Mother Seton - First American Born Saint, Feast Day: January 4.

Catherine Fournier

Domestic-Church.Com - Saint Profile - Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

Young Families

Elizabeth Ann Seton is the first American born saint. She was born in New York City in August of 1774 into a devout Episcopalian family. Her mother died when she was only three years old.

When she was a young girl, she liked to read the Bible, especially the Psalms. Sometimes she went to church twice on Sundays. She helped her father and step-mother take care of her sisters and her step-brothers and sisters.

In 1794 she married William Magee Seton, a rich business man. They had five children. Elizabeth became good friends with her sister-in-law Rebecca Seton. Together they went on missions of mercy to help the poor of New York. They did so much work for the poor, they were called the 'Protestant Sisters of Charity.'

When their children were still little, William's business failed and he became very ill. Doctors said a sea voyage might help him get better, so the Setons sailed to Italy to visit some friends. Unfortunately, Mr. Seton died in Italy, and Elizabeth and her oldest daughter got sick. The friends they went to visit were Catholics, and while Elizabeth was in Italy, she learned about the Catholic faith.

She found in the Catholic faith what her soul had been hungry for since she was a little girl - the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Even though she knew that many of her friends and relatives would be very angry with her, she was baptised into the Catholic Church when she returned to the United States.

Elizabeth needed a way to support her family, so she opened a school for girls in Baltimore. She wanted to teach children, and help the poor. Other women came to help her, including her sister-in-law Rebecca who also converted to Catholicism. Slowly the community of women grew.

After a few years, they were organized into a religious community called the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph. Elizabeth Ann was chosen to be their first superior. She was called 'Mother Seton.' The Sisters of Charity are still active today, teaching children and helping the poor.

Gold Line
Practiced Families

Foundress and first superior of the Sisters of Charity in the United States, Elizabeth Bayley was born in August of 1774 to a wealthy and distinguished Epicopalian family in New York City. Her father was a college professor and one of her grandfathers was an Anglican minister.

Her mother died when she was three, and her father remarried. Despite all the fairy-tales about step-mothers, Elizabeth was very fond of her step-mother and of her step-brothers and sisters. She was educated by her father, who was a brilliant and kind man. He taught her the virtues of self-restraint, and service to others.

She was interested in religion and history, liked to read the Bible and other religious works, and wore a crucifix around her neck. After her marriage to William Magee Seton, a wealthy New York business man, she and her sister-in-law, Rebecca, were active in support of the poor. They founded the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children, and were known as the 'Protestant Sisters of Charity.' Elizabeth and William had 5 children.

When William's business and then his health began to fail, Elizabeth's life suddenly changed. Doctors recommended a sea voyage to improve William's health, so the Seton's sailed to Italy to visit the Filicchi's, business associates of the Seton firm. Unfortunately, William's health did not improve and he died shortly after reaching Italy. Elizabeth remained with the Filicchi's for some months before returning to the United States.

While with these Catholic families, she began to see the beauty of the Catholic faith, and to question her own faith. She prayed ' If I am right, Thy grace impart still in the right to say. If I am wrong, Oh, teach my heart to find the better way.'

When she returned to New York, she continued to learn about the Catholic faith, and was baptised into the Catholic Church within a year. Most of her family and friends did not approve of her conversion. They argued with her and tried to persuade her not to join the Catholic Church. After her baptism, they stopped visiting her, and would not help her support her family.

With the help of some Catholic friends, Saint Elizabeth opened first a boarding school for boys in New York and finally after a few years, a school for girls in Baltimore. She adopted a religious habit and soon, other women seeking a religious life joined her. This school for well-to-do girls prospered, and allowed the women to do much work amongst the poor.

This group of women eventually developed into a community of nuns. They modeled themselves after the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul in France, and called themselves the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph. Elizabeth Ann Seton, now called 'Mother Seton' was chosen to be their first superior. The new order expanded quickly, and founded hospitals, orphanges, and parochial schools. Many of their insitutions are still running today.

Saint Elizabeth also did a great deal of writing. She translated many French spiritual works, composed hymns and other music, and kept detailed diaries and journals of her spiritual progress and struggles. By the time she died, on January 4 1821, the Sisters of Charity had 20 houses in North America. She was canonized as a saint in 1975.

Gold Line
Experienced Families

Saint Elizabeth was born to a distiguished episcopalian family on the 28th of August, 1774. Her mother died when Elizabeth was three; and her father, a professor at King's College (later Columbia University in New York), educated his daughter. He was not a religious man, but a humanitarian one who taught Elizabeth service to others and the virtue of self-restraint.

When he remarried, her step-mother took over Elizabeth's religious education. The saint enjoyed reading the Bible, especially the Psalms, and studying other religious and historical works. She was very fond of her step-mother and helped in caring for her younger sisters and step-brothers ans sisters.

In 1794 at the age of 19, she married a well-to-do businessman by the name William Magee Seton, and in time gave birth to three daughters and two sons. Unfortunately, William's health failed and with it his fortune, too. The family sailed to Italy in search of a cure, but instead, after some months in quarantine, William died in December of 1803. They had been on their way to visit some business associates of the Seton's, the Filicchi brothers, and they welcomed the widow into their home.

For awhile after her husband's death Elizabeth stayed in Italy, and there her strong natural piety was drawn to Catholicism. This caused a great deal of inner turmoil and confusion for the saint. At this time, she began to pray this prayer: "If I am right Thy grace impart still the right to say, If I am wrong, Oh teach my heart to find the better way."

When she returned to New York her family and friends protested much the attraction Saint Elizabeth had for the Church, but she persevered and was Confirmed into the Church on the 14th of March, 1805.

This act left her isolated from her family and in financial difficulties. She opened a school for boys in New York, but unkind rumours that she was using the school for proselytizing forced her to close the school. She welcomed the request of a priest to open a school for girls in Baltimore. This allowed her to support her family, help the poor and to attend daily Mass and Communion, something which had been exceptionally difficult to accomplish in New York City.

She had always been known for her charity, and when in New York before her conversion she and her sister-in-law Rebecca Seton established a society for widows and poor children. This had given them the title "the Protestant Sisters of Charity.

She had in mind, therefore, to establish a congregation of nuns with the school in Baltimore. This would develop into the Daughters of Charity of Saint Joseph. She came to be known as "Mother Seton." The same year Elizabeth moved the sisters to Emmitsburg and adopted a modified form of the Rule of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. They expanded rapidly and founded hospitals, orphanages and most of all, parochial schools. Given all that Saint Elizabeth involved herself in, it was a wonder that she also composed hymns, music and even numerous spiritual discourses.

Saint Elizabeth Bayley Seton died on the 4th of January, 1821. By that time the houses of the Order numbered 20. She was submitted by Cardinal Gibbons, and canonized in 1975 as the first native born American saint.

Saint Anne Seton

Book related to this story ...
get the book at
The Soul of Elizabeth Seton by Joseph Dirvin
Price $9.56

Return to Saints Page.