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Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton English Literature Essay

My choice to research a saint was Elizabeth Ann Seton. She founded the first sisterhood in the United States known as the American Sisters of Charity, and she opened the first Catholic School (Emmitsburg). Here is some more information about this dedicated, hardworking, and faithful saint.

She was born in New York on August 28, 1774, into a wealthy Protestant family. Her father was the first health officer of the city (Feeney 7). Elizabeth’s mother was Catherine Bayley, who died when Elizabeth was three years old (Emmitsburg). The Setons belonged to a high circle of family friends. When Elizabeth was a teenager and young adult she was considered the most beautiful debutante of her time. When Elizabeth was twenty, she married William Seton, whose parents owned shipping and bank companies in Italy. Something Elizabeth really liked about William was the stories from his travels. Elizabeth longed to go to all the places he had been (Feeney 31).

With William, Elizabeth had five children. Anna Maria, born in 1795, William, born in 1796, Richard Bayley, born in 1798, Catherine Charlton, born in 1800, and Rebecca Mary, born in 1802 (Emmitsburg). Sadly, Elizabeth’s father became very sick and Elizabeth took care of him, as she was her father’s favorite child. When his health started to get worse, she went outside with her infant Catherine, and offered the baby to God as long as He saved her father. Her father died in 1801 and her baby’s life was saved (Randolph). While Elizabeth was still grieving over the loss of her father, William became very sick. William and Elizabeth had only been married

eight years when he became ill, so Elizabeth and her oldest daughter, Anna Maria, traveled to Italy to stay with some family friends. Her other children stayed with Elizabeth’s aunt. Only a few days after William arrived in Italy on December 27, he died from tuberculosis. Elizabeth and her daughter stayed in Italy, where she became very interested in the Catholic Church, even to the point of converting (Feeney 95).

According to Feeney, Elizabeth knew that when she went back to New York that she would have financial problems because William’s family business was not doing so well. But when she finally did return to New York, she realized how severe their state was. Since she was so interested in the Catholic faith, she started to ask questions about why Catholics were so devout. They (Catholics) went to Mass everyday and they really lived their faith (102-3). Elizabeth’s family did not approve of her thinking about converting to the Catholic Church. Every Sunday, Elizabeth would be watched to see what church she attended, if she went at all. The priest of the Episcopalian Church gave Elizabeth books against the Catholic Church. Since Elizabeth was watched so much, and she was such a disappointment to family and friends, she stayed in bed deep in thought with a migraine. Very few people were on Elizabeth’s side, but the people that never doubted her decision were her children (Feeney 126-129).

Finally Elizabeth had enough and decided which church to go to: she decided to join the Catholic Church. Feeney states that on Ash Wednesday in 1802, Elizabeth walked into St. Peter’s Church and said, “Here my God I go!” (134). Because of her decision, most of her friends, family and New York society ostracized her while all this was going on. Elizabeth was still having money problems, and she needed a way to support her children. This was when she got the idea to start a Catholic school, since that would

kill two birds with one stone. She wanted her children to grow up with a good Catholic education, and she needed money. Soon after she got this idea she met a couple who also wished to accomplish the same thing and together they accomplished this task. The school was opened in New York City and was unsuccessful. Many people knew about Elizabeth Ann Seton’s conversion and did not want their children to be taught by her (Feeney 142).

Later, Elizabeth met Father William Du Bourg who was visiting NYC from Baltimore on a business trip. He heard about her wanting to open a successful Catholic school. A year later in 1808, Father William came back to NYC and saw Elizabeth again, “and still impressed by the quality of her courage and patience, decided to go through with the idea of bringing her to Baltimore to open the first Catholic School,” (Feeney 148, 150). She packed her few belongings and brought her children to the docks, and they all sailed together for Baltimore.

As soon as the school was opened it was successful, but she needed more Catholic nuns to teach the children. When young girls heard about her school they wanted to come and help, and wanted to become nuns. Her priest advised her to start the congregation of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul (Feeney 166-169).

Emmitsburg notes that while things seemed to be going well for Elizabeth, tragedy after tragedy filled her life. Her daughter Anna Maria caught tuberculosis as an adolescent and was sworn into the Sisters of Charity on her deathbed. Rebecca fell on ice at age 14 and severely injured her hip, which crippled her for life. She also died from tuberculosis in 1812. Richard joined the United States Navy and died off the coast off Liberia. Three of Elizabeth’s five children were buried in Emmitsburg graveyard before she died on January 4, 1821. She suffered from tuberculosis from 1811 until her death (Emmitsburg).

Her son William was also a sailor. William and Elizabeth wrote to each other all

the time. He knew she was sick, but never knew she was so near death. Elizabeth wrote to her son to keep him close to his faith, because she knew many of his sailor friends strayed away from God. When he finally arrived in Boston from sea he ran into all kinds of delays traveling. When he reached the convent, the nuns met him outside, but did not meet his eyes. The priest started to move towards William with an envelope, from himself to his mother. William knew what had happened, so he “walked into the graveyard of Saint Joseph’s Convent at Emmitsburg,” (Feeney 212). There he saw the grave of his beloved mother. He arrived six months too late.

There are three miracles that can be attributed to Elizabeth. Sister Gertrude was cured of cancer. A young girl named Ann Theresa was cured of leukemia. And a man named Carl was cured of encephalitis. Elizabeth’s feast day is January 4. She was canonized on September 14, 1975 by Pope John Paul the VI. Elizabeth is the patron saint of Persecution of faith, Death of children and parents, In-law problems, Opposition of Church authorities, Widows, and Illness (Catholic Online).

After finishing all my research on Elizabeth Ann Seton I realize that I am proud of my middle name. Even though everyone did not approve of her choice to convert, she still did. She stayed with her beliefs. I am also glad to know that she founded the first Catholic school and she was the first saint to be a native of America (Catholic Online). That is why I admire her and chose Elizabeth Ann Seton for my research project.

Work Cited

Catholic Online. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Catholic Online. NA. Web. 11/1/10.

Emmitsburg Area Historical Society. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Emmitsburg Area Historical Society. Net. NA. Web. 1 November 2010.

Feeney, Leonard. Mother Seton Saint Elizabeth of New York. Cambridge. Dodd,

Mead and Company, 1975. Print

Randolph, Bartholomew. "St. Elizabeth Ann Seton." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 11/1/10.


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