“Because of her conversion to “the faith of the immigrants,” many of Elizabeth’s friends would no longer associate with he”
Sr. Maryellen Blumlein, SC, taught English and religion in elementary and secondary schools in New York. Currently she serves as Assistant Archivist for the Sisters of Charity of New York.
Born into a prominent New York Episcopalian family, Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton had a deep faith in God from an early age. Her mother died when she was four years old and, despite the pain and hardship this caused, Elizabeth continued to believe in God’s great love for her. She saw her doctor father as he treated the poor and immigrants of New York City, and from him learned Jesus’ gospel message of caring for the poor, sick, and less fortunate people of her native city.
She attended Sunday Church services at Holy Trinity Church and was a good friend of her pastor, the Rev. Henry Hobart. She married William Magee Seton, a scion in the shipping business. They were extremely happy and had five children who were baptized in the Episcopalian faith. When William’s business began to fail, he succumbed to the “family illness” – tuberculosis. With his declining health, Elizabeth and her eldest daughter, Anna Maria, sailed with William to Italy in the hopes of improving his physical health. Here they remained in a lazaretto until they were finally allowed into the country and could stay at the home of William’s business partner, Antonio Filicchi. William died shortly after on December 27, 1803, leaving Elizabeth a widow with five children, as well as William’s younger brothers and sisters to care for. But she continued to believe in God’s love for her and accept his will in both good and challenging times.
Awaiting return passage to New York, Elizabeth and Anna Maria remained in the care of the kind and religious Filicchi family where they learned about the Roman Catholic faith. As an Episcopalian Elizabeth believed in Jesus, but not in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist as did the Catholic Filicchi family. Elizabeth longed to be able to receive Jesus’ body and blood in Communion, and began to take instructions in the Catholic faith during the months she remained in Italy. Upon her return to New York, she decided to make her profession of faith as a Catholic and began instructions for First Holy Communion and Confirmation which she received at St. Peter’s Church on Barclay Street.
Because of her conversion to “the faith of the immigrants,” many of Elizabeth’s friends would no longer associate with her. She was invited to move to Baltimore and begin a school for girls. In this way she was able to support and care for her children. She was eventually given land in St. Joseph’s Valley, near Emmitsburg, where the community of the American Sisters of Charity began to blossom. Elizabeth’s faith and simplicity attracted other women to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. The Sisters of Charity professed vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and took up their work of education.
Mother Seton sent Sisters to Philadelphia to take over an orphanage, and in 1817 sent three Sisters to her native New York to take over the care of orphans in what came to be known as St. Patrick’s Orphanage. Mother Seton faced many hardships in her life. From the time of her mother’s death, Elizabeth was no stranger to loss and struggle. Her husband and several of her children, as well as many younger members of her fledgling community died from tuberculosis. She and her Sisters lived in great poverty, and Mother Seton constantly prayed for God’s providence and care for the Sisters and the children with whom they worked. Despite these difficulties, Elizabeth’s faith remained constant and strong. She knew that she and her mission were held in God’s loving hands and heart.
On January 4, 1821, Mother Elizabeth Seton died of tuberculosis in the chapel of The White House, surrounded by her Sisters and her Savior. To her last minutes she professed her love for her Divine Master and encouraged her Sisters to remain faithful to the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ and to be ever faithful “children of the Church.”