Each congregation contributed according to their means. The sum was presented via a check from the Bank of New York, where William F. Seton, Sr. [St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s father-in-law], had been Cashier at its establishment by Alexander Hamilton in 1784.” Certainly that check — a $200,000 gift to a World Hunger Fund, specifically drawn on the bank not only her father-in-law but her husband, also named William, were associated with —was certainly another “first.”

If we really want to get super technical, words heard from the Pope were another “first” at that canonization. Sister Betty Ann has never forgotten them. She says, “The words of St. Paul VI still reverberate in my mind: ‘Elizabeth Ann Seton is a Saint! Elizabeth Ann Seton is a Saint!’”

And well before that day, the decree introducing Mother Seton’s cause for canonization that Venerable Pope Pius XII signed on Feb. 28, 1940, was the first time the Holy See issued an official document in English.

How did Sister Betty Ann get to go to the canonization is a story in itself that harkens back to her own childhood. Divine providence surely was at work since then.

She reminds that Elizabeth Ann Seton was only a little girl when she lost her mother.

“I lost my father when I was very little,” Sister Betty Ann says. The saint’s father called her “Betty” and the family lived by the beach. Same for Sister Betty Ann. Before converting, Elizabeth Ann Seton was an Episcopalian. So was Sister Betty Ann’s mother. After her father died, Sister said her mother then went back to teaching and “found a school I could walk to, run by the Daughters of Charity.”

“I had heard stories about Mother Seton from the Daughters of Charity who taught me in Norfolk, Virginia,” she says, “Once we elementary students were asked to sign a petition being taken to Rome promoting her cause for canonization.” Remembering that St. John XXIII declared Elizabeth Seton’s heroic virtues and titled her, “Venerable Mother Seton” on Dec. 18, 1959, Sister Betty Ann says, “Surely the Pope was impressed by the signatures on the petition of the children taught by Sisters of Charity!”

Once older, she felt in answer to prayer God was calling her to a community. At the time Rome declared Mother Seton was to be beatified — it was March 17, 1963 — Sister Betty Ann was visiting Emmitsburg, Maryland, with a youth group. She vividly remembers, “When the telegram arrived [in Emmitsburg], the bells of St. Joseph’s Valley and the Town of Emmitsburg peeled for about 15 minutes or more. When the bells began to ring, I was standing by the gravesite of Mother Seton, her daughters, and the first Sisters of Charity. That was a graced moment of awe and joy.”

Then Divine Providence and surely a helping hand from Mother Seton for the trip to the canonization.

Sister Betty Ann tells the story. “I had only been a sister about 10 years. The Daughters of Charity, Province of Emmitsburg, decided to send representatives from all age groups of sisters. Those interested in going to the canonization were asked to send their names to the provincial secretary who grouped them according to rank in vocation (length of time in community): 5-9 years 10-14 years etc. The senior sisters drew two names from each age group.”

“I won the lottery!” she exclaimed. “The idea was to share firsthand accounts of the canonization for generations to come.” Surely St. Elizabeth Ann Seton had a hand in this Sister Betty Ann namesake being picked to see her canonized. One result? Sister Betty Ann says, “I’ve been retelling stories of the life and legacy of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton ever since.”

Joseph Pronechen Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005 and before that a regular correspondent for the paper. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, Catholic Exchange, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He is the author of Fruits of Fatima — Century of Signs and Wonders. He holds a graduate degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton: slaveholding saint?

Last month’s National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) annual conference went virtual, but brought its usual energetic flair, displaying the value of Catholic education via a series of presentations, breakouts, and keynotes.

The pre-conference event featured Dr. Shannen Dee Williams of Villanova covering US Catholic history, and her offering was perhaps the most notable of all—though not for the reason you might think.

The session mostly focused on her specialty of Black nuns, and also delved into the history of racism in the Catholic Church against religious sisters as well as other Black people across the globe.

Partway through, however, came an explosive claim about a White nun: that Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton—a primary inaugurator of the US Catholic school system, patron saint of the world’s Catholic schools, founder of the first US religious order (the Sisters of Charity), and the first American-born individual to be canonized by the Church—was a slaveowner.

The claim first became public on Twitter, where Carol Zimmerman, of the USCCB’s Catholic News Service, highlighted it in a live-tweet thread of Dr. Williams’ address.

