St. Elizabeth Ann Seton - Feast: January 4

January 4 is the feast day of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first person born in the United States to be canonized a saint.  St. Elizabeth Ann Seton founded the first American religious community, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s.  She opened the first American parish school and established the first Catholic orphanage in the U.S.   

Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born in New York City on August 28, 1774, to a prominent Episcopalian family. At age 16, she fell in love with William Magee Seton, a wealthy businessman, marrying him when she was 19. The couple had five children.

Just a few years after their marriage, the couple fell on hard times.  William’s business failed, and his health began to decline as well.  The couple accepted an offer from the Fillichi family in Italy to go there in hopes that it would improve William’s health.  Unfortunately, he died shortly after arriving there in 1803, leaving Elizabeth a widow at age 30.

The experience had a profound impact on Elizabeth.  She was moved by the care and support she received from the Fillichi family, who were Catholic, and began going to Catholic churches and spending time before the Blessed Sacrament.  After returning to New York City, she entered the Catholic Church.

Needing to earn a living, she moved to Maryland, where she opened a school, accepting an invitation from Bishop John Carroll, the first bishop in the United States. It would lead to the founding of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s in 1809, the first religious community founded in the United States.

“While actively looking for God, she discovered that God was drawing her to himself in mysterious ways and preparing her to become the person he needed her to be. She longed for God, and God answered her prayers by caring for her, her family, and her new religious community. She gradually came to know and experience the love of God, which empowered her to face any and all difficulties that came her way,” shared Barbara Smith, former director of catechetics & initiation for the Diocese of Portland.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton died in 1821 at the age of 41.  She was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1975, making her the first native-born North American saint.

“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,” Pope Paul said in his homily during the canonization Mass. “May the dynamism and authenticity of her life be an example in our day - and for generations to come - of what women can and must accomplish, in the fulfillment of their role, for the good of humanity.”