The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Mother Elizabeth Seton

Saint Elizabeth Ann SetonArticle

A noble jewel of the Catholic Church in North America is the convert, Mother Elizabeth Seton. She was the daughter of Richard Bayley, a distinguished New York physician, and in her twentieth year married William Seton. A deeply religious spirit and an active charity toward the neighbor were among the many excellent traits of the young Mrs Seton. A residence at Livorno, where her sick husband was seeking restoration of health, gave her an intimate acquaintance with the Catholic faith. Her untainted mind was easily accessible to the truth. After the death of her husband in 1803 she returned to America and soon entered the Catholic Church. This step brought her many trials from her relatives, who left her alone with her five little children. But all the more cordial was the attention she received from her Catholic friends.

Mrs Seton desired to spend all her strength in the service of the Church. Her first work was the establishment and direction of a Catholic school in New York. Three years later she was invited to Baltimore to establish an institution for the education of girls. Her charity growing ever stronger and purer urged her to alleviate every human misery. Up to that time there were no Sisters of Charity in America. So under the auspices of Bishop Carroll of Baltimore and the missionary Cheverus, afterward bishop of Boston and later cardinal of Bordeaux, Elizabeth Seton united with some other ladies in forming a Congregation under the rule of Saint Vincent de Paul. The first establishment was begun at Emmitsburg, near Baltimore. The work at once found enthusiastic friends and supporters. Mother Seton was chosen the first superior. It was no light task in those days to organize a Congregation of hospital Sisters in America. But Mother Seton more than justified the confidence reposed in her. Her spirit of faith and her interior union with God were the chief sources from which she drew energy to fulfil her providential mission. On 4 January 1821, her eventful life came to its close. Her great longing for heaven is expressed in her own words: “If I could behold myself at the last station of this path of suffering and see the downfall of the walls of my prison, I do not know how I could bear my joy. To go home – to be called thither by God’s will! What unspeakable happiness!” Truly does she merit to be crowned an American Elizabeth.

MLA Citation

  • Father Constantine Kempf, SJ. “Mother Elizabeth Seton”. The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century: Saintly Men and Women of Our Own Times, 1916. CatholicSaints.Info. 18 March 2018. Web. 19 February 2019. <>