St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (AD 1774 – 1821)

[#18 in the series This Week in English Catholic History: Week of Dec. 30 – Jan. 5]

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HIS week in English Catholic History, we celebrate St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first erstwhile Episcopalian and culturally English native-born citizen of the United States of America we have covered in this series. She is celebrated in America on January 4, the day of her death.

Elizabeth was born into the cream of high New York City society. Thanks to her parents’ care for her education, she was accomplished in French, an accomplished pianist and was adept in the art of horsemanship. She was a popular socialite and when she was nineteen married a 25-year-old wealthy businessman and trader, William Magee Seton in 1794. Their marriage was witnessed by the Episcopalian Bishop of New York, Samuel Provoost.

The couple was very happy together and had five children. They lived together in a fashionable residence on Wall Street, and attended the famous Trinity Episcopal Church. But eventually William’s business failed after several of his trade ships were sunk or captured. William had always been ill, suffering from the chronic disease tuberculosis, eventually succumbing to the disease in 1803.

Shortly before William’s death, in a last-ditch effort to restore his health, the couple travelled to Italy, staying with William’s business associates the Fillicchis. While there, Elizabeth was exposed to Catholicism, spending hours in the nearby Catholic chapel, and the Catholic family they stayed with answered Elizabeth’s questions and furnished her with reading material defending the Catholic Church from many of the common objections to the Catholic Church.

Nevertheless, when she returned to New York, Elizabeth continued to attend her Episcopalian parish. She started an academy for training young ladies to support herself and her young daughters. Two years later, however, after a period of deep struggle, she came into full communion with the Catholic Church, convinced that Jesus was present in the Sacrament of the Catholic Church in a unique way. Her academy also failed afrer parents withdrew their daughters from the new Catholic’s school.

On the verge of moving to Canada, where Catholics were more numerous, Elizabeth met Louis Dubourg, a Sulpician Abbot and president of St. Mary’s College whose order had fled the French Terror. In 1809 she moved to Maryland and founded Saint Joseph’s Academy and Free School to educate Catholic girls, funded by the wealthy convert Samuel Cooper. It was the first free school in America. Regarding education, Elizabeth said, “Take great care about the people with whom your children associate.”

Elizabeth established a religious community called the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph that adopted the rule of life of the Daughters of Charity in France. She spent the rest of her life developing this community. She died of tuberculosis herself at the age of 46. Her last words were, “Blood of Jesus, wash me.”

Eventually the Sisters of Charity took the necessary steps to merge with the French Daughters of Charity, as Elizabeth had desired, but which had been impossible in her lifetime due to the turbulent state of affairs in France during the early Nineteenth Century.

Pope St. John XXIII beatified Elizabeth in 1963, saying “In a house that was very small, but with ample space for charity, she sowed a seed in America which by Divine Grace grew into a large tree.”

She was canonized in 1974 by Pope St. Paul VI, who said: “Elizabeth Ann Seton is a saint… Elizabeth Ann Seton was wholly American! Rejoice for your glorious daughter. Be proud of her. And know how to preserve her fruitful heritage.”

Further reading:

Charles Coulomb’s informative vignette from yesteryear here.

Academic Study on St Elizabeth’s spiritual direction practices.

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For a weekly dose of English Catholic Patrimony, if your Ordinariate parish or parochial community would like to receive This Week in English Catholic History in advance in single page black-and-white pdf form (perhaps inserted in the bulletin), please contact us at <foster1452@gmail.com>, and we will be happy to oblige, gratis

Written by Mr. John Burford, IV and Dr. Foster Lerner of Incarnation Catholic Church in Orlando, Florida; a parish of The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter © 2018.

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John (wearing purple tie, above) is the founder and owner of Magnolia Prep, an SAT and ACT tutoring business with branches in several major US cities. Foster (wearing golden tie, above) holds a Doctorate in Medicine from  Nova Southeastern University Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine, and is currently pursuing post-graduate studies in medicine.

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2 thoughts on “St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (AD 1774 – 1821)

  1. Dear Dr. Lerner,
    I tried to send a response yesterday to your most enjoyable, informative, and edifying series. I thought it went through but I notice today it isn’t there. I am a very primitive user of the internet. So, we’ll give it another try.
    I simply love your decorative capitals. They enhance your articles. The “O” with the owl was most memorable.
    I am in the process of planning the service booklets for my funeral liturgies , according to the Anglo Latin Catholic use of the Ordinariates. Would you be so kind to share your sources for these capitals? I would like to give the typist the sources so we could make a judicious use of them and thereby enhance their use.
    Many thanks again for your good work to promote the life of the Ordinariates.
    Sincerely In Christ Jesus,
    Larry C. Lewis

    Like

  2. Dear Larry C. Lewis,
    Thank you for your kind words. John Burford and I wish for the English Catholic legacy to live on and for Ordinariate Catholics to know and love their unique Brittanic heritage and so retain their (in some cases gain a) cultural identity and escape cultural absorption which seems to be detrimental to community formation and accountability. When I want a given letter, I go onto google image search, type in “illuminated letter [letter]” and then pick one I like from the results that has no copyright attached. Very simple.
    God bless you and have a Happy Christmas,
    Dr Lerner

    Like

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