Main Altar – Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton

Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton (August 28, 1774 – January 4, 1821) was the first native-born citizen of the United States to be canonized, on September 14, 1975. She was born in New York City and raised in the Episcopal Church. At age 19, she married William Magee Seton, a wealthy businessman and had five children. Her husband’s business lost several ships at sea and the family ended up bankrupt. Soon after, her husband became ill and his doctors sent him to Italy for the warmer climate, with Elizabeth Seton accompanying him. In Italy, they were held in quarantine, during which time her husband died. While in Italy, she spent time with a wealthy family and was exposed to Catholicism. Two years later she converted to Roman Catholicism, on March 14, 1805. Owing to her conversion, she lost the support of her friends and family. To support her children, she started a school in Baltimore, but it failed due to the anti-Catholic bigotry of the day. In 1809, after some trying and difficult years, Elizabeth moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland, where a year later she established 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. The order was called the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. Today, six independent religious communities trace their roots to the humble beginnings of the Sisters of Charity. Elizabeth was described as a charming and cultured lady. Her connections to New York society and the accompanying social pressures to leave the new life she had created for herself did not deter her from embracing her religious vocation. She died of tuberculosis at the age of 46 in Maryland. Today, her remains are entombed in the Basilica that bears her name: the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. Dedicated to following the will of God, Elizabeth Ann had a deep devotion to the Eucharist, Sacred Scripture and the Virgin Mary. The 23rd Psalm was her favorite prayer throughout her life. She was a woman of prayer and service who embraced the apostolic spirituality of Saint Louise de Marillac and Saint Vincent de Paul. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is popularly considered a patron saint of Catholic schools. Her name appears on the front doors of St. Patrick’s Cathedral as a “Daughter of New York.”

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