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The Liturgical Calendar: The Church Remembers

Today the church remembers Elizabeth Seton, Founder of the American Sisters of Charity, 1821.

Unwavering faith and devotion to following the will of God were the constants in a life that carried Elizabeth Seton from society belle to wife and mother to vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience.

Born in New York City in 1774, to a prosperous and prominent Episcopal family, Elizabeth Ann Bailey was comforted by that faith during a troubled childhood marked with the deaths of her mother and baby sister. At age nineteen she married the wealthy William Magee Seton, but their life together did not have the happy ending she may have envisioned. William"s father died in 1798, leaving him responsible for seven siblings and the family business. Elizabeth"s father died. Then the business and William"s health failed, and the Setons sailed to Italy hoping to revive both. There William was quarantined; he died of tuberculosis in December, 1803. By age thirty, Elizabeth was widowed and penniless, stranded in a foreign country, with five young children to raise.

In Italy, Elizabeth was drawn to the teachings of the Roman Catholic faith by the example of the devout friends with whom she stayed. When she returned to New York in 1804, she continued her religious studies. Despite the bitter objections of her staunchly protestant family and friends, Elizabeth was received into the Roman Catholic Church on March 4, 1805. Cut off by her family, she established a school for girls in Emmitsburg, Maryland, at the invitation of Father Louis Dubourg, to support her children.

With the encouragement of Father Dubourg, Elizabeth also began a religious community. In 1809 she took vows as a Sister of Charity of Saint Joseph, becoming Mother Seton to a community of seven women dedicated to teaching. The sisters soon opened St. Joseph"s Free School to educate poor girls. As the community grew, Mother Seton sent sisters to New York, Philadelphia, and other cities to establish schools and orphanages that offered social ministry, education, and religious formation.

A prolific letter writer, Mother Seton taught by her words as well as example. To her sisters she wrote: “The first end I propose in our daily work is to do the will of God; secondly, to do it in the manner he wills it; and thirdly, to do it because it is his will.” This faithful resolve sustained her through many hardships, including the loss of two of her daughters and continued ostracization from her family and friends. She remained Mother of the Sisters of Charity until her death on January 4, 1821.

Loving God, teach us to know your will and follow it joyfully, despite life"s trials, so we may find true happiness and peace in service of your Name. Amen.

Read the Wikipedia article here.

Holy God, you blessed Elizabeth Seton with your grace as wife, mother, educator and founder, that she might spend her life in service to your people: Help us, by her example, to express our love for you in love of others; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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