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Saintly Parents Inspire Holy Children: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

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I have always had an interest in the holy men and women who the church considers saints, especially those resolute moms and dads who were able to raise a family and live their faith fully.  There are so many beautiful examples in our church of saintly parents…whom I desire to be like!  I love sharing these inspiring stories in hopes that these holy men and women will also inspire you.  In this article we will look further at the life of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton…one of my favorites.  When we look at her life, we are able to see that parenthood can make us saintly! 

Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was born on August 28, 1774 in New York City. She was raised in the Episcopal Church. Her mother died when Elizabeth was three years old. She was rejected by her stepmother, and her father left for England, which left her to be raised in New York by her aunt and uncle. These facts can lead one to believe that Elizabeth did not grow up in a conventional home. Her childhood was difficult, losing both parents in different ways when she was young.

Elizabeth grew up surrounded by wealth. She was a prolific reader and read everything from the Bible to contemporary novels. At age 19, she married William Seton, a wealthy businessman. They had five children together, Anna Maria, William, Richard, Catherine, and Rebecca. She was so busy raising her beautiful family, but she continued to show great concern for the poor of the city. What an example she was to her family.

Out of her love and concern, she organized a group of ladies who would visit the sick and the poor in their homes to help in whatever way they could. Not long after she began this ministry, her father-in law died from an accident, leaving behind her orphaned nieces and nephews. Elizabeth didn’t hesitate to step in and help raise her husband’s orphaned siblings. As her family grew, so did her ability to love.

War broke out between United Kingdom and Napoleon and because of this her family business was bankrupt, and the Seton family became impoverished. While they were still struggling to make ends meet, her husband fell ill with tuberculosis and his doctors sent him to Italy for the warmer climate, with Elizabeth and their eldest daughter accompanying him. Shortly after arriving in Italy, they were held in quarantine because of his illness.  William died a few days later.

After the trauma of losing her husband, Elizabeth and her daughter were taken in by the family of her late husband's business partners.  It was here that Elizabeth was introduced to the Catholic faith.  She was especially drawn to the doctrine of the Eucharist as the real body of Christ. Two years later, after her return to the United States, she officially converted to Catholicism.

To support herself and her children, Elizabeth founded an academy for young ladies as well as a boarding school for boys.  Sadly, because of her conversion to Catholicism most of the families withdrew their children from the school.   Elizabeth had a strong call to be a teacher and mother. She had great concern that her two sons would not receive a proper education because she had to close the boarding school.  Elizabeth desired to continue her ministry of teaching. She then met a visiting priest who asked her to start a school with them. She took a leap of faith and moved  to Maryland with her children and founded Saint Joseph's Academy, a school dedicated to the education of Catholic girls.  Her sons went ahead to begin their education at Georgetown University.  Elizabeth then began to feel God calling her to begin a religious community of sisters who dedicated their lives to caring for the poor children of the community, called the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph.

While in Maryland, two of Seton’s daughters died from to tuberculosis, one who was only 14 years old. By that time, Mother Seton herself was weak and increasingly subject to poor health. Elizabeth died of tuberculosis January 4, 1821, at the age of 46 and was buried in what is now the Basilica of the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. Her legacy of love and caring for not only her children, but many children, lived on after her death. The sisters opened schools, orphanages, and hospitals to help children in every stage of life. She was officially made a saint and canonized on September 14, 1975, by Pope Paul VI. She was the first native-born saint of the United States. He said during her canonization, “Elizabeth Ann Seton is a saint. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is an American. All of us say this with special joy, and with the intention of honoring the land and the nation from which she sprang forth as the first flower in the calendar of the saints. Elizabeth Ann Seton was wholly American!”

Lessons Learned

There are three main “saintly parent” lessons that I have taken from the example of St Elizabeth Ann Seton and they are below:

1)      As a parent, there are no excuses why you cannot be a saint. Mother Seton had every excuse in the world. She was a convert. She had a difficult childhood. Her husband died when she was young, leaving her as a single parent of five children and seven orphans. She was reduced to poverty and had to figure out a way to provide for her family. Once she started a school, she was rejected because of her faith and left to start all over again. Her life was anything but easy.

2)      Part of saintly parenting is showing your children how to follow God’s call in your life. For St Elizabeth, she felt called to teach and eventually foundrf a congregation of nuns. She made sure her children were part of that calling. We can learn that if we allow God to help us he will do great things in our lives.  God opens doors for us as parents to do His will and in the process we are allowed to be an example for our children. What can we do?  Serve at our parish! Help with a ministry! Teach catechism! We are all busy, but no matter what, serving the Lord is a wonderful example for our children.

3)      Never doubt your ability to love more children. If you asked young St Elizabeth on her wedding day if she thought she could be a single mother of five children and seven orphans, while running several schools for children, she probably would have fainted. God in his great wisdom, and He expanded her heart little by little to love all those children he placed in her life. Our capacity to love is ALWAYS greater than we believe.

 

Prayer Inspired by St Elizabeth Ann Seton:

Lord God,

You blessed Elizabeth Seton with gifts of grace;

As wife and mother, educator and foundress,

So that she might spend her life in service to her family and the world.

Through her example and prayers

May we learn to express our love for you

In love for our fellow men and women, especially our children.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

One God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

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