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40th anniversary of canonization of Elizabeth Ann Seton observed

September 11, 2015
Patricia Smith

On Sept. 14, 1975, Pope Paul VI canonized Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born saint. As he proclaimed the words “Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton is a saint!” the world paid homage to God for the good works Mother Seton accomplished in her lifetime.

Elizabeth Ann Seton lived 46 years (1774-1821), many of which were filled with sorrow. As a young child, Elizabeth lost her mother and newborn sister, Catherine. Rejected by her new stepmother, she was sent to live with relatives. Eventually, her husband William, 35, died from tuberculosis, as did her two daughters, Anna Maria, 17, and Rebecca Mary, 14

As a devout member of the Church of England in New York, her conversion to Catholicism led to a contentious break with family and friends. Elizabeth garnered new relationships propelling her forward in discerning God’s will. John Carroll, the first American Catholic bishop, and Reverend Louis William Dubourg, Society of St. Sulpice, invited Elizabeth to Baltimore to become head mistress for a religious school for children.

She created a sisterhood modeled on the French Daughters of Charity, a community founded in Paris in 1633 by St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac. On March 25, 1809, she pronounced vows of chastity and obedience to Bishop John Carroll in the chapel at St. Mary’s Seminary on Paca Street. On June 16, Mother Seton and her Sisters of Charity appeared in public for the first time dressed in black dresses, capes and widow’s bonnets.

Samuel Sutherland Cooper, a wealthy patron from Virginia, donated 269 acres in St. Joseph’s Valley in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Mother Seton and her band of sisters traveled to establish their new home as the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph’s, and opened St. Joseph’s Free School and St. Joseph’s Academy. Both schools formed the Catholic education in the United States.

She died on Jan. 4, 1821, in the White House in St. Joseph’s Valley. Her remains now lie in the Basilica of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

The road to canonization was smooth, but slow. On Feb. 28, 1940, Pope Pius XII signed the Decree of Introduction of her Cause. In 1957, the Sacred Congregation of Rites approved the documentation of the cause. Pope John XXIII declared her venerable two years later. By 1961, two miracles were accepted by the Holy See. When her beatification on March 17, 1963, proclaimed her Blessed Elizabeth Ann Seton, a third miracle was accepted.

As hundreds of thousands of pilgrims lined St. Peter’s Square for her canonization, the Holy Father called to mind her commitment to God’s will. Her rich legacy endures as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of her sainthood.

The Daughters of Charity, Province of the West sponsor Seton Medical Center, Daly City; Seton Coastside, Moss Beach; St. Elizabeth Seton School, Palo Alto; and Seton Provincialate, the Provincial House, Los Altos Hills. These ministries honor Mother Seton in memory of her courageous and blessed life.

For more information, visit www.setonheritage.org.

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