Elizabeth Seton


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widow and foundress. This first native saint of the USA was born of a devout and wealthy Episcopalian family; her father was a famous physician and the first health officer of the city of New York. At the age of nineteen she married a wealthy merchant William Magee Seton, and bore him five children; but at the age of twenty-eight she was left a widow. She then joined the R.C. Church on her return from Tuscany to Emmitsburg, near Baltimore. There she took vows and founded a sisterhood, the American Sisters of Charity, which was devoted to the relief of the poor and to teaching in parish schools. It was based on the rule of Vincent de Paul. This order increased very considerably until today it is one of the most numerous and influential of its kind. Elizabeth Seton was beatified by John XXIII and canonized by Paul VI in 1975. Impressive cures claimed as miraculous include one from leukaemia and another from severe meningitis. In his canonization allocution, at which 1,000 nuns of her Order from N. and S. America, Italy, and missionary countries were present, the pope stressed her extraordinary contributions as wife, mother, widow, and consecrated nun, the example of her dynamic and authentic witness for future generations, and the affirmation of ‘that religious spirituality which your (i.e. American) temporal prosperity seemed to obscure and almost make impossible’. Feast: 4 January.

A. M. Melville, Elizabeth Bayley Seton 1774–1821 (1960);J. I. Dirwin, Mrs. Seton: Foundress of the American Sisters of Charity (1962);J. B. Code (ed.), Letters of Mother Seton to Mrs. Juliana Scott (2nd edn. 1960); id. in N.C.E., xiii. 136 H.S.S.C., ix. 225–32.

Subjects: Christianity.

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