The Third Sunday After the Epiphany
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Today I would like to consider the life of one of the great saints whose feast was celebrated earlier this month, St. Elizabeth Anne Bayley Seton, or as she is better known, Mother Seton.
St. Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was the foundress and first superior of the Sisters of Charity in the United States. She was born in New York City on Aug. 28, 1774 of non-Catholic parents of high position. She died at Emmitsburg, Maryland, on Jan. 4, 1821.
Her father, Dr. Richard Bayley (born in Connecticut and educated in England), was the first professor of anatomy at Columbia College and eminent for his work as health officer of the Port of New York. Her mother, Catherine Charlton, daughter of an Anglican minister of Staten Island, N.Y., died when Elizabeth was only three years old, leaving two other young daughters. The father married again, and among the children of this second marriage was Guy Charleton Bayley, whose convert son, James Roosevelt Bayley, became Archbishop of Baltimore. Elizabeth always showed great affection for her stepmother, a devout Anglican, and for her stepbrothers and sisters. Her education was chiefly conducted by her father, a brilliant man of great natural virtue, who trained her to self-restraint as well as in intellectual pursuits. She read industriously; her notebooks indicating a special interest in religious and historical subjects. She was very religious, wore a small crucifix around her neck, and took great delight in reading the Scriptures, especially the Psalms, a practice she retained until her death.
She was married on Jan. 25, 1794, in St. Paul's Church, New York, to William Magee Seton, of that city, by Bishop Prevoost. In her sister-in-law, Rebecca Seton, she found the "friend of her soul", and as they went about on missions of mercy they were called the "Protestant Sisters of Charity". Business troubles culminated on the death of her father-in-law in 1798. Elizabeth and her husband presided over the large orphaned family; and she shared his financial anxieties, aiding him with her sound judgment. Dr. Bayley's death in 1801 was a great trial to his favorite child. In her anxiety for his salvation she had offered to God, during his fatal illness, the life of her infant daughter Catherine. Catherine's life was spared, however, and she died at the age of ninety, as Mother Catherine of the Sisters of Mercy, New York. In 1803 Mr. Seton's health required a sea voyage; he started with his wife and eldest daughter for Livorno (a.k.a. “Leghorn”), Italy, where the Filicchi brothers, business friends of the Seton firm, resided. The other children, William, Richard, Rebecca, and Catherine, were left to the care of Rebecca Seton.
From a journal which Mrs. Seton kept during her travels we learn of her heroic effort to sustain the drooping spirits of her husband during the voyage, followed by a long detention in quarantine, and until his death at Pisa (Dec. 27, 1803). She and her daughter remained for some time with the Filicchi families. While with these Catholic families and in the churches of Italy, Mrs. Seton first began to see the beauty of the Catholic Faith. Delayed by her daughter's illness and then by her own, she sailed for home accompanied by Antonio Filicchi, and reached New York on June 3, 1804. Her sister-in-law, Rebecca, died in July.