Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was born in New York on 28 August 1774. Her mother was the daughter of an Episcopal priest, but died when Elizabeth was only three years old. Raised in the cream of New York society as an Episcopalian, Elizabeth married a wealthy business man at the age of 19, and had five children. When her husband's business lost several ships at sea, the family suffered bankruptcy. Soon afterward, the Saint's husband grew ill and was sent to Italy to recuperate in a warmer climate. While in quarantine in Italy, Elizabeth's husband died, but she spent time there with a Catholic family who introduced the faith to her.
Two years later, back in the United States, Elizabeth converted to Catholicism on 14 March 1805, and was received into the Church by the first bishop of Baltimore, John Carroll.
To support her family, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton stated a school in Baltimore, but it failed because of anti-Catholic bigotry. Afterward, Elizabeth moved her family to Emmitsburg, Maryland, where she started another school, Saint Joseph's Academy and Free School. Her efforts in Emmitsburg were assisted by Samuel Sutherland Cooper, a wealthy convert to Catholicism and a seminarian at Mount St. Mary's College and Seminary (today, Mount St. Mary's University). After a time, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was able to found a religious order in Emmitsburg, dedicated to the care and education of poor children. Her order, the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph, was the first religious community of apostolic women founded in the United States, and her school was the country's first free school.
The remainder of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton's life was spent leading and developing her religious order, which grew to include the Suplician priests in Baltimore. Today six religious orders trace their roots to the order founded by Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. Eventually, Saint Joseph's Academy and Free School grew into Saint Joseph College which closed in 1973.
Mother Seton was a characterized by her continual prayer. She followed the apostolic spirituality of Saint Louise de Marillac and Saint Vincent de Paul. In her words:
We must pray literally without ceasing—without ceasing—in every occurrence and employment of our lives . . . that prayer of the heart which is independent of place or situation, or which is rather a habit of lifting up the heart to God as in a constant communication with Him.She was also known for her deep devotion to the Eucharist, Sacred Scripture, and the Virgin Mary. The Twenty-Third Psalm was her favorite prayer.
Many of the difficulties that Mother Seton faced were internal. She was known as an elegant woman of charm and grace, yet she was not deterred in her work by the calls for her to return to the New York social life. Her hardships came from interpersonal conflicts and the deaths of her loved one's, namely the death of her two youngest daughters and the deaths of young sisters in her community.
At the age of 46, on 4 January 1821, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton died of tuberculosis in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Her body is entombed in the basilica that bears her name: the Basilica of the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.
Mother Seton was declared venerable on 18 December 1959. She was beatified by Blessed Pope John XXIII on 17 March 1963, and was canonized by Pope Paul VI on 14 September 1975.
Lord God, you blessed Elizabeth Ann Seton
with gifts of grace as wife
and mother, educator and foundress,
so that she might spend her life
in service to your people.
Through her example and prayers,
may we learn to express our love
for you in love for our fellow men and women.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.