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Elizabeth Seton: Mother to Many
Judith Metz, S.C.
Source: St. Anthony Messenger magazine
Published: Thursday, January 5, 2012
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We sometimes think of our lives as small, mundane, tucked away in an insignificant part of the world and having little impact. So we wonder, “Have I accomplished anything worthwhile?” Yet, deep within ourselves, we know that if we have been open, listened to God’s call and pursued it, our lives have been significant.

St. Elizabeth Bayley Seton, our first American-born saint (1774-1821), shared these same feelings of isolation and insignificance at times. After her arrival in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 1809 when she founded the American Sisters of Charity, she told a friend, “Our mountains serve the limits of our world.” She found her meaning by continually seeking the will of God in her life and by attending to what she called “the grace of the moment.”

As described in Elizabeth Barkley’s article, “Elizabeth Ann Seton: A Profoundly Human Saint,” Elizabeth Seton was a native of New York, was married, widowed and the single mother of five young children when, at age 30, she decided to join the Catholic Church. By making this choice, she plunged herself into an entirely new social and religious environment. Most Catholics in New York were poor immigrants looked down upon as “a public nuisance” and “the off-scourings of the people.”

By associating herself with Catholicism, Elizabeth lost the support and sympathy she might otherwise have enjoyed from family and friends, and found it difficult to maintain herself and her family.

Encouraged by the Rev. William Dubourg and the Sulpician priests in Baltimore, in early 1808 Elizabeth moved her family to what was then the seat of the only Catholic diocese in the United States in order to open a school for girls. It was here that women from various cities around the country began to join her. Gradually, and with the endorsement of Bishop John Carroll, the idea of forming a religious congregation began to take hold.

Elizabeth wrote to her friend Julia Scott of her joy at the “prospect of being able to assist the poor, visit the sick, comfort the sorrowful, clothe little innocents, and teach them to love God!” And she told her sister-in-law Cecilia Seton that “the tender title of Mother salutes me everywhere.”

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