Mother Seton, Foundress of the Sisters of Charity, by Sister Mary Agnes McCann

The Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, Ohio, are the American Sisters of Charity founded by Mother Seton, called American to distinguish them from the French Sisters of Charity founded in the seventeenth century by Saint Vincent de Paul. Owing to a difference of head-dress, the two Orders are called respectively the Black Cap and the Cornette Sisters of Charity.

The Foundress of the American Sisters was Elizabeth Ann Bayley, younger daughter of Dr. Richard Bayley and Catherine Charlton, both Americans by birth. Elizabeth was born in New York on August 28, 1774, when the very atmosphere of the United States was charged with sentiments of independence and patriotism.

Mrs. Bayley was the daughter of an Episcopalian clergyman and a woman of earnest religious feeling. Before Elizabeth was three years old, her mother died. The affectionate child, deprived of her mother’s care, poured forth on her father, a double share of filial love. To his elevated and benevolent nature, this deep devotion of his daughter was highly agreeable and throughout his whole life, the love of father and daughter was peculiarly strong and beautiful.

The school Elizabeth attended was only a short distance from her home and taught by an elderly lady. From her desk Elizabeth could see her father passing on his visits of mercy to the sick. Often, urged by love, she would slip from the school-room, embrace her father on the street, and return to her place unnoticed.

Throughout her girlhood, filial devotion was the incentive to all her exertions. For her father to wish, was for her to obey, and thus was formed a character so beautiful that we are lost in admiration; the virtue she practiced so carefully and joyously towards her earthly father, became the powerful lever of her spiritual life, when she turned her love and attention to the Almighty Father of all – the Creator of the universe.

To her amiable qualities of heart were joined great talents, a comprehensive, sound, and clear judgment, and a fertile imagination. Her father was careful to obtain for her the best opportunities of cultivating these precious gifts of God, and she placed no obstacle to the realization of his proudest and fondest hopes; but, whilst he regarded the brilliancy of her intellect, he looked also to the formation of a beautiful and noble character. He carefully impressed upon her mind the duty of self-control, the need of deep, earnest thought, the advantage of moderate indulgence in pleasure, and the Christian duty of reverence for God and respect for fellow-man.

She attended the Episcopal Church, in which she had been baptized, but was peculiarly free from prejudice, always holding the belief of her neighbors as worthy of respect, and even feeling and expressing admiration of many practices unknown in her own Church. She wore with great love and devotion a crucifix, and frequently expressed wonder that this emblem of man’s redemption was not held more sacred by Christians in general, and, especially, by members of her own Church. She had a great love for the Holy Scripture and delighted in storing her mind with its most salutary and beautiful passages. She was particularly familiar with the Book of Psalms, her warm temperament delighting in the fervent effusions of the Sacred Bard. Such reading and study left an impress upon her character and fitted her for the work God had prepared for her.

At the age of eighteen she gives an instance in writing, of her estimate of self-restraint. She reviews her lively disposition, then examines a sort of melancholy to which she was subject, and says: “I like the latter better than the former, because I know that the sadness may change to cheerfulness, but gayety will often turn to sorrow. I trust the day will come when I may show a more regular and Christian disposition. Perhaps it may; it may not. Those passions must be governed.”

Her constant aim was to cultivate the most elevated principles of conduct, and her after-life proves she accomplished her purpose. In the twentieth year of her age, she was married to Mr. William Seton, a highly respected merchant of New York City, like herself, a member of the Episcopalian Church. He was a gentleman of amiable disposition and excellent family, and had spent a portion of his early life in a mercantile house in Leghorn. This fact, we shall see, was a dispensation of Providence for the wonderful career marked out for Elizabeth.

Mr. Seton’s worldly affairs were in a flourishing condition at the time of his marriage, but Divine Providence never permitted the mind of Mrs. Seton to be dazzled by her brilliant prospects. She always kept in view that Heaven’s blessings are the reward of patience and submission, and that earth is a place of pilgrimage. She was one of those highly gifted souls who are borne up by their own natural impulses to the attainment of the true, the good and the beautiful. Such sentiments are everywhere manifested in her writings and were prominent in her thoughts and conversations. Her letters breathe a tender love of God and resignation to His Adorable Will. When she writes of cheerful things, her soul pours itself forth in expressions of childlike gratitude, if of sorrowful events, she remembers the joys of Heaven, and reflects that patient resignation to the decrees of Divine Providence will bring sweetest peace and lasting happiness. Every impulse of heart or will shows her close union with God.

Like all great souls, she was visited by trials of mind. The tempter placed before her ardent imagination the deceptive beauties of Jean Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire; but their poisonous charms could not long hold enthralled so pure and noble a soul as that of Mrs. Elizabeth Ann Seton, whom God was leading to do such great things for His honor and glory.

In the beginning of the year 1800, Mr. Seton’s temporal affairs became embarrassed, and then, more than ever, Mrs. Seton proved herself the strong woman and Christian help-mate to her husband. How often must he have realized the truth of Holy Writ, “Who shall find a valiant woman? Far and from the uttermost coasts is the price of her. The heart of her husband trusteth her and she shall have no need of spoils. She will render him good and not evil, all the days of her life.”

Mrs. Seton was not only cheerful at the approach of adversity, but she did everything in her power to stay the unhappy influence of this sudden change on her husband’s mind. “Hearts and fortunes must never sink together,” she wrote to a friend. She often spent the greater part of the night in helping her husband to arrange his papers, her sympathy and companionship bracing him for the trial now at hand.

When the tide of fortune changed, she was the mother of four children – Anna Maria, William, Richard and Catherine Josephine. She was ever the most devoted mother, and from their first moments of intelligence, instilled into her children’s hearts, a tender love of God and of virtue. As she was the most filial of daughters, the object of her father’s unbounded love and admiration, a strong, earnest, loving wife, the support and delight of her husband, the fondest of mothers and most beloved by her children, so, in time, did she become the vessel of oil and honey permeating the love which was to nourish the Sisters of Charity from end to end of these United States.

In August, 1801, Mrs. Seton’s heart was torn with grief at the serious illness of her beloved father, who after laboring long and faithfully among the yellow fever patients of New York, fell a victim to its poisonous touch. During his hours of delirium, Elizabeth suffered untold agony. To the thought that she was about to lose this beloved parent, came the fear for his eternal welfare. In the depths of her anguish, she took her baby daughter Catherine from the cradle, and lifting her up towards Heaven, begged God to accept her darling’s life for her father’s soul. God spared the infant and gave Mrs. Seton the consolation of hearing her father use frequently the name of his Redeemer, words she never before heard from his lips. He died calmly, his hand placed in hers, August 17, 1801. Who can picture the grief of his affectionate daughter, and who can estimate the advance her soul made in the way of grace? She wrote to her sister-in-law, Rebecca, “Your poor sister’s only refuge is the ‘Father that can not he removed.'”

