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Elizabeth Ann Seton - America's First Saint : 1774 – 1821

Elizabeth Seton was born into a wealthy family in New York City and was raised in the Episcopal Church. At the age of nineteen, she married William Magee Seton, a wealthy businessman with whom she had five children. They fell on hard times and when William then became ill with tuberculosis the family travelled to Italy for his health. He died and Elizabeth was befriended by a wealthy Italian family who were Catholics.

When Elizabeth returned to New York she converted to Catholism. To support her children, she started a school, but it failed due to the anti-Catholic bigotry of the day. The general attitude of religious tolerance in America did not extend to Catholism.

In 1809, after some trying and difficult years, Elizabeth accepted the invitation of support the Sulpicians made to her and moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland. A year later she established the Saint Joseph's Academy and Free School, a school dedicated to the education of Catholic girls. Eventually, Elizabeth was able to establish a religious community in Emmitsburg dedicated to the care of the children of the poor. It was the first religious community of non-cloistered Religious Sisters to be founded in the United States, and its school was the first free Catholic school in America. The order was called the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. The remainder of Elizabeth's life was spent in leading and developing the new congregation.

The Rule of the Sisterhood was formally ratified in 1812. It was based upon the Rule St. Vincent de Paul had written for his Daughters of Charity in France. By 1818, in addition to their first school, the sisters had established two orphanages and another school. Today six groups of sisters trace their origins to Mother Seton's initial foundation.

On December 18, 1959, Elizabeth was declared Venerable by the Sacred Congregation of Rites of the Catholic Church. She was beatified by Pope John XXIII on March 17, 1963, and canonized by Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975, making her the first native-born United States citizen to be canonized. Her feast day is January 4.



Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

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