”Elizabeth Seton did more for the Church in America than all of us bishops together.” ~ Archbishop Francis Patrick Kenrick
Today our church pauses to commemorate the first native-born citizen of the United States to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church and the woman who founded the first American congregation of Religious Sisters, the Sisters of Charity. She would also go on to establish the first Catholic School in the United States, thus laying the groundwork for the parochial school system in the United States.
Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton (1774–1821) was born in New York City to a wealthy, virtuous, and influential family. She would marry a successful businessman, and together they lived on Wall Street. A selfless servant at heart, she assumed the role of a mother figure to her husband’s six younger siblings when her father-in-law died, this in addition to raising her five young children.
An Episcopalian throughout her early years, she was introduced to Catholicism during a trip to Italy and promptly converted to the Catholic Church following the untimely death of her husband. Elizabeth would spent her life working to improve education and providing for the poor, this in addition to providing for the needs of her family. As previously mentioned, through her dogged determination and desire to help others. she established the first Catholic School in the nation and founded the Sisters of Charity, the first American religious community. She is the patron Saint of Catholic Schools, widows, and those who have lost parents or children.
Elizabeth Ann Seton was declared a Saint by Pope Paul VI on September 14th, 1975. In his canonization homily, now Saint Pope Paul VI stated that Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first daughter of the United States of America to be glorified with this incomparable attribute of sainthood. “Saint Elizabeth is an American,” he would say. “All of us say this with spiritual joy and with the intention of honoring the land and the nation from which she marvelously sprang forth as the first flower in the calendar of the Saints. Rejoice we say to the great nation of the United States of America! Rejoice for your glorious daughter! Be proud of her and know how to preserve her fruitful heritage. May you America always be able to cultivate the genuine fruitfulness of evangelical holiness.”
How fitting that we would read Mark’s rendition of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes in today’s Gospel (Mark 6:34-44) https://discover.hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/Hope-You-Like-Leftovers. It was in the establishment of the Catholic School System that Mother Seton provided grand access to the very teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. Her example reminds us of our continual responsibility to evangelize our children so that they mature in their faith and their authentic worship of God. With regard to the Eucharist, which this passage from Mark foreshadows, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton said of its profundity, “For something to be holy means that it belongs to God. It is his property. The word communion means ‘joining with God’ in a very tangible and physical way, not just spiritually.”
Mother Seton knew that this was God’s greatest desire. To physically and spiritually unite Himself to the bodies and our in souls of His beloved children. She knew that when she received the Holy Eucharist, she was receiving the fruits of Jesus’ overwhelming victory over Satan and death. The Eucharist was her great delight and joy. No stranger to tragedy, hardship and death, she knew that Jesus’ triumph meant that death was no longer a wall, but instead a door. A door that lead to the beatific vision and eternal paradise with the God she devoted her life to.
In our Office of Readings today, we look in on Mother Seton as she is addressing her many spiritual daughters. She concludes with these words “You are children of eternity! Your immortal crown awaits you, and the best of Fathers waits there to reward your duty and your love. You may indeed sojourn in tears, but you may be sure there to reap in joy.”
A convert, a wife, a mother, a widow, the foundress of the parochial school system and the first religious congregation of women in the United States…. a Saint. This was a woman who lived a truly profound life. God called Elizabeth Ann Seton to greatness. She answered that call while providing a genuine blueprint for all those who have the courage to do the same.
“O God, who crowned with the gift of true faith Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s burning zeal to find you, grant by her intercession and example that we may always seek you with diligent love and find you in daily service with sincere faith.” ~ Amen
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us.