FRIDAY HOMILY: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, An Anglican Gift
The seeds of faith planted by Anglicans grew full and rich in Catholic soil
Much can be made of the accomplishments of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Yet, when you focus on her heart and the key aspects of her devotion, you realize that these set this woman apart in so many ways.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Born Elizabeth Ann Bayley in New York City on August 28, 1774, she was a child of the Revolutionary War. Her parents were Episcopalians and she was raised in that faith.
Married at the age of nineteen to William Magee Seton, a wealthy young merchant from the same city, the couple had five children. Elizabeth was deeply in love and, most likely, expected to live the life of a devoted wife and mother to her children.
Even as a young woman, she had a deep faith and a concern for the poor. Her sister-in-law, Rebecca Seton, shared this same devotion and two became close friends. They would undertake various missions for the poor in the region and took up the name, "Protestant Sisters of Charity."
Elizabeth's life became quite burdensome after only four years of marriage. William's father passed away in 1798, leaving the young couple responsible for his seven half-brothers and sisters.
Her own father, with whom she had a strong relationship, then passed away in 1801. (Her mother had died when she was only three.)
Then, only two years later, her husband's business and health failed. Filing for bankruptcy, he and his wife took a sea voyage to Italy, to help his health as well revive his business through the assistance of some associates, the Filicchi brothers.
While in Italy, William's condition worsened. He was quarantined and subsequently died of tuberculosis. Elizabeth and her oldest daughter were stranded there with her other children in the care of Rebecca back in America.
She remained in Italy for several months after her husband died in December of 1803, as both she and her daughter also became ill at different points. It was during her stay in the country that Elizabeth was more fully exposed to the teachings of the Catholic faith. The Filicchi family, with whom they stayed, was very devout in their faith.
She returned to New York in June of 1804 only to have her sister-in-law and dear friend Rebecca Seton pass away the next month. By this time she had lost many who were close to her and, at 30 years of age, seemed to have the weight of the world on her shoulders. Through everything, however, she remained fervent in her faith.
The months ahead were life-changing for Elizabeth. Antonio Filicchi had traveled back to New York with her and continued to answer her questions about the Catholic faith, as she seemed very drawn to Holy Mother Church. All of this was much to the horror of friends and family who were firmly protestant in their convictions.
Elizabeth Ann Seton was received into the Church on March 4, 1805. Her conversion cost her a great deal in terms of friendships and opportunities to support her family.
Much can be made of her accomplishments. Relocating to the Baltimore area at the invitation of Father Dubourg, a Sulpician priest who was helping to build a seminary in America, she established a school for girls near St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD near Baltimore.
She also began a religious community with two other young women, taking vows before Archbishop Carroll as the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. From then on, known as Mother Seton, she left a legacy both in terms of care for the poor and education, establishing the first free Catholic school in the nation.
In so many ways, her journey into the Catholic Church helped her more profoundly appreciate and embrace her faith. Today, I want us to focus on her heart and the key issues that set this woman apart in so many ways.
First, she wanted to be Catholic. As a convert I can identify with this desire and conviction. Many cradle Catholics have told me, "you are so excited about things that I simply take for granted."
There is a cost to conversion. For Elizabeth Ann Seton, it meant being ostracized by those closest to her. Anti-Catholic sentiment was very strong in the eighteenth century, in a large part due to misunderstanding of the faith by Protestants. However, she was willing to do anything and endure all things to follow Christ. She wrote in her journal, "If I am right Thy grace impart still in the right to stay. If I am wrong Oh, teach my heart to find the better way."
As a mother with a growing family, the decision took on a very practical aspect as well. With her husband's fortune gone, she could have been supported by other members of the family who had the means to provide. However, due to her decision to become a Catholic, those resources were cut off. She was on her own.
Many of us ...
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