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Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

Articles | January 4, 2024 | by Catholics for Catholics

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was the founder and first leader of the Sisters of Charity in the United States. Born into a wealthy Episcopalian family in New York City on August 28, 1774, she grew up in high society. After marrying William Magee Seton, they took custody of his seven half-siblings and managed the family’s importing business. However, financial troubles and William’s death in 1803 led Elizabeth to seek solace in the Catholic Church.

Elizabeth’s conversion to Catholicism caused a stir among her Protestant relatives and friends and increased her financial struggles. In 1806, her sister-in-law, Cecilia Seton, fell ill and expressed her desire to become Catholic. This caused threats of expulsion from the state for Elizabeth. When Cecilia recovered, she fled to Elizabeth for refuge and also converted.

In 1808, Elizabeth moved to Baltimore and established a community of Sisters of Charity with the help of other Catholic converts. They purchased a farm and Elizabeth privately took vows before Archbishop Carroll and her daughter Anna. In 1812, they adopted the rules of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul with some modifications.

Despite her initial reluctance and the responsibility of caring for her children, Elizabeth was elected as the superior of the community multiple times. Her daughter Anna also joined the community but died during her novitiate. Elizabeth and eighteen other sisters took their vows in 1813.

Elizabeth protested her third election as superior in 1819, but she lived for two more years before succumbing to a pulmonary infection. She died in Emmitsburg, Maryland on January 4, 1821.

In 1880, Cardinal Gibbons initiated the process for Elizabeth’s canonization. She was beatified in 1963 and canonized on September 14, 1975. Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton is remembered for her dedication to serving the poor and for her significant role in establishing the Sisters of Charity in the United States.

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