04 January 2022

With the Saints through Christmas (10):
4 January 2022, Elizabeth Ann Seton

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton … the first US-born saint canonised by the Roman Catholic Church

Patrick Comerford

Christmas is a season that continues for 40 days until the Feast of the Presentation or Candlemas (2 February).

As a new week begins, and before this day gets busy, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

I have been continuing my Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflections on a saint remembered in the calendars of the Church during Christmas;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

This morning, I am reflecting on the life of Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first US-born saint to be canonised in the Roman Catholic Church.

She was born Elizabeth Ann Bayley on 28 August 1774, two years before the American Revolution, and grew up in the socially privileged elite in New York society, and grew up in the Episcopal Church.

In spite of her high society background, Elizabeth’s early life was quiet, simple, and often lonely. She was a prolific reader, and read widely from the Bible to contemporary novels. As she grew older, the Bible became her continual instruction, support and comfort, and she continue to loved the Scriptures for the rest of her life.

Elizabeth married the wealthy young William Seton, with whom she was deeply in love. Samuel Provoost, the first Episcopal Bishop of New York, presided at their wedding in 1794. The first years of their marriage were happy and prosperous. Elizabeth wrote in her diary that first autumn, ‘My own home at twenty-the world-that and heaven too-quite impossible.’

Within four years, William’s father died, leaving the young couple in charge of William’s seven half brothers and sisters, as well as the family’s importing business. The family belonged to Trinity Episcopal Church, near Broadway and Wall Street.

But both William’s business and health failed. He was finally forced to file a petition of bankruptcy and, in a final attempt to save William's health, the Setons sailed for Italy, where William had business friends.

Sadly, William died of tuberculosis while they were in Italy.

The deaths of many family members or separation from them by distance drew Elizabeth’s heart to God, and accepting and embracing God’s will – ‘The Will,’ as she called it – became a keynote in her spiritual life.

Elizabeth captivated many people in Italy with her kindness, patience, good sense, wit, and courtesy. Her deep concern for the spiritual welfare of her family and friends eventually led her into the Roman Catholic Church, and over a period of months, her Italian friends guided her in Catholic instruction.

Elizabeth’s desire for the Bread of Life was a strong force in leading her to the Roman Catholic Church, which she officially joined in 1805.

At the suggestion of the president of Saint Mary’s College in Baltimore, Maryland, Elizabeth started a school in Baltimore. However, when news of her new-found Roman Catholicism spread, several girls were removed from the school. It was then Seton, and two other young women who helped her in her work, began plans for a sisterhood. They established the first free Roman Catholic school in the US. When the young community adopted their rule, they made provisions for Elizabeth to continue raising her children.

On 25 March 1809, Elizabeth Seton took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and from then on was known as Mother Seton.

Although Mother Seton suffered from tuberculosis, she continued to guide her children. The Rule of the Sisterhood, formally ratified in 1812, was based on the rule written by Saint Vincent de Paul for the Daughters of Charity in France. By 1818, in addition to their first school, the sisters had established two orphanages and another school. Today, six groups of sisters can trace their origins to Mother Seton’s initial foundation.

For the last three years of her life, Elizabeth felt that God was getting ready to call her, and this gave her great joy. Mother Seton died 201 years ago on 4 January 1821 at the age of 46, 16 years after she became a Roman Catholic. She was beatified by Pope John XXIII on 17 March 1963 and was canonised on 14 September 1975 by Pope Paul VI. She is honoured with a Lesser Feast in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church on this day, 4 January.

Seton Hall College, now known as Seton Hall University, in South Orange, New Jersey, was founded in 1856 by her nephew, Archbishop James Roosevelt Bayley and named after his aunt.

John 1: 35-42 (NRSVA):

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ 39 He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).

The prayer in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) invites us to pray this morning (4 January 2022):

Lord, we pray for peace, happiness and stability for the people of India.

Yesterday: Saint Fintan of Doone

Tomorrow: The Desert Mothers

An icon of Saint Elizabeth Seton

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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