January 4: Elizabeth Seton, Founder of the American Sisters of Charity, 1821
January 7, 2011 16 Comments
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Elizabeth Ann Seton was the founder of Sisters of Charity, the first community of sisters native to the United States. She was also a wife, a widow, a single mother, an educator, a social activist and a spiritual leader.
Elizabeth Ann was born in New York in 1774. She endured a turbulent childhood and suffered severe bouts of depression. She survived by immersing herself in poetry, piano lessons, and devoted participation in the Episcopal Church.
In 1795 she married William Seton. Samuel Provoost, the first Episcopal Bishop of New York, presided. Three years later, her fatherin-law died leaving her husband with the responsibility for a large family and a struggling family business and Elizabeth with a large, inherited family to care for. In 1801 the business failed and the Setons lost everything.Her husband showed the symptoms of tuberculosis and in 1803, they set sail for Italy in the hopes that the warm climate would cure his disease. The Italian authorities fearing Yellow Fever quarantined them in a cold stone hospital for the dying. William soon died and left Elizabeth Ann a young widow with five children and few resources. While in Italy, she discovered Roman Catholicism.
Returning to New York, she encountered bitter opposition to her new religious leanings. With five children to support, she felt alone and estranged. She turned to Roman Catholic clergy for support and in 1805 she formally converted to Roman Catholicism. In 1806, she met Father Louis Dubourg, S.S. who wanted to start a congregation of women religious, patterned after the French Daughters of Charity.
In 1809 Elizabeth Ann took vows and became “Mother Seton” to a small community of seven women dedicated to teaching. The sisters were given land in rural Maryland and in 1810 they opened St. Joseph’s Free School to educate needy girls. The Sisters intertwined social ministry, education and religious formation in all their varied works. Mother Seton dispatched sisters to operate orphanages in Philadelphia and New York.
Elizabeth Ann Seton remained the Mother of the Sisters of Charity until her death on January 4, 1821.
II Holy God, who didst bless Elizabeth Seton with thy grace as wife, mother, educator and founder, that she might spend her life in service to thy people: Help us, by her example, to express our love for thee in love of others; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
II Holy God, you blessed Elizabeth Seton with your grace as wife, mother, educator and founder, that she might spend her life in service to your people: Help us, by her example, to express our love for you in love of others; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2 Esdras 2:15–24
Preface of a Saint (2)
Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?
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