Early in the spring of 1803, Mr. Seton’s health began to decline rapidly and he was advised to try a sea voyage. The Messrs. Filicchi, of Leghorn, had been his friends in past years, and he resolved to renew the early friendship. Mrs. Seton felt it her duty to accompany him, and having placed her three younger children with relatives, she selected her eldest daughter, Anna Maria, then in the ninth year of her age, to accompany them.

They left New York, October 2, 1803. Mr. Seton’s health seemed to improve during the journey, which lasted until November 18th. While the “Ave Maria” bells were ringing on this day, the vessel arrived at the mole of Leghorn, but as it was supposed the ship brought with it from New York, the yellow fever, Mrs. Seton, with her sick husband and little girl, were sent with their baggage to the Lazaretto.

The journal of Mrs. Seton, written during the thirty days’ quarantine, shows her beauty and strength of soul and powers of endurance. Her edifying words may be read in the “Life of Mrs. Elizabeth Ann Seton,” by White, and in the “Memoirs of Mrs. Elizabeth Ann Seton,” by Most Rev. Robert Seton. The original journal, now over one hundred years old, is in the possession of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Captain and Mrs. O’Brien, the Messrs. Filicchi, the Capitano of the Lazaretto, and all who could come to them, tried in everyway to alleviate the sufferings of the invalid and give aid to Mrs. Seton.

On December 19th, they were released from the Lazaretto and taken to Pisa in the coach of Mr. Filicchi, who left nothing undone to save the life of his friend.

The change in Mr. Seton’s surroundings, the balmy air of Pisa, and his release from the damp Lazaretto, so affected his spirits, that all entertained hope of improvement in his condition, but the favorable change was only temporary. On Christmas day, he sent for Mr. O’Brien, and with great composure and solemnity, placed his wife and child in the charge of the worthy Captain, for the homeward voyage. At a quarter past seven on Tuesday morning, December 27th, Mr. Seton died. He had spoken no word all night but the repeated Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! The Messrs. Filicchi came at once with a train of attendants to bear Mrs. Seton and Anna away with them to Leghorn, a distance of fifteen miles. The gentlemen attended to the funeral arrangements and after the obsequies of Mr. Seton, which took place the following day, the Filicchi brothers and their wives, in order to distract Mrs. Seton from her grief, persuaded her to visit Florence and other places of interest.

God was making use of these means all the while, to lead her closer and closer to Himself. She visited the various churches and felt the Divine Presence. In answer to a question she proposed to Mr. Antonio Filicchi, he replied: “There is but one true religion, and without a right faith, no one can be acceptable to God.”

Mrs. Seton said: “If there is but one faith and nobody pleases God without it, where are all the good people who die out of it?”

Antonio replied: “I do not know, that depends upon the light of faith which they have received; but I do know where people go who can know the right faith if they pray and enquire for it, and yet do neither.”

“Much as to say, Sir, that you wish me to pray and enquire and be of your faith,” Mrs. Seton said, laughingly.

“Pray and enquire, that is all I ask of you,” he said. Again at Florence, he urged upon her the duty of investigating. “Your dear William was the early friend of my youth. You are now come in his room. Your soul is even dearer to Antonio and will be so forever. May the good Almighty God enlighten your mind and strengthen your heart to see and to follow this religion, the sure, true way to the eternal blessings. I shall call for you. I must meet you in Paradise, if it is decreed that the vast plains of the ocean shall soon be betwixt us. Do not discontinue in the meanwhile, to knock at the door.”

Not in words alone, did Mr. Filicchi show his own love and that of his family for Mrs. Seton. She had care during illness, a home as long as she would remain with them, money and passports for her return journey, and in later years, pecuniary help for her new undertaking, and a fatherly protection for her sons.

The “Shepherdess,” Captain O’Brien’s vessel, was ready to leave on February 3d. Mrs. Seton and her little girl, with many regrets, bade good-bye to the dear friends who had lavished care and affection on them, and who, now, provided them with every necessity for the journey. God did not will the separation at this time, for during the night the “Shepherdess” was struck by another vessel, and in the morning returned to Leghorn for repairs. During the delay, little Anna fell ill of scarlet fever, and at the end of three weeks Mrs. Seton was attacked by the same malady. Before their recovery. Captain O’Brien’s vessel had left for America. The “Flamingo,” on which they would now take passage, had a very young and inexperienced captain. This fact added to the dangers of war, which were very great, urged Mr. Antonio Filicchi to make the return trip with Mrs. Seton.

The little Anna Maria seemed to understand the wonderful kindness of Mr. Filicchi and family, for she said, when she learned to her great joy that Mr. Filicchi would accompany them, “Ma, are there no Catholics in America?”

On April 8th, they left with sincere gratitude and deep regret, their foreign friends. After a voyage of fifty-six days, they landed in New York on June 4, 1804.

On July 8th, Mrs. Seton was called upon to give back to God “her soul’s sister,” as she calls Rebecca Seton. This was a great trial to her. She says: “He who searches the heart and knows the spring of each secret affection – He only, knows what I lost at that moment.” All of these trials were leading her step by step to the knowledge which Mr. Filicchi so much desired for her.

Her numerous friends of various denominations, having learned that she was in doubt as to the true Church, called on her, giving the benefit of their opinions and urging her to find peace with them. Her account of the different expositions of doctrines and the zeal of her friends, reminds us forcibly of the characters in Newman’s “Loss and Gain.”

Mr. Philip Filicchi had given Mrs. Seton and his brother, letters of introduction to Right Rev. John Carroll, patriarch of the American Church. Mrs. Seton did not present hers for some time. Mr. Antonio Filicchi in sending his, enclosed two of Mrs. Seton*s letters and explained her state of mind regarding religion. The Bishop took quite an interest in her spiritual welfare and wrote at length to Mr. Filicchi, advising him of the course she should pursue and expressing his belief that light would soon come to her, which light indeed, came with wonderful brilliancy. March 14, 1805, she writes to Mrs. Filicchi: “A day of days for me, Amabilia. I have been – where? To the Church of Saint Peter, which has a cross on the top instead of a weather-cock – to what is called here, among so many churches, the Catholic Church. When I turned the corner of the street it is in, ‘Here, my God, I go,’ I said, ‘my heart all to you.’ Entering it, how that heart died away, as it were, in silence before that little tabernacle and the great Crucifixion above it.

“‘Ah, my God! here let me rest,’ I said, as I went down on my knees and my head sunk on my bosom.

“It was the day they received ashes – the beginning of Lent, and the most venerable Irish priest, Father O’Brien, who it seems just came here, spoke of death so familiarly, that he delighted and revived me. After all had departed, I was called to the little room next to the sanctuary, and made my profession of faith as the Catholic Church prescribes, and then came away, light of heart, and with a clearer head than I have had these many long months, but not without begging our Lord to bury deep my heart, in that wounded side, so well depicted in the beautiful Crucifixion, or lock it up in His little tabernacle where I shall now rest forever.

