Bayley Seton was the first native born American to be canonized by the Catholic Church.
Born two years before the
American Revolution, Elizabeth grew up in the "cream" of New York society. She was a prolific
reader, and read everything from the Bible to contemporary novels.
In spite of her high society background,
Elizabeth's early life was quiet, simple, and often lonely. As she grew a little older, the Bible
was to become her continual instruction, support and comfort; she would continue to love the
Scriptures for the rest of her life.
In 1794, Elizabeth married the wealthy young William Seton, with whom
she was deeply in love. The first years of their marriage were happy and prosperous. Elizabeth wrote
in her diary at first autumn, "My own home at twenty-the world-that and heaven too-quite
time of Elizabeth's life was to be a brief moment of earthly happiness before the many deaths and
partings she was to suffer. Within four years, Will's father died, leaving the young couple in
charge of Will's seven half brothers and sisters, as well as the family's importing business. Now
events began to move fast - and with devastating effect. Both Will's business and his health failed.
He was finally forced to file a petition of bankruptcy. In a final attempt to save Will's health,
the Setons sailed for Italy, where Will had business friends. Will died of tuberculosis while in
Italy. Elizabeth's one consolation was that Will had recently awakened to the things of
enforced separations from dear ones by death and distance, served to draw Elizabeth's heart to God
and eternity. The accepting and embracing of God's will - "The Will," as she called it - would be a
keynote in her spiritual life.
Elizabeth's deep concern for the spiritual welfare of her family and
friends eventually led her into the Catholic Church.
In Italy, Elizabeth captivated everyone by her
own kindness, patience, good sense, wit and courtesy. During this time Elizabeth became interested
in the Catholic Faith, and over a period of months, her Italian friends guided her in Catholic
Elizabeth's desire for the Bread of Life was to be a strong force leading her to the
Having lost her mother at an early age, Elizabeth felt great comfort in the idea that the
Blessed Virgin was truly her mother. She asked the Blessed Virgin to guide her to the True Faith.
Elizabeth finally joined the Catholic Church in 1805.
At the suggestion of the president of St.
Mary's College in Baltimore, Maryland, Elizabeth started a school in that city. She and two other
young women, who helped her in her work, began plans for a Sisterhood. They established the first
free Catholic school in America. When the young community adopted their rule, they made provisions
for Elizabeth to continue raising her children.
On March 25, 1809, Elizabeth Seton pronounced
her vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, binding for one year. From that time she was called
Although Mother Seton was now afflicted with tuberculosis, she continued to guide her
children. The Rule of the Sisterhood was formally ratified in 1812. It was based upon the Rule St.
Vincent de Paul had written for his Daughters of Charity in France. By 1818, in addition to their
first school, the sisters had established two orphanages and another school. Today six groups of
sisters trace their origins to Mother Seton's initial foundation.
For the last three years of her life,
Elizabeth felt that God was getting ready to call her, and this gave her joy. Mother Seton died in
1821 at the age of 46, only sixteen years after becoming a Catholic. She was canonized on September