Elizabeth Ann Bayley became the first American born Saint, she was
born on August 28, 1774, the second child of a socially prominent couple, a
surgeon, Dr. Richard Bayley and Catherine Charlton of New York
Bayley and Charlton families were among the earliest European settlers in the
New York area. Elizabeth was raised in what would eventually become (in the
years after the American Revolution) the Episcopal Church.
1794 Elizabeth married William Magee Seton, aged 25, a wealthy businessman. Shortly
after they married, Elizabeth and William moved into a fashionable residence on
Wall Street. Socially prominent in New York society, the Setons belonged
to Trinity Episcopal Church, near Broadway and Wall Streets. A devout
communicant. Elizabeth continued her social ministry—nursing the sick and dying
among family, friends, and needy neighbours. Influenced by her father she
became a charter member of The Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small
Children (1797) and also served as the organization's treasurer.
William Seaton died on 27 December 1803
after a long illness. During his illness the couple had moved to Italy in the
hope of the climate improving Williams health. It was here that Elizabeth was
introduced to Roman Catholicism.
Returning to New York, the
widow Seton was received into the Catholic Church, on March 14, 1805
On July 31, Elizabeth
established a religious community in Emmitsburg dedicated to the care of the
children of the poor. This was the first congregation of religious sisters to
be founded in the United States, and its school was the first free Catholic
school in America. This modest beginning marked the start of the Catholic
parochial school system in the United States. The congregation was
initially called the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph's. From that point on,
she became known as "Mother Seton". In 1810, the sisters adopted the
rules written by St. Vincent de Paul for the Daughters of Charity in France.
The remainder of her life was spent
in leading and developing the new congregation. Mother Seton was described as a
charming and cultured lady. Her connections to New York society and the
accompanying social pressures to leave the new life she had created for herself
did not deter her from embracing her religious vocation and charitable mission.
The greatest difficulties she faced were actually internal, stemming from
misunderstandings, interpersonal conflicts and the deaths of two daughters,
other loved ones, and young sisters in the community.
She died on January 4, 1821, at the
age of 46.
Elizabeth Ann Seton was canonized on September 14,
1975Her feast day is January 4.
Seton is the patron saint of seafarers and widows.