“So happy am I now to prepare for this good confession which, bad as I am, I would be ready to make on the housetop to insure the good absolution, I hope for after it, and then to begin a new life, a new existence itself. It is no great difficulty for me to prepare for this confession, for truly, my life has been well called over in bitterness of soul these past months of sorrow. It is done – easily enough too; the kindest and most respectable confessor, is this Mr. O’Brien – with the compassion and yet firmness in this work of mercy, which I would have expected from our Lord Himself.”

The Rev. Mr. O’Brien received her profession of faith in the presence of Mr. Antonio Filicchi, whose heart must have rejoiced exceedingly as he beheld the first fruit of his zeal and would have exulted, could he have foreseen the result, up to the present time. How wonderful are the works of God, which He deigns to accomplish through the fidelity of man to the breathing of the Spirit!

After her first confession, Mrs. Seton writes: “How awful those words of unloosing after a thirty years’ bondage! I felt as if my chains fell, as those of Saint Peter, at the touch of the Divine Messenger. On the Annunciation, I shall be made one with Him Who said, ‘Unless ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, ye shall not have life in you.’ I count the days and the hours; yet a few more of hope and expectation – and then! How bright is the sun these morning walks to the church for preparation – deep snow or smooth ice, all is to me the same; I see nothing but the bright little cross on Saint Peter’s steeple.”

On March 25, 1805, she writes to Mrs. Filicchi: “At last, Amabilia, at last, God is mine, and I am His. Now let all earthly things go as they will. I have received Him.” In the same letter she adds: “Your husband goes now to England and will soon, I trust, be with you. He says much of my bringing all the children to you at Gubbio to find peace and abundance; but I have a long Hfe of sins to expiate, and since I hope always to find the morning Mass in America, it matters little what can happen through the few more years I may have to live, for my health is pitiful; yet, we will see. At all events, happen now what will, I rest in God.”

Mr. Antonio Filicchi was now about to leave America, but before doing so, he was anxious to place her financial affairs on some solid basis. Her relations were alienated by the step she had taken, and an elderly lady with no ties of kinship, but devoted to Elizabeth, and to whom she had willed her fortune, now changed her last testament and left to Mrs. Seton and her little ones, nothing, not finding it according to her conscience, to have her means in the possession of heretics.

On April 18, 1805, Mr. Antonio Filicchi wrote her from Philadelphia: “I shall be glad to hear of some effectual plan and steps taken by your old friends and relatives in this new part of the world, for the independent settlement and comfort of yourself and children; but in their failure, be easy and rely on the sentiment and principles of your new friends in the old part of the world; they will prove themselves in deed, what they boast of in words, and will thank God for it, from Whom they derive the means and the will.”

Mrs. Elizabeth Ann Seton, knowing that her change of circumstances was in the decrees of God, felt it no abasement to accept in part, the generosity of the Messrs. Filicchi, although her delicacy prevented her taking their noble offers in their fulness. Mr. Filicchi took upon himself the expense of her sons’ education, and made all arrangements for their entrance into college before he left the United States. He spent much time too, in planning the future of Mrs. Seton, as she was anxious to enter some seminary as a teacher, and have her daughters with her.

On May 26th, Archbishop Carroll visited New York City and Mrs. Seton was confirmed in Saint Peter’s Church, taking the name of Mary. On the 20th of June, her young sister-in-law, Cecilia Seton, was received into the Church, and this re-awakened the displeasure of her relatives. Little Anna Seton made her First Communion on the 26th of July, 1806. She had been invited by Mrs. Barry, whose family, Mrs. Seton mentions so gratefully and affectionately – to remain with her, in order to attend with less inconvenience, the instructions for this important work.

Very early in August, Mr. Antonio Filicchi sailed from America, carrying with him the esteem of Bishop Carroll and the distinguished clergy of New York and Boston, for he was in every sense, a truly Christian gentleman. His interest in the growing Church of the United States and his munificence towards Mrs. Seton and family, worked for good, not only in Catholics, but also in those out of the faith.

Immediately on his arrival in London, November 3d, he wrote to John Murray and Sons, his agents in New York, to furnish Mrs. Seton with whatever sum of money she might call for in addition to the amount named before his departure. In the latter part of December he writes Mrs. Seton of “a narrow escape from the jaws of death” on Mt. Cenis in the Alps. He ascribed his preservation and that of the party, to her prayers, and his having attended Mass that morning, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8th – not then a holy day of obligation. In this letter, he speaks too, of her going to Montreal, and having her children placed at institutions in Canada, but tells her to follow the advice of Bishop Cheverus and Dr. Matignon. This she did, and sought Baltimore instead of Canada. It was the happy lot of Mrs. Seton to have as friends, the most distinguished ecclcvsiastics of her time: Bishops Carroll, Cheverus, Brute, Dubourg, Dubois, David, Marechal, Flaget; Fathers Matignon, Tisserant, Hurley, O’Brien, Byrne, Sibourd, Hickey and Duhamel. Of Mr. Hurley she says, “Rigid and severe in a calm, but most indulgent and compassionate in sorrow.”

Bishop Carroll introduced her to the family of Mr. James Barry, a merchant of New York, at whose home she was ever welcomed with bounteous and cordial hospitality. Writing to a friend, she says, “The Barry’s, whose tenderness and attention to the poor fanatic are my sweetest earthly pleasures.”

Though the Atlantic lay between her and friends in Leghorn, their letters came frequently, showing their anxiety about her welfare and insisting on giving her aid. Mr. Philip Filicchi wrote her May, 1807: “Let us now come to your concern. You are happy; I am equally so. May you never forget the immense blessings you have received. May your children bless you for having shown them the way that leads to real felicity. May I partake of your happiness by the care I have taken in co-operating to it. My brother has informed me of the measures taken for the education of your sons and for your general welfare. I approve everything he has done. My house at Gubbio moreover, is at your disposal as a retreat for you, and all your children, at any time. Mrs. Filicchi is at Pisa. How is my dear Anna of roguish eyes? Remember me in your prayers – I have a right to them.” Yes, he had indeed, a right to her prayers, and they were poured forth from the fulness of a lovingly devoted heart.

Her children were taught to look upon these estimable gentlemen and their families, as friends sent from Heaven, and never to kneel in prayer without asking blessings for them. The Community too, felt the same grateful love, and even now, the heart of every Sister of Charity glows with love at the sound of their name. How noble the soul that could utter such sentiments – “To relieve your wants is the pride of my soul and my best passport for my last journey.”

Writing to Mr. Philip Filicchi, she says, speaking of her great peace and happiness: “And then, how came this knowledge to my soul? Whose blessed hands guided it to its only treasure? Who encouraged it when sinking, and drew it on when afraid of its own salvation? And, my darling children, I teach them to consider you, too, the source of all our consolation.”

Mrs. Seton was still longing for some definite arrangement of her affairs, but she knew that God would speak in His own good time, and she awaited patiently the fulfilment of her cherished dream – that of giving herself to Him forever in such a way as to be compatible with her obligations towards her children. The revelation of God*s designs was nearer than she presumed to think, and came, as it were, accidentally.

