Elizabeth Ann Seton
First American to be Canonized as a Saint
In the 1980s, there was a push to add more minorities to the history curriculum. The desire to give different perspectives had the best of intentions. The women’s movement had won the vote, and men like Martin Luther King had led the charge for equality under the law. The American student was able to read Fredrick Douglass and Alice Paul. The dignity of the human person was front and center. Yet, as a teacher of early American history, certain people that would fit the bill have been ignored. One of these, the first American born saint, is Elizabeth Ann Seton.
Born on August 28, 1774, Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born into a rich Episcopal family. She married a businessman at the age of nineteen named William Seton. Elizabeth was always an avid reader of the Bible. She had written in her diary that her marriage was filled with happiness, but that did not last long. The business failed, forcing them into bankruptcy, and William was diagnosed with tuberculosis only to die shortly after in Italy. However, while in Europe, Elizabeth was introduced to the Catholic Church by friends, and she drew closer to God. At this crossroads in her faith life, she moved back to the United States.
In 1805 she converted to Catholicism and started her first school in Baltimore, Maryland. It was a secular all-girls school. Unfortunately, once word about her conversion was known, parents removed their daughters from the school. In 1809, she moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland and founded the first religious community for women in the United States. However, Saint Elizabeth continued her calling to education, and founded St. Joseph’s Academy and Free School, the precursor to the Catholic School System in America. A woman, left alone by those closest to her, was guided by her faith.
“Love God, my dear children and you may forget there is a hell,” she would tell her students. She would become Mother Seton on March 25, 1809—taking a vow of poverty, obedience, and chastity. By that time, Seton had tuberculosis, but that didn’t stop her. She was able to start another school and two orphanages. Today, there are still groups of Sisters that can point to Mother Seton as their founder! At the age of 46 Seton died. She had been Catholic for only sixteen years but had left a mark that every American should celebrate. When I hear the need to better represent women in history, I always point to Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.
Anthony D. Flores lives in South Dakota where he lives with his wife, youngest daughter, and their two dogs. He teaches history and civics to middle school students. Anthony loves to write. If you have a writing project, he can be contacted at ADFloresAuthor@gmail.com. Learn more about him and his novel, Lazarus Rising, at his website: AnthonyDFlores.com.