By Rev. Anthony Giamello
Pastor, St. John the Apostle/St. Bernadette
By birth and marriage, Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton was linked to the first families of New York and enjoyed the fruits of living in high society. Reared a staunch Episcopalian by her mother and stepmother, she learned the value of prayer, Scripture reading and a nightly examination of conscience. At 19, Elizabeth was the belle of New York. She married a handsome, wealthy businessman, William Magee Seton. They had five children before his business failed, and William died of tuberculosis. At 30, Elizabeth found herself widowed and penniless, with five small children to support. While in Italy with her dying husband, Elizabeth had witnessed the Catholic Church in action, through the lives, beliefs and behavior of family friends. Three basic elements in Catholicism led her to become a Catholic in March 1805: a belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary as Mother of God, and a conviction that the Catholic Church traced its origin and priesthood in a direct line back to the apostles and to Christ. When Elizabeth returned to the U. S., many of her family and friends rejected her because she had become a Catholic. To support her children, she opened a school in Baltimore with the cooperation of some of her friends. From the beginning, her group was organized along the lines of the religious community which would only be founded officially in 1809. Mother Seton became 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 rearing her five children. She died on January 4, 1821, and was buried in Emmitsburg, Maryland. In 1963, Mother Seton was beatified, the first American-born citizen to receive this honor. She was canonized in 1975. Elizabeth Ann Seton was a real widow who offered her mite to God without reservation as the poor widow in Mark’s Gospel 12:38-44.