In the autumn of 1806, Rev. William Valentine Dubourg, President of Mount Saint Mary’s College, Baltimore, visited New York and was offering Mass in Saint Peter’s Church, when a lady presented herself at the holy table, and with tears of devotion received, at his hands, the Holy Eucharist. The fervor and uncommon deportment of the communicant struck Rev. Mr. Dubourg, and surmiising she was Mrs. Seton, of whom he had heard, he asked of Rev. Mr. Sibourd, at breakfast, the name of the lady. A gentle tap at the door prevented the answer, and Mrs. Seton being admitted and introduced, fell before the priest of God, to receive his blessing.

The Rev. Mr. Dubourg, enquiring about her plans regarding her sons, learned the views and wishes of Mr. Filicchi about her removing her daughters to Canada, and her own hope of sometime entering a religious community. Rev. Mr. Dubourg, who was a man of broad views and wonderful enterprise, suggested the practicability of such a scheme in the United States. Mrs. Seton wrote this to Bishop Carroll and begged his direction. Rev. Mr. Dubourg was at the same time conferring with the Revs. Matignon and Cheverus on the same subject.

She was advised to forsake the Canada scheme and to use her talents in the way proposed by Rev. Mr. Dubourg. Rev. Mr. Cheverus added, “Hoping that his project would do better for her family, and being sure it would be very conducive to the progress of religion in this country.” All advised her through Rev. Mr. Dubourg “to wait the manifestation of the Divine Will – the Will of a Father most tender, who will not let go the child afraid to step alone.” Dr. Matignon wrote her: “I have only to pray God to bless your views and His, and to give you the grace to fulfil them for His greater glory. You are destined, I think, for some great good in the United States, where you should remain in preference to any other location. For the rest, God has His moments, which we must not seek to anticipate, and a prudent delay only brings to maturity the good desires which He awakens within us.”

Bishop Carroll wrote that, although he was entirely ignorant of all particulars, yet to approve the plan of Rev. Mr. Dubourg, it was enough for him to know that it had the concurrence of Revs. Dr. Matignon and Father Cheverus. Mrs. Seton was much astonished that these eminent ecclesiastics should consider her a suitable instrument for promoting the interest of the Church, but reflecting that the ways of God are different from those of men, she humbly bowed to His will in her regard. In a letter to Mr. Filicchi, in which she gives a full account of the future planned for her, she adds: “The very idea is enough to turn a stronger brain; but I know very well He sees differently from man, and as obedience is His favorite service and can not lead me wrong, according to the old rule, I look neither behind nor before, but straight upward, without thinking of human calculations.”

Mr. Philip Filicchi encouraged her to follow the advice of the reverend gentlemen and forsake the Canada plan, although “its realization had been so cherished a hope.”

Mrs. Seton’s position in New York at this time, was becoming more and more difficult. For the maintenance of her family, she had taken as boarders some ten or twelve students of Mr. Harris’ school. In the fall of 1807, the remuneration fell short of the amount needed to support her family, the boys who lodged with her were not suitable companions for her children and were, in a measure, beyond the control of Mrs. Seton. In addition to these evils was a greater one: that her children were prevented six months in the year, from attending the service of the Church. She herself could practice her religious duties with very great inconvenience. In this state of things, she conferred with her pious and enlightened friend, Mrs. Barry, and other interested friends in New York, and being assured by her ecclesiastical advisers that God’s time had come, she made final preparations for her departure from New York. Rev. Mr. Dubourg attended to the arrangements in Baltimore. He rented for the space of one year, a house close to Saint Mary’s College – small, but sufficient for the few boarders he wished her to take, so that “her task might be lighter and work easier of establishing the spirit of piety and regularity in her school.” To make her departure from her native place and the breaking of old ties less severe, he pictures to her the welcome awaiting her in Baltimore. “My sister is eager to lock you in her arms and to form with you a connection which even death will never dissolve. My little niece has written to her mamma in the effusion of her joy at the approach of a new mamma and a new family of sisters. She shares, and it is not saying little, in all the sentiments of veneration and affectionate regard for you which glow in the breast of your ever devoted friend.”

All arrangements being completed, Mrs. Seton, with her three daughters, embarked for Baltimore in a packet, June 9, 1808.

What were her emotions as she saw her native city receding from her view, and contrasted this departure with her last. She carried with her then, the tender regards and warmest sympathies of her numerous friends and relatives. Now she seemed an outcast from home; those near and dear to her, instead of soothing her in this trying ordeal, were congratulating themselves that they would be no longer tortured by her presence.

From the moment she left her native soil, friends, God-sent, flocked to her, even on board the vessel, and this made her soul burn with gratitude to God. She threw herself with child-like confidence into the arms of Divine Providence and questioned herself thus: “Tomorrow, do I go among strangers? No. Can I be disappointed? No.”

She reached the wharf late at night on Wednesday, June 15, 1808, and remained in the vessel until morning, when a carriage conveyed her and her three children to Saint Mary’s Chapel, to assist at Mass, it being the Feast of Corpus Christi, and the day on which the church attached to the Seminary was dedicated to God.

How the soul of Mrs. Seton drank in the splendor and solemnity of the ceremony, the whole scene seeming as it were, a welcome from Heaven for herself and the work which she was about to undertake! At the conclusion of the service, she was introduced to a new circle of friends, whose warm and cordial reception made her feel she had found a home. A few days later, she went to Georgetown for the purpose of placing her two sons at Saint Mary’s College, where they were received free of expense and had also their mother’s care.

As Mrs. Seton’s conversion had excited much attention, her removal from New York to Baltimore and her plan of opening a female academy, only added to the interest given to her affairs. Persons of the first respectability called on her at once. Colonel John Edgar Howard, ex-governor of Maryland, offered her a home in his elegant mansion and asked the privilege of educating her sons and daughters as his own. Grateful for the noble offer, she sweetly declined, saying, “She had not left the world for the purpose of again entertaining it.” She found such peace and love in her new home that she marvels at it, and thus expresses herself in a letter to a friend: “All those little dear attentions of human life from which I was entirely weaned, are now my daily portion from the family of Rev. Mr. Dubourg, whose sister and mother are unwearied in their care of us. In every respect, my condition is like a new being. The fence of our boundary is the only division from a beautiful chapel which is open from daylight till nine at night. Our house is very neat and placed between two orchards and two miles from the city. My prospects of an establishment, I leave to Almighty God.”

She lost no time in telling this happy change of her affairs to her friends at Leghorn, and no one could share her joy or sorrow more truly than Mr. Antonio Filicchi. From him she received a constant assurance of his brotherly interest and a positive command to call upon his agents in New York for whatever she might need – threatening a withdrawal of his letters and even “forgetfulness, if possible,” should she attempt to disobey. Before leaving America he had settled a yearly allowance of $400.00, but he wrote her now: “My means are today double of what they were at the date of my subscription and the prosperity and success I attribute wholly to your prayers; therefore, it is due to you to have what you need. If you are heard so much in Heaven in my behalf, why should I be so ungrateful as to desert you on earth?”

