Author’s Note: This musing turned out longer than I had planned, so there will be no musing/meditation tomorrow. Sorry, but I feel like this one is two days’ worth of reading, anyway. Still, I hope you enjoy it!
A Musing on Mother Seton (and Why I Admire Her So Much)
Anyone can be a saint. A saint can be anyone from anywhere at any time in history. We are all called to holiness — to be a child of God who strives to preach the Gospel.But, when I say “think of a saint,” you probably think of an Apostle, early church martyr, or Doctor of the Church – odds are, they’re male, they’re European (or from the Holy Land), and they’re a religious or priest.
Saints can come from any walk of life, but the majority of the canonized saints — and the most well-known ones — are European (or Middle-Eastern) male religious/priests: Saints Peter and Paul, and any of the other Apostles; St. Benedict; St. Augustine; St. Francis of Assisi; St. Dominic; St. Thomas Aquinas; St. Ignatius of Loyola; St. John of the Cross and so on.
That is not to say that any of the aforementioned saints are not worth studying, imitating, etc. They are. They are awesome, and I want to imitate their love for Christ and His Church in every moment of my life.
However, I’ve found that sometimes it’s harder to relate to these saints. They were from another country, another time, another vocation, etc. But, in my own life, I have been blessed to spend time at parish named for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
Mother Seton is awesome, as are all the saints – canonized or not. But, unlike many of the aforementioned saints, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton seems more ‘approachable’ to me — as a lay, American woman — for three very simple reasons:
She was an American woman.
The Church recognizes 17 canonized American saints, but only three of them were born in (what is now) the United States: Mother Seton and Saints Katherine Drexel and (newly canonized) Kateri Tekakwitha.
Mother Seton was born in the British colony New York in 1774 — so, the American Revolution took place during her childhood. During her lifetime, she would have experienced things like George Washington become the first U.S. President; Washington D.C. established as the nation’s capital; and the newborn United States fight with former mother-country Britain during the War of 1812.
Today, Mother Seton’s remains are enshrined at the National Shrine in Emmitsburg, Maryland. There is also a shrine to her near her former home in New York City.
Mother Seton is the patron saint of Maryland and American Catholic schools (as she founded the first free ones in America).
As a relatively new country, there aren’t very many canonized American saints yet.
But the ones that we do have truly embody many of those ideals and virtues that Americans and Catholics alike greatly value: courage, independence, a strong will, generosity, benevolence, kindness, and so on.
She was a wife and mother.
Tying into the above point, Mother Seton’s life attests that people from any vocation can become saints. Everyone is called to holiness, and people in all vocations and walks of life will have their trials to overcome.
Elizabeth Bayley was married to William Seton when she was 19. They had five children together, and – despite her busy life as wife and mother – she helped organize a lady’s charity group that would distribute food to the poor.
Her husband, whose shipping company had went bankrupt, was in poor health, and the family sailed to Italy for William’s health. He died on the way, and Elizabeth Seton landed in a foreign country as a widowed mother to her five children.
As a wife and mother, Mother Seton had her own struggles; but she was still able to live a noble and charitable life. We do not have to be a religious or a priest to do the same.
She was a convert.
Saints can come from any kind of initial religious background, and Mother Seton can attest to that. She grew up in a devout Episcopalian household. Her husband and children, too, were raised in the Episcopalian faith.
After her husband died en-route to Italy in 1803, Elizabeth stayed with the her late husband’s friends – the Filicci family, a prominent Italian Catholic family.
The Filiccis introduced Elizabeth to Catholicism, and when she returned to New York, she continued studying the Faith and finally converted in 1805.
After her friends and neighbors found about her conversion, she was shunned and avoided by many members of her community. Many parents withdrew their children from her school, which she had started to support her family.
In the years following, Mother Seton founded the first free Catholic school in America and started a religious order – the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph – in Emmitsburg. Her daughter Catherine was among the first sisters to join her.
In common with many saints, St. Elizabeth had a special devotion to the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother. Truly, her conversion was whole-hearted, and despite the social stigma of the time, she became an important figure in the Church’s history in the United States.
I believe that we like to find people that we can relate with – someone who’s on “our level,” so to speak. Whether it is in life, literature, or anything else, we like encountering people who are like us in some aspect.
Our mindset is: “If she can do it, then I can do it, too.” If we are like them, in some aspect or other, whatever they achieve, we realize we can achieve, too.
So, why should our spiritual lives be any different? If the saints can share God’s Love and Joy in the world, despite all the adversities in their way – torture, loneliness, abandonment, persecution, alienation, and personal attachments – why can’t I do the same?
That’s why I admire St. Elizabeth Ann Seton so much: because, as a lay, American woman, she and I are alike. And, if she can become a saint, then I can become a saint, too.
We all have saints that we relate to because we have common ground with them – shared life experiences, trials, vocations, etc. We admire them because they are like us – and they are holy.
And that is why I love all the saints, including Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton! They all give me the hope that…
If they can do it, then I can do it, too.