Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton led a life which was filled with much conflict, loss and struggle. Through it all she retained a strong and loving faith which those who knew her couldnít help but marvel at. Born in New York in 1774, her mother died when she was three, and although she eventually had a loving stepmother, this first loss gave her a longing for eternity which her childís mind didnít fully grasp. She grew up quiet and faithful with a love of Scripture and married William Magee Seton, whom she loved with all her heart. Their marriage was her dream-come-true, but when Williamís father died the family business took a turn for the worse, and William and Elizabeth were left caring for their own family of five children along with his seven brothers and sisters.
With their financial situation becoming desperate, William contracted tuberculosis and Elizabeth traveled with him to Italy, hoping for a cure. Sadly, he died there, but Elizabeth was drawn to the Catholic Church, and so began her conversion. It was a tumultuous one, with family members opposing her every step of the way. She prayed constantly for guidance, and was received into the Church in 1805. She opened a school to support her family; and her life of faith was such that, even though she was a widowed mother of five, she received permission to become a nun four years later and was known as Mother Seton from that time on.
Mother Setonís faith was soon to be tested, because her next loss was that of a daughter, Anna. She clung to the Church in response, and one year later in 1813 she founded the Sisters of Charity with 17 women taking their vows. Still, her losses continued with the death of her sister-in-law and another daughter, Rebecca. We can only imagine her pain! Somehow this remarkable woman was united even closer with Christ and continued her good works, opening an orphanage and caring for the sick and poor with her Sisters.
She wrote much, documenting her love of Godís will and the Eucharist despite her many sorrows. The rule of the Sisters of Charity was based on St. Vincent de Paulís Daughters of Charity, and today six different congregations still flourish. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton died of tuberculosis in 1821 at the age of 46. She was canonized on September 14, 1975.
Throughout the loss of parents, husband, children and close friends, Mother Seton retained her trust in Godís continuous care and ultimate goodness. She wrote: ďThe accidents of life separate us from our dearest friends, but let us not despair. God is like a looking glass in which souls see each other. The more we are united to Him by love, the nearer we are to those who belong to Him.Ē Such faith! She saw mirrored in God the faces of those she loved, and was comforted by their closeness to Him, and so to her also. When we face a devastating loss, letís remember her words and try to draw closer to God.
Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was a convert to the Catholic faith - strictly raised by her Episcopalian family, she was well-schooled in Scripture and recognized the truth of Catholicism when she first encountered it in Italy: "My becoming a Catholic was a very simple consequence of going to a Catholic country, where it was impossible for anyone interested in any religion not to see the wide difference between the first established Faith given by our Lord and spread by His Apostles, and the various forms it has since taken in other countries. As I had always delighted in reading the Scriptures, I had so deep an impression of the mysteries of Divine revelation, that though full of the sweet thought that every good and well meaning soul was right, I determined that when I came home to learn both in duty to my children and my own soul all that I was capable of understanding on the subject." Her heart, already in the tender grip of God's grace, was ready to receive the fullness of Christ found in Catholicism. Her experience was not an easy one, however, as her family and friends did not understand her conversion. If you have ever experienced misunderstanding because of your faith, you are not alone. The things of the world and the things of God do not usually co-exist peacefully. Let Mother Seton be your guide, and trust in God to lead you to the truth.
∑ďBe children of the Church!Ē, she told her Sisters and daughter as she lay dying. The Church which sustained St. Elizabeth Ann Seton throughout her life was on her lips at her death. She wanted her loved ones to know of the strength she received from the Sacraments and from those Saints who went\ before her. May we learn this from her as well.