Friday, January 4, 2013

A Glorious Feast

     If you are the pastor of a parish with the name Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, today is a special day of celebration, for it is the day in which the Church in the United States honors this first native born saint of the Roman Catholic Church.  It was on this day, January 4 in 1821 that Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton died in Emmittsburg, Maryland at the age of forty-six.  Born just two years prior to the birth of this nation, she lived those forty-six years in an extra ordinary fashion, and her story is one of courage and inspiration.

     Born in New York City in 1774 of Dr. Richard Seton and Catherine (who died in 1777), Elizabeth was born into privilege and learning.  Baptized and raised as an Episcopalian, she grew through the example of her step-mother, Charlotte Barclay (who was related to the Roosevelt family), in a love of charity and outreach to the poor and needy in the City of New York.  Married to William Magee Seton, a merchant, at the age of 19 on January 25 of 1794, they had a successful marriage and brought into the world five children.  After some business set backs and a bout of illness, William died while on a trip to Italy in December of 1803, leaving Elizabeth and one daughter with friends in Italy.  While there, she encountered their Catholic Faith, and was attracted to their love of the Eucharist.

     On returning home to New York, she opened a school for girls to provide for her family, and began looking into the Catholic Faith.  Her decision to be received into the Church came in March of 1805 and was met with hostility and rejection by family and friends, as well as the parents of her students.  At the invitation of the local community in Emmittsburg, Maryland, where a seminary was being established, she moved with her family and opened a school there.  Others joined her in her efforts and she established a Community of Women Religious (the first in the U.S.) known as the Daughters of Charity.  Charity was a hallmark of her life, and teaching was a foundational stone.  She died on January 4, 1821, and since 1975 has been recognized as a saint of the Catholic Church, but has also, I read, been recognized as a saint in the Episcopal Church, the Church of her baptism.

     Her Sisters have Congregations in Emmittsburg, Cincinnati, New York, Halifax, Convent Station, New Jersey and Seton Hill in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.  The Sisters of Charity that I know continue to share her charism with grace.  The people of this parish, without consciously knowing it, continue in a wonderful way her charism of charity to the poor and needy.  Her charism of teaching continues in our Catholic Schools and excellent religious formation programs.  Near her statue in our church is a quote that acknowledges that she is "a saint for our times."  As wife, mother, widow, convert to the faith, teacher, foundress and saint she is indeed just that.

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