(Dr Williams also works for CNS, writing a monthly column on Black Catholic history.)

Zimmerman's tweets were liked by hundreds, and she would later reproduce the claim in a CNS article on the conference, which was subsequently published by multiple diocesan news outlets—chief among them DC’s Catholic Standard.

Upon first seeing the accusation against St Seton, one might react with quite a bit of shock—perhaps because they've never before heard such things about St Seton, but also because of the likely ramifications.

On the first point, the idea that St Seton owned slaves has apparently been a popular rumor for quite some time. On the second, the jury is obviously still out.

We have published before on what happens when US Catholic institutions get wind of slaveholding among their more prominent historical figures, and as of late it has spelled doom for any number of statues, roads, dorm names, and other visible commemorations—not unlike the recent trend in the secular world.

In other words, one might expect that numerous schools, churches, and other buildings around the country (and world) are in need of a nomenclatural makeover if in fact St Seton were indeed a slaveholder.

But, as it turns out, she almost certainly wasn’t.

Dr. Williams appears to have gotten her information from a book authored by Dr. Catherine O’Donnell, “Elizabeth Seton: American Saint", released in 2018. It is the most recent biography of St Seton, and states that her grandfather Richard Charlton owned several enslaved people and in his will bequeathed one—a “negro boy formerly named Brennus”—to three-year-old Elizabeth and her newborn sister.

After the CNS Twitter account amplified Zimmerman’s thread, a back-and-forth ensued between Our Sunday Visitor’s Michael Heinlein, who questioned Dr. Williams' claim, and Dr. Williams herself, who responded by citing O’Donnell’s book.

Heinlein responded with a quote from O’Donnell herself, who in an interview with the Gotham Center about the book stated that “it was Catholic laity and clergy, rather than Seton and the Sisters, who actually owned slaves".

And though Dr. Williams thereafter admitted that no record exists of what happened to Brennus after the death of his owner, she doubled down on her original claim, saying that “the fact remains that Seton was a slaveholder".

Exactly how remains unclear. (The NCEA ultimately did not respond to a request for comment.)

This is willful ignorance. If she inherited an enslaved person which is documented in the book, she was a slaveholder. I provided you with the page numbers. If she accepted the labor of enslaved people for tuition, she was a slaver. Grapple with it, not me.

&mdash Shannen Dee Williams, Ph.D. (@BlkNunHistorian) April 13, 2021

O’Donnell spoke with BCM shortly after the CNS story broke, taking care to acknowledge St Seton’s involvement in a “world shaped by slavery” and noting that “her father unquestionably owned an enslaved person”.

She declined, however, to paint St Seton herself as a human trafficker.

“I don’t think it’s correct to envision her as someone who bought or sold enslaved people,” Dr. O’Donnell said in an email exchange.

“And I think it’s quite unlikely—extremely unlikely—she herself ever personally owned a slave.”

There is, however, the sticky issue of a domestic servant, “Mammy Huler", in the employ of St Seton during her adult life before becoming a nun (or a Catholic), but Dr. O’Donnell thinks this was a free White woman. (The census did not list a slave in Seton’s married household.)

O'Donnell addressed this issue in her book, as well as the fact that there is no record of St Seton opposing slavery in an era when it shaped everything around her. O’Donnell even faced criticism on the latter point in a 2019 book review from a Catholic priest, who felt she was painting the saint in a negative light by bringing it up in her biography.

Even so, despite the claim that O’Donnell was “determined to inject the issue of slavery into her narrative”, it was clear even to him that O’Donnell did not claim St Seton engaged in slaveholding.

Dr. Williams, who came to the opposite conclusion, ended her exchange with Heinlein by dismissing his concerns and implying that he himself is a racist. She also quickly retweeted a number of concerns of her own.

That defense notwithstanding, to say she is outnumbered on the claim concerning the possibility of Seton’s slaveholding would be an understatement. There does not appear to be even a single source corroborating it. (And several preclude it outright.)

Despite this, as the assertion gains oxygen in Catholic media (and perhaps among thousands of US Catholic school educators and students), it remains to be seen if the reputation of one of America’s first Catholic saints will suffer as a result.

Watch the video: Elizabeth Ann Seton: Seeker to Saint


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