Seton, Saint Elizabeth Ann

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Seton, Saint Elizabeth Ann,

1774–1821, American Roman Catholic leader, usually called Mother Seton, b. Elizabeth Ann Bayley, New York City. She was the daughter of a prominent physician. Her husband, William Seton, a successful merchant, died (1803) in Italy, leaving her with five young children. Soon afterward she became (1805) a Roman Catholic. This conversion severed her from her relatives, and she started a school in New York City to support her family. In 1808, invited by Bishop Carroll, she opened a school in Baltimore, then moved (1809) to Emmitsburg, Md., already the seat of a Catholic school for boys, Mt. St. Mary's. There she opened the first Catholic free school, the beginning of American parochial education and also founded St. Joseph's College (for women). About her she formed a community of women, which soon adopted the rule of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, the great sisterhood centered in Paris. This was the first American congregation of Daughters of Charity (or Sisters of Charity). Mother Seton was superior of her community; this had grown into 20 communities before her death. She was beatified in 1963 and canonized in 1975, thereby making her the first native-born American saint. Feast: Jan. 4. Her journals, letters, and memoirs have been published.


See tr. of selected writings by E. Kelly and A. Melville (1987).

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The Sisters of Charity of New York are spiritual descendants of both Saint Vincent de Paul of France, who believed in working directly with the poor, and Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born saint, who founded the Catholic school system in the United States.