Blog Post

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton — A Real Woman of Grace

In my reliquary, I have a first-class relic of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born American to be canonized. I find it appropriate that a woman was the first of our land to be lifted to the altar of Christ by Holy Mother Church. After all, our country and all of North America is dedicated to the woman: the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Our special patroness is also the Blessed Mother under her name, Immaculate Conception.

Just as it is true that all of the male saints seek to imitate Our Lord Jesus Christ, so too, do the women saints — but their emulation takes on the characteristics of the feminine, the authentically feminine, as lived to the superlative degree by Our Blessed Lady. While every soul must acquire the virtues of receptivity, trust, and surrender, these are the hallmarks of the handmaid of the Lord, virtues implicit in her by virtue of her gender. To acquire them, however, practice them and live them, can be quite another matter. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, in imitation of the Blessed Virgin, gives us good example. Through all of the vicissitudes of life, Mother Seton lived heroic virtue — frequently in situations and trials very similar to those experienced by Mary.

Born into an affluent family and married to a wealthy business man, her happiness was to be short-lived. The early death of her father-in-law eventually left young Elizabeth and her husband, William Seton, to rear Will’s seven half-brothers and sisters, and to run the family importing business. Young Mr. Seton’s health and business began to fail under the increasing pressure of the situation, eventually forcing him to file a petition for bankruptcy, after which he and Elizabeth sailed for Italy to pursue the help of business friends. It was there, in Italy, that Will died of tuberculosis leaving Elizabeth with one consolation — that he had recently experienced a conversion of heart toward the things of God.

Though the Seton’s Italian business friends took her in, supported her spiritually and financially, she eventually needed to return to the United States and to her other children and family. However, a deep and holy friendship had blossomed with her Italian patrons who continued to be of great interior support and consolation to her for all that she would encounter on her home shores.

While in Italy, Elizabeth was drawn to the majesty and beauty of the Catholic Faith which she had witnessed in the lives of her patrons. She longed for Eucharist, hungered really, for the Bread of Life, and found great comfort in the Blessed Virgin to whom she turned for guidance and direction. Mary, she discovered, was her mother, her true mother, whose maternal beatitude was there for her. Consolation filled her with this understanding since she had lost her own mother at an early age. It was Our Lady who eventually led her to join the Church her Son had founded, the Catholic Church.

Upon her returned, poverty greeted her as well. Her resources were dried up and she received no help from her Episcopalian family and community whose  bitter resentment toward her conversion expressed itself in hostility and ostracization. At the suggestion of the president of St. Mary’s College in Baltimore, Maryland, Elizabeth opened a school in the city. She engaged two other young women to help her and thus began the religious community she would form, the Sisters of Charity, based on the rule written by St. Vincent de Paul for the Daughers of Charity in France. The Sisters of Charity was the first religious order founded in the United States.

Provision was made for Mother Seton to continue to raise her five natural children in the convent setting, but she would know the searing pain of burying two of them at an early age as well as the loss of spiritual daughters she had borne in faith. Living and embracing the will of God — the rudder of Mother’s spiritual life — guided her through these times and she was able to say with confidence and conviction, "What is sorrow, what is death? They are but sounds when at peace with Jesus.” She knew that physical death is only the passage to eternal life.

Throughout her life, in her joys and in her sorrows, Elizabeth Ann Seton modeled her True Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Like Our Lady, Elizabeth knew widowhood at an early age. She experienced abject poverty and no small degree of marginalization and misunderstanding. And she accepted as God’s will the most excruciating of all crosses, the death of a child, kissed that cross, and embraced it.

But,also like Our Lady, Elizabeth suffered well. Not only well, but we might suspect, in union with her Savior, Jesus Christ, mystically placing herself on the Cross with Him, that she might be a conduit of redemptive grace in the world. Her travail became the crucible in which He perfected her faith and made her fire-tried gold.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton stands as a model for women today. Wife, mother, widow, founder,religious sister, patron of the death of children, daughter of God, spiritual daughter of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her life, her words, her example, and her desire for God alone, give the women of today a sure and safe path to follow.

Following are six resolves Mother Seton made. As they did for her, they may well lead us, too, to sanctity and holiness of life:

She wrote: “Solemnly in the presence of my Judge, I resolve thorugh his grace

1) to remember my infirmity and my sin

2) to keep the door of my lips

3) to consider the causes of sorrow for sin in myself and in them whose souls are as dear to me as my own

4) to check and restrain all useless words

5) to deny myself and exercise the severity that I know is due to my sin

6) to judge myself – thereby trusting through mercy, that I shall not be severely judged by my Lord

Perhaps these resolutions might be good ones to make as we begin this new year in Our Lord.

(Resolutions of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton taken from