As her new undertaking would require considerable expense, Mrs. Seton wrote Mr. Filicchi a full account of her prospects, asking him to name the amount she might draw from his agent in New York. He responded after the manner of a noble soul, telling her: “You will please to draw on our friends J. Murray and Sons, of New York, for one thousand dollars, charging the same to the account in the world to come, of my brother Philip and of your brother Antonio. If something more should be wanted, you are commanded to quote it to me plainly and positively. Your prayers have so much bettered our mercantile importance, that in spite of all embargoes, political and commercial, troubles which have caused, and will cause the ruin of many, we possess greater means now than before, thanks to God, with the same unalterable good will.”

Without awaiting the above reply, which could not come for several months, but of which Mrs. Seton had no doubt, encouraged by those around her, she opened her boarding school for young ladies in September and easily obtained the limited number proposed. In opening this institution, Mrs. Seton had placed herself under no obligations of a religious nature, yet, in the depths of her soul she longed for the moment when she might consecrate herself to God. She modeled her daily life after the pattern of consecrated spouses, and was most anxious not only to educate the minds of her pupils, but zealous for the cultivation of their hearts and souls.

Happy the young spirits which came under her beautiful influence. Whilst gaining a host of true friends in Baltimore, Mrs. Seton did not forget her friends in New York, especially those whose hearts followed her in love and who longed to be with her – her husband’s sisters.

Cecilia, by becoming a Catholic, suffered much from the prejudice of her friends, and the separation from Mrs. Seton intensified her trials. Both longed for a reunion, and prayed God to hasten the happy moment. In the autumn of 1808, the designs of God regarding Mrs. Seton became more manifest. Rev. Mr. Badade met in Philadelphia, a young lady. Miss Cecilia O’Conway, who was about to cross the Atlantic to seek retirement from the world in a Spanish convent. Having told her and her father of Mrs. Seton’s wish to form a society, Mr. O’Conway took his daughter to Mrs. Seton and offered her as a child whom he consecrated to God; thus on December 7, 1808, Miss O’Conway became her first companion and assisted her in the school. This was the first manifestation of God’s will; the second was the wish of Mr. Cooper, a student of Saint Mary’s College, Baltimore, to give his property for the benefit of the poor and needy, and thus free of worldly encumbrances, to become a minister of the Gospel.

One morning after receiving Holy Communion, Mrs. Seton felt a strong desire to dedicate herself to the care and instruction of poor children. She told Rev. Mr. Dubourg of her desire and that seeing Mr. Cooper before her in church, she had said to our Lord, “He has money; if he would only give it for the bringing up of poor little children to know and love You.”

“Strange,” said Rev, Mr. Dubourg, “Mr. Cooper, this morning, told me of his desire to benefit poor children, and said he would give what he possessed for this purpose and wondered if Mrs. Seton would be willing to undertake it.” The good priest advised both to consider the undertaking for the space of a month without speaking to each other of their plans. At the expiration of the appointed time, each came, separately, to Rev. Mr. Dubourg, with desires unchanged. Bishop Carroll was informed of the design and gave his warmest approbation.

Rev. Mr. Dubourg wished the institution in Baltimore, but Mr. Cooper gently insisted on selecting Emmitsburg as more convenient and suitable for a conventual establishment. Mr. Cooper, like Mrs. Seton, became a convert while in Europe. He was received into the Church in 1807 by Bishop Carroll, at Philadelphia and caused quite a sensation there; for as a man of fortune and education, he had mingled in the fashionable society of that time. Rev. Mr. Dubourg made no delay in purchasing an eligible site for the convent. He chose the place now occupied by the Daughters of Charity – half a mile south of the village of Emmitsburg. A small stone building was the only dwelling on the farm. Rev. Mr. Dubois was pastor of several congregations in Frederick County, and under care the new institution fortunately fell.

In 1809 Rev. Mr. Dubois became a member of the Society of Saint Sulpice and the pupils of the preparatory seminary were placed under his charge. In the spring of that year, sixteen youths were transferred from Abbottstown, Pennsylvania, to the new college near Emmitsburg.

The friends of Mrs. Seton were rejoiced to hear of her new project. Rev. Mr. Cheverus wrote her April 13, 1809: “How admirable is Divine Providence. I see already, immense choirs of virgins following you to the altar. I see your holy order diffusing itself through the different parts of the United States. I have no doubt, my beloved and venerable Sister, that He Who has begun this work will bring it to perfection.” Mrs. Seton never doubted God’s Will and blessed Him from the fulness of a heart abounding in joy and gratitude. Miss Maria Murphy, niece of Matthew Carey, Esq., of Philadelphia, was the second postulant. She came in April, 1809, and in May, Miss Mary Ann Butler, of Philadelphia, and Miss Susan Clossy, of New York, joined them. Several ladies of Baltimore were preparing to enter the community at a convenient time. Mr. Dubourg proposed that the members should dress in uniform, and Mrs. Seton since the death of her husband had worn a black dress with a short black cape and a neat white muslin cap with crimped border, having a band of black crepe around the head and fastened under the chin; it was thought this costume would answer for the present, and accordingly, all donned it June 1, 1809, and the next day, Corpus Christi, they appeared thus attired for the first time in Saint Mary’s Chapel. Shortly after their arrival in Saint Joseph’s Valley, the black cap was introduced and retained.

A plan of life was adopted, such as circumstances would permit, but no particular religious institute was embraced. Bishop Carroll thought it expedient that Mrs. Seton would bind herself, at least for a time, by some special act of consecration, and for this reason, she made, privately, in the presence of the Bishop, a vow to practice poverty, chastity and obedience for the space of one year. Rev. Mr. Dubourg was appointed Superior.

Shortly after receiving the religious habit, the Community received two more members, – Mrs. Rose White and Miss Catherine Mullen, both of Baltimore. Miss Cecilia Seton desired to consecrate herself to God, but her health was very delicate. Accompanied by her sister Harriet, she left for Baltimore, by the advice of her physician, who recommended a sea voyage.

On June 12th, they landed in Baltimore. After a few days the country air was advised for Cecilia, and accordingly, Mrs. Seton, Harriet and Cecilia Seton and Anna, with Sister Maria Murphy, left Baltimore in a coach on the Feast of Saint Aloysius, June 21st, and on the following day arrived at Emmitsburg. The house bought for the Sisters, not being as yet habitable. Rev. Mr. Dubois offered them a log house on the Mountain, and gave them his proverbial hospitable care. A few days later, Mrs. Seton’s two younger daughters joined her at the Mountain. During their sojourn in this romantic abode, grace gained the victory in the heart of Harriet Seton, and after considering all that she must sacrifice – friends, a brilliant marriage with Barclay Bayley, the half brother of Mother Seton – she exclaimed, “I must save my soul, cost what it may.”

The house belonging to the Sisters, having been repaired, Mrs. Seton with her three daughters, two sisters-in-law, and three members of her Community, two of whom were from the neighborhood, took possession on July 30th. On the same day, the rest of the Community left Baltimore for Emmitsburg. Mother Seton’s two sons were with the Sisters, and as they made the journey in a wagon well filled with furniture and baggage, it was not very comfortable traveling, yet, the anticipation of the welcome awaiting them from their beloved Mother, in the spot henceforth to be their home, in Saint Joseph’s Valley, awakened sentiments of the liveliest joy in the hearts of the Sisters and their companions. They reached Emmitsburg on July 31, 1809, Feast of Saint Ignatius.

The house was small, consisting of one story and a garret, having only two rooms on each floor. Here were crowded together, sixteen persons, many of whom had been reared amid the luxuries of life; but the daily Mass and the privilege of having the Blessed Sacrament in a little closet just wide enough to hold a small altar, made them forget every earthly privation.

The Community now numbering ten members, Sarah and Eleanor Thompson being the latest additions, it was determined to form the institute according to the rules of the Daughters of Charity, founded in the year 1642, by Saint Vincent de Paul in France. Rt. Rev. B. J. Flaget, Bishop-elect of Bardstown, was about to embark for France, and he was asked to obtain the rules of Saint Vincent.

The first retreat was opened on August 10th, by Rev. Mr. Dubourg. Mass was said daily in the little chapel. On Sundays the Sisters went to the Mountain Church where they sang the High Mass, after which they remained at the grotto until Vespers. Their noon meal consisted of bread and water. In rainy weather the creek over which they were obliged to pass, became so swollen that a horse would be sent from the college, and the Sisters, one by one would mount and ride across the stream. They were too poor to afford shawls, umbrellas, or other protection from the rain and snow or sleet.

On September 24th, Feast of our Lady of Mercy, Harriet Seton, embraced the faith. She was confirmed by Archbishop Carroll on October 20th, and on December 22, 1809, sweetly slept in the Lord. Mrs. Seton’s natural feelings of sorrow were completely absorbed in her joyous gratitude for the graces granted her beloved sister.

On February 20, 1810, the Sisters, finding part of their new building ready for occupancy. began to move from their small and much crowded house. The first High Mass was sung in the large chapel, March 19, 1810, the Feast of Saint Joseph, under whose special patronage the house had been placed.

In the latter part of April, Cecilia Seton was called to her everlasting home. She died in Baltimore. Her funeral took place from Saint Mary’s Chapel, and she was buried at Emmitsburg in the “Woods,” as the little cemetery was called.

On May 14, 1810, the first boarding pupils, five in number, were received from Frederick County, and these were shortly followed by others.

Towards the end of May, 1810, Mrs. Seton writes: “We are now twelve and as many more waiting for admission. The school is very large. All apply to the Sisters of Charity, who are night and day devoted to the sick and ignorant. Our blessed Bishop intends removing a detachment of us to Baltimore. He is so fond of our establishment that it seems the darling part of his charge. All the clergy of America support it by their prayers and there is every hope that it is a seed of an immensity of future good.” Truly she spoke in prophecy. Not a century has passed, and the “immensity of future good” is wonderfully realized. Her early friend, Bishop Cheverus, accompanied by Bishop Egan, visited the Community in November, 1810. Bishop Cheverus afterwards wrote her: “I almost envy your happiness and that of your Sisters. I hope their pious example has not been lost on me.”

The lively interest of those illustrious dignitaries was a consolation and source of strength to Mother Seton and her Sisters. Father David, afterwards Bishop of Bardstown, Kentucky, was appointed Superior at this time, as Rev. Mr. Dubourg had resigned.

On October 8, 1810, began the second spiritual retreat of the Community, which now numbered fifteen members. On February 23, 1811, their ecclesiastical Superior, Father David, left for Kentucky to give assistance to his friend. Bishop Flaget. What a missionary spirit inspired all those great souls in the early days. No hardships, no fears, no trials, could deter them. God’s work was waiting and their zeal rose to meet the needs of souls. Most Rev. Archbishop Carroll looked after the temporal and spiritual affairs of the Sisters until the appointment of the Rev. Mr. Dubois. The Community was steadily gaining in numbers as well as in spiritual strength, for, following the example of the holy men with whom they were so intimately associated, they welcomed poverty and privations. Pages could be filled, giving an account of their mortified lives. The pangs of hunger and thirst, the chill of unwarmed rooms, the frosty air penetrating garments few and of light material, all these were the daily portion of those heroic women who had offered themselves willing victims for the good of man, through love of God. Sickness, too, came, for natures unused to such hardships, sank under them, though the wills remained strong in the path they had begun to walk.

On January 17th, Bishop Carroll gave his final approbation to the rules and constitution of the Sisters of Charity as modified to suit the country and the times. Mother Seton’s children being young and under her care, an exception to the rule regarding widows, was made in her favor.

An election of officers took place at once. Mrs. Seton was elected Mother Superior; Mrs. Rose White, Assistant; Miss Catherine Mullen, Treasurer, and Miss Ann Gruber, Procuratrix. Immediately after this a spiritual retreat was held, opening February 2d, to awaken a due spirit of fervor in the practice of the new regulations. Mrs. Margaret Cecilia George arrived at Emmitsburg February 1, 1812, to partake of this spiritual feast. She became a very close and dear friend of Mother Seton and a very efficient member of the Council for many years, serving as Treasurer several times, and as Superior of houses in Boston, Frederick, Baltimore, Richmond, New York, and finally in Cincinnati, where God destined her to continue the Society of Mother Seton in its original form; retaining the costume, traditions and designs. Her journal and records at Emmitsburg give the detailed account of the early days in the Valley. Like Charles Carroll, of Carrollton, she was the last surviving signer of a great document – the “Act of Incorporation of the Sisters of Charity of the United States.”

Her father, Professor Farrell, was one of the first professors at Saint Mary’s College, Baltimore. Left a widow at the age of twenty-three, she followed Mother Seton’s example, and before long, at the death of her father, had the happiness of welcoming her own mother to the Valley, and of calling her afterwards Sister Bridget. The annals of the Sisters call her the saintly Sister Bridget. She was the Sister-Servant of the second Mission sent out by Mother Seton. She died in the year 1847 and is buried near Mother Seton’s vault. The husbands of Mrs. Rose White and of Mrs. Margaret George were friends in Baltimore. It is related that practising the art of fencing and trying their skill in friendly combat, Mr. George gave Mr. White a wound from which he never recovered. It did not occur to these gentlemen that their wives would be engaged later, in a spiritual trial of fencing.

The constitution had determined no particular form of habit. The black cap had been adopted shortly after the Sisters took possession of their house at Emmitsburg, and a little later the black bombazine habit was introduced, but during the war of 1812-15, between Great Britain and the United States, it was difficult to procure this imported article; therefore, flannel was substituted and used afterwards during winter and summer.

The brown habit for novices was not determined upon until Madame Guerin (afterwards Sister Madeleine), the sister of Sister Adele Salva, entered. Madame Guerin had led a life of luxury and pleasure in the West Indies, but after the death of her husband she began to reflect on the duties of a Christian, and wished to follow her sister to Saint Joseph’s. While at sea, in some danger, she made a vow to wear a brown dress and cap for three months, in honor of our Blessed Mother, should she arrive safe in port. Before the three months expired, she was admitted into the novitiate and the brown costume was adopted for novices.

Mrs. Seton’s daughter Annina died March 12, 1812, in the seventeenth year of her age, having spent almost a year in the novitiate. But for the influences of our holy religion, Mother Seton could not have bowed in resignation to God’s will, when called upon to surrender so beautiful, so young, so talented, so pious a daughter, the earthly idol of her mother’s heart, and the admiration of all who knew her. The pupils of the school had found in her an example of every virtue and her novice sisters eagerly followed her footsteps in the path of perfection.

When the death of Sister Annina became known, Mrs. Seton received numerous letters of congratulation rather than of condolence, the tenor of all these letters being: “Happy Mother, to have sent such a daughter before you, into Heaven!”

Released from the cares of the sick-room, Mrs. Seton turned her unwearied attention to the wants of the Community and academy.

In September, 1812, Rev. Simon Gabriel Brute, the assistant of Rev. Mr. Dubois, was appointed Superior of the Sisters. Mother Seton felt at once the benefit of his wise counsels and realized in him a congenial spirit. Both were gifted with a lively faith, an ardent temperament and a vivid imagination, and Mrs. Seton learned from him to preserve a holy peace amid trials and difficulties, and to look forward with joy to the term of earthly sufferings.

Most Rev. Archbishop Carroll visited Saint Joseph’s about this time and gave Confirmation in the Sisters’ chapel. His Grace was charmed with the religious spirit of the Sisters and their holy emulation in the practice of virtue. Mother Seton instructed her daughters daily, but her example was the living book, ever open to them, and from which they read clearly and lovingly.

On October 15, 1812, Sister Maria Murphy – the “Dove,” as Mother Seton called her, on account of her lovely disposition – died, leaving the memory of her virtues a sweet heritage to the young Community.

A term of probation of more than a year had been granted to the members, that they might study their obligations, and by prayer assure themselves that God willed them to serve Him in the persons of little children, the suffering, the ignorant, and those who wished higher education in connection with the duties of a Christian. The following eighteen of the Sisters completed their sacrifice on July 19, 1813, Feast of Saint Vincent de Paul, by taking the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience: Mary Elizabeth Ann Seton, Rose White, Catherine Mullen, Elizabeth Boyle, Margaret George, Cecilia O’Conway, Angela Brady, Ann Gruber, Susan Clossy, Mary Ann Butler, Adele Salva, Louise Roger, Sarah and Eleanor Thompson, Martina Quinn, Frances Jordan, Theresa Conway and Julia Shirk.

In August, of the same year, a novitiate in due form was established, Sister Catherine Mullen being appointed Mistress over ten novices, eight of whom had entered during the past year.

These two steps, admission to the vows, and the opening of a novitiate, made the society a complete religious organization, ready for the work to be pointed out by Divine Providence.

The instructions of Mother Seton to her spiritual daughters in those early days, breathe her sincere love of God, her deep humility, a charity boundless and ever visible in manner and speech, thus showing the wealth of kind thoughts from which the words and acts flowed naturally.

God, like earthly fathers, loves to have His children home, and although Saint Joseph’s Valley, was according to a distinguished clergyman of the time, “a paradise on earth,” those called, went gladly to receive the reward of their short labors, having performed a long course in a brief period. Sisters Eleanor Thompson, Benedicta Corish, Agnes Duffy and Catherine Mullen heard the voice of the Master: “Well done,” etc.

The call of death was not the only one heard by this little family, nor was the second call heard less eagerly and joyously. The orphans in Philadelphia were stretching forth their little hands for the care and embrace of mothers, and when the application for Sisters came through her old friend. Father Hurley, Mother Seton’s heart exulted in grateful thanksgiving at the opportunity given her Community of serving the motherless little ones. Sister Rose White and two companions were at once appointed for this, the first mission – Sister Rose White being the Sister-Servant, as the Superiors of local houses belonging to the Daughters of Charity are called.

Like the Mother-House, this first branch was placed under the patronage of Saint Joseph, as a very special care. Although struggles and poverty were the portion of the Sisters in the beginning of this institution, it was not long before God turned toward this charitable work, the eyes and hearts of those who could and did aid the Sisters, socially and financially.

At this time Bishop David wished to incorporate the Sisters of Charity of Kentucky with the Community at Emmitsburg, but such a union was not in the designs of God, for the plans proposed by Bishop David on the one hand and on the other hand by Bishop Dubois, the Superior at Emmitsburg, did not agree, and so they remained separate, each following the same labor of love in perfect union of hearts.

The Kentucky foundation began in the latter part of the year 1812. For two years the members followed a rule drawn up by Bishop David; after that, it was determined to adopt the modified rules and constitution of the Daughters of Charity founded by Saint Vincent de Paul, and to choose a religious uniform consisting of a black habit and cape and a black cap. The black cap was afterwards exchanged for white.

Mrs. Seton was now the guiding spirit, not only of her Sisters, but also of the young ladies of the academy, whom she instructed in their religious duties, and trained for their positions in the literary and social world. She was their mother in the highest sense of the word. Health, pleasure, advancement in every way, and the formation of beautiful characters, – all were the objects of her special vigilance. She used to say, “The faults of young people must be removed by prayers and tears, because they are constitutional and can not be frightened out.”

The hearts of the Sisters and pupils were bound to her by the strongest bonds of love, for all recognized that whether blame or commendation fell from her lips or appeared on her countenance, a mother’s heart was there, and that of a truly Christian mother.

Mother Seton’s eldest son who completed his eighteenth year November 25, 1814, was now at the eventful time of life when a definite path must be selected. War was being carried on between Great Britain and the United States and rendered mercantile affairs very unsettled. Bishop Brute, being called to France, Mother Seton embraced the favorable opportunity of sending William to her true friends, the Messrs. Filicchi, that he might gain a knowledge of business.

On the 20th of July, 1815, according to the Constitution, the second election of officers was held. Mother Seton was re-elected, Sister Elizabeth Boyle was made Assistant, Sister Margaret George was retained in the office of Treasurer and Secretary (which office she had held since 1813, when Sister Catherine Mullen was made Mistress of Novices), Sister Joanna Smith was elected Procuratrix.

About this time, three Sisters were sent to Mount Saint Mary’s College to relieve the cares of the Rev. Mr. Dubois, and as Mother Seton said, “to make some little return for the arduous labors he had undertaken in their behalf.” Sister Bridget Farrell, the saintly mother of Sister Margaret George, was appointed Sister-Servant. Sisters Ann Gruber and Anastasia Nabbs were her companions. They took charge of the infirmary, clothes room and general conduct of the house, thus contributing much to elevate the college in public estimation. This was the second mission from the Mother-House.

When the Community was thus advancing in numbers and strength and sending forth colonies to do the work for which the Sisters were prepared at the Mother-House, they were called upon to bow to the decrees of Providence in the loss of their beloved Father and friend, the Most Rev. John Carroll, on December 3, 1815. At the age of eighty, and in the twenty-sixth of his episcopal life, this great archbishop was called to his reward, lamented by all the Catholics of the country, and deeply mourned in Saint Joseph’s Valley. The trials of his latter days were no doubt sent to give the last touches to a saintly character.

In the spring of 1816, Mother Seton’s second son, Richard, was admitted into the counting-house of one of the principal merchants of Baltimore, and a devout Catholic. Shortly after this, Mr. Philip Filicchi died at Leghorn, August 22, 1816. This was a severe trial to the loving and grateful heart of Mother Seton, who had received so many blessings through this noble gentleman, and scarcely three months later, she was called upon to bear a more severe trial, the loss of her youngest daughter, little Rebecca, who in the winter of 1812 was injured by a fall on the ice and had been a great sufferer and the constant object of her mother’s tenderest care and love. Her death took place November 21, 1816. Mother Seton wrote thus to her son William: “In the arms and on the doting heart of her mother, she gave her last sigh.” Bishop Cheverus and other clergymen wrote Mother Seton that she had reason to rejoice, for they felt assured that her little Rebecca had gone at once to the joys of Heaven, and would obtain unlimited graces for herself and the Sisters in Saint Joseph’s Valley.

What blessings those favored young souls, so many of whom were called in the bloom of innocence and early zeal, must have asked and obtained for the Daughters of Charity. No wonder that in this, our day, when a full century has gone by. Mother Seton’s name is spoken so familiarly and tears are shed over the trials and virtues of that noble woman. Who can doubt that God blessed the seed planted by her hand, when the fruitage in so brief a space is thus rich and abundant!

To guard against difficulties which might arise regarding the property held by the Sisters, it was deemed advisable that the Community should be incorporated. Mother Seton asked the advantage of such an act, and being told that “it would give the Sisters a right to sue and to be sued,” she replied, “I can not see any advantage in that;” but as the friends of the institution considered it a matter of prudence, she yielded.

Through the exertion of General Harper, son-in-law of Charles Carroll, of Carrollton, an act for the incorporation of the Sisterhood was passed by the Maryland Legislature in January, 1817, and the farm occupied by them was transferred in their own right. Mr. Emmit, who formerly owned this piece of land, attempted to recover it, alleging that there was a flaw in the early deeds. The Sisters had recourse to prayer, their unfailing protection against injustice, and Providence intervened in a striking and fear-inspiring manner. Mr. Emmit, while walking through Emmitsburg, though seemingly in robust health, suddenly fell in the street and died. The whole country looked upon this sad event as a vindication of the Sisters* cause by the Almighty, and court proceedings against them ceased.

New York, having observed the good work of the Sisters in Philadelphia, made application to Saint Joseph’s for a number of Sisters to care for the orphans of that city. How the heart of Mother Seton must have rejoiced when God called her Daughters to her native place, and how her friends and estranged relations must have marveled at the rapid strides her work was making. She had left New York the victim of prejudice in 1809, now, on the 20th of June, 1817, she sends a colony of Sisters to begin a work, the extent of which, within a century, has gone far beyond the wildest dreams of philanthropists.

Sister Rose White has made the Orphan Asylum in Philadelphia so successful, that she was deemed eminently qualified for the opening in New York. Sisters Cecilia O’Conway and Felicita Brady were her companions.

The Sisters were located in a small frame building on Prince Street. Five orphans were at once confided to their care. Mother Seton’s joy at aiding her native city was followed by the great happiness of meeting her son William who came to the United States for the purpose of entering the Navy, a step which he had not taken earlier, in deference to his mother’s wishes. His place in the mercantile establishment of Mr. Filicchi was given to Richard Seton, his younger brother, who set out for Italy in the autumn of 1817.

Right Rev. William Valentine Dubourg, the chief instrument in the foundation of Mother Seton’s Community, and the first ecclesiastical Superior, was now on his way from Rome, to take charge of his new See – New Orleans. He could not refrain from giving himself and the Sisters the pleasure of a visit, and found the little mustard seed which he had planted, grown into a stately tree, diffusing far and wide the refreshing odors of charity. His Lordship was delighted to find a community of more than thirty members and the academy with upward of seventy pupils. Orphans and poor children at Emmitsburg, in Philadelphia and New York, were receiving the zealous care of the Sisters. He administered Confirmation to pupils and novices.

Shortly after this, God called to Himself, several friends of the Sisters. Rev. Charles Duhamel died in February, 1818. He had charge of the Church at Emmitsburg and gave much of his time to the spiritual welfare of Saint Joseph’s. His loss, deeply felt by the Sisters, and a very keen sorrow to Rev. Mr. Dubois, was intensified by the removal of Rev. John Hickey to the College in Baltimore. Their early friend, Rev. Dr. Matignon, was also called to his eternal recompense and fears were entertained that Mother Seton might soon pass from her children here on earth, but God heard the prayers of those who felt the need of her heroic love, and she was reserved for the future good of her religious daughters.

July of this year, 1818, was the time for a third election, and contrary to the Constitution, but by a very special exception, which was asked by all. Mother Seton was elected Mother Superior for a third time in succession. This act, in a letter to one of the Sisters, she calls an election of the dead, and before the end of the term, she had left life’s cares and trials, and gone to that Eternity which was ever on her lips and more deeply in her heart.

Mother Seton had at heart, two objects, both very dear to her. The one was the building of a chapel. “We have a dwelling for ourselves and pupils, why can not we have a small but neat chapel for our dear Master who condescends to reside on our altars?” Having been told by the Treasurer, Sister Margaret George, that the house was out of debt and that she had funds to the amount of $1,600.00, she thought preparations might be made for the proposed building. As soon as her health permitted, she and the other Sisters walked over the premises and Mother pointed out the site for the church; but after deliberation, it was thought prudent to defer the chapel and to erect instead, a suitable school building for poor children, her second fondly cherished project. In later years a beautiful chapel was built on the site selected by Mother Seton.

A free school in connection with the academy had been conducted for several years, but the accommodations were not such as Mother Seton desired. In 1820, a two-story brick building was erected, and here the children of the poorer classes received gratuitous instruction, were provided with a substantial meal, and were in every sense, the objects of Mother Seton’s tenderest care and love. She also opened a free school for the children of the German church in Philadelphia about the same time. Before her death, she had the gratification of seeing her Community perform the various offices of charity to the poor and suffering. She saw her Sisters full of zeal for the education of the young, whether in the free schools or academies, confided to their care; in fine, she saw, firmly established in the United States, the great work of beneficence performed by the Sisters of Charity in other parts of the world.

Death was not an infrequent visitor in the Valley. The early hardships were telling on the delicate constitutions which could not give to organs and muscles, their heroic strength of soul. Several Sisters died, and Mother Seton’s health was irreparably broken. The Sisters saw with untold regret, the daily weakening of her physical strength and felt that God would soon ask of them their beloved Mother’s earthly presence.

The summons to Mother Seton and the sacrifice to her children came on the morning of January 4, 1821. The Sisters were assembled for meditation, when Sister Xavier Clark, the Assistant, came to the door and said, