January 4 sees the death days of two patrimonial figures – one obvious, one not. The less obvious is St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born American to be canonised. With her shrines in Maryland and New York, and the order of sisters she founded (if she would find them hard to recognise to-day, that is an affliction she would share with very many other holy foundressses), no one could appear more Latin Catholic at first glance – the more so as her conversion came about after visiting Italy. But she herself saw that conversion as a culmination of the process going on within her soul since childhood – and much of that process was Anglican. Born in 1774 to Dr. Richard Bayley and Catherine Charleton, her parents were not only Anglican but Loyalist – although Dr.Bayley’s skill as a surgeon persuaded the new reigme to permit him and his family to stay on after 1783. Mrs. Bayley’s father, Rev. Richard Charleton, had served as rector of St. Andrew’s, Richmondtown on Staten Island from 1746 to 1776 – and to-day that now Episcopal church cherishes a relic of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton given them by Pope Paul VI and a window in her honour. Dr. Bayley and his wife are buried there. In 1794, St. Elizabeth Ann married William Magee Seton, scion of another Loyalist family, and a direct descendant of Mary Seton, who was one of Mary Queen of Scots‘ “Four Marys” – to this day, the shrine at Emmitsburg preserves a miniature of that doomed Catholic Queen that had been handed down in the Seton family. The first Episcopal Bishop of New York, Samuel Provoost, presided at their wedding, and they became members of Trinity Church. There she took as spiritual director the Rev. John Henry Hobart paladin of the High Church movement in the United States,and future Bishop of New York. When at last her husband’s business failed as a result of the War of 1812, the Setons departed for Italy, where he died and she was introduced to Catholicism. But she converted after her return, and was recieved into the Church at Old St. Peter’s – the only Catholic parish in New York City at the time. As both it and Los Angeles (as well as California) were founded by King Carlos III of Spain, we Catholic Americans owe him a lot; but that is another story. One thing is certain: Ordinariate members who study St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s life will find much that resonates in their own.
The second figure is more obvious: T.S. Eliot, who died this day in 1965. So much has been written about his advances from the ancestral Unitarianism of his midwestern youth, to his rediscovery of his New England roots at Harvard, to his removal to England and embrace of Anglo-Catholicism, Royalism, and Classicism, to his ultimate Anglo-Papalism, that one feels unable to add much that would be of use. The only points I could add are that: a) especially in the light of what has happened to Anglicanism since his death, I have no doubt he would have embraced the Ordinariate; b) short of that, he would be pleased that his London parish, St. Stephen’s Gloucester Road, continues the fight (and perhaps unhappy that the experiment of shared use of that church did not work); c) that his views, once considered almost mainstream, now being thought of as radical eflects poorly upon our time; d) and lastly, a deep and sincere hope that all of the Protestant Anglosphere emulate his spiritual path – a literal mass migration to the British Isles of Anglo-Canadians, Anglo-Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, and Anglo-South Africans would no doubt cause them to sink under the weight! In any case, it is good to know as well that Eliot’s literary work continues to attract interest.