Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton


The account of the life of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton brings to mind some reflection on how we, as Catholics, should be evangelizing those around us.  It doesn’t take a sledgehammer, but it does require us to know our faith.  As St. Peter says “Always be ready to make an apology for your faith.”  Yes, that’s a paraphrase.  But how many times have you been invited to attend services at a Protestant church?  People often ask me or my acquaintences.  If it’s an occasion, I might attend.  But for just a run of the mill day, I will have to say no.  The last several times I’ve visited my mother, I’ve taken a side trip to EWTN or Hanceville, where Mother Angelica’s Shrine is.  The last time we did this (keep in mind we woke at 3:00am, drove 3 1/2 hours, attended Morning Prayer, Mass, and Benediction, then drove back 3 1/2 hours to have mid-afternoon dinner with the family), my aunt asked me “How come every time you come here, you have to go to a Catholic Church??  Why can’t you just come with us???”  I had to explain to her that we’re bound to attend Catholic Mass every Sunday.  So the next time we visited, we went to Mass locally so we could go with them to First Baptist Church with them on Sunday. But when is the last time you invited someone to go to Mass with you???

In another instance, if our children date outside of our faith, has your child ever been invited by the friend to go to church with them?  Have you or your child asked them to go with you?  At least at first, I believe the correct response would be to say “No thanks, I’m Catholic.”  This could be followed by a reverse invitation.  But your child must be ready to deflect the myths Protestants have about Catholics, like Mary worship or praying to statues.  The child must know what we believe about the Blessed Sacrament.  This is where you, as parent, and your witness come in, and this is why Mother Seton brings this to mind.

Mother Seton was a Catholic Convert.  Her husband got sick, and it was recommended that time in Italy’s climate might help, but he died there.  Mother Seton was taken in by her husband’s business partners in Italy, where she witnessed the Catholic faith. After her return to the United States, she converted to the Catholic Church, into which she was received on 14 March 1805 at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, New York, the only Catholic church in the city then. (Anti-Catholic laws had been lifted just a few years before.) A year later, she received the sacrament of Confirmation from the Bishop of Baltimore, the Right Reverend John Carroll, the only Catholic bishop in the nation.

In order to support herself and her children, Seton had started an academy for young ladies, as was common for widows of social standing in that period. After news of her conversion to Catholicism spread, however, most of the parents withdrew their daughters from her tutelage, due to the anti-Catholic sentiment of the day. By chance, around this time she met a visiting priest, the Abbé Louis William Valentine Dubourg, S.S., who was a member of the French emigré community of Sulpician Fathers. They had taken refuge in the United States from the religious persecution of the Reign of Terror in France, and were in the process of establishing the first Catholic seminary for the United States, in keeping with the goals of their society. For several years, Dubourg had envisioned a religious school to meet the educational needs of the small Catholic community in the nation.

After struggling through some trying and difficult years, in 1809 Elizabeth accepted the invitation of support the Sulpicians had made to her and moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland. A year later she established the Saint Joseph’s Academy and Free School, a school dedicated to the education of Catholic girls. This was possible due to the financial support of Samuel Sutherland Cooper, a wealthy convert and seminarian at the newly established Mount Saint Mary’s University, begun by John Dubois, S.S., and the Sulpicians.

On 31 July, Elizabeth established a religious community in Emmitsburg dedicated to the care of the children of the poor. It 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. The order was initially called the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. From that point on, she became known as “Mother Seton”.

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 of tuberculosis on 4 January 1821, at the age of 46. Today, her remains are entombed in the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.

The whole point of this is to gently remind you to wear your faith proudly.  Don’t let anyone make you ashamed to be a member of Christ’s one holy catholic Church.  Learn and know your faith.  A book I’ve been reading lately addresses many of the common criticisms against Catholicism.  The book is by Michael Coren, titled “Why Catholics are Right”.

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