Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born in New York State in 1774–the daughter of a doctor and grand-daughter on the maternal side of an Anglican clergyman serving in New York City. At this time the Episcopal Church of the USA–(American Anglicanism) had yet to be established.
At the age of twenty she married William Seton. The first Episcopal bishop of New York presided at their wedding. Elizabeth was an accomplished horsewoman, well educated, fluent in French and a fine musician. After her marriage she and her husband joined his wealthy New York family as members of the famous Trinity Church in Wall Street. She and her relatives ministered to the poor immigrants flooding into America from Europe. William and Elizabeth had five children. William lost several ships from his trading company due to international troubles between the French and English at the time. Bankruptcy loomed and his tuberculosis worsened. Doctors recommended a warmer climate so he and Elizabeth and their oldest daughter moved to Italy where Mr Seton died.
While in Italy Elizabeth was introduced to the Catholic Church and on her return to the USA in 1805 was received into the church and confirmed by Bishop Carroll–the only Catholic bishop in the New World at that time.
A young widow, with five children, she wondered what she might do for the church. She rolled up her sleeves and got to work doing what she could with what she had where she was. She founded the Sisters of Charity–started schools and is now known as the founder of the American parochial school system. She died in 1821 at the age of 46.
When contemplating the lives of the saints, one is struck with how much they were able to accomplish in what now seems a relatively short life. She did all that and died at the age of 46!!
One also wonders how Elizabeth Seton would have been treated by the Catholic Church in America if she had converted in 2005 instead of 1805. If she had gone to the local Catholic priest she may very well have been told, “You know, it’s not necessary to convert. We’re all Christians together. Best for you to remain and do the Good Lord’s work there in the Anglican Church.” How would a young widow with five children be treated who wanted to serve the Lord? “You know, you’ve got enough to do looking after your five children. God Bless you. There’s the door.” How would a convert be treated by the establishment cradle Catholics? “Why don’t you shut up and just keep a low profile whydontcha!” from Anglicanism who was fervent about the faith be treated? “Arrgh! one of them! A convert! They’re neurotic!”
Visit the website of the National Shrine of Elizabeth Ann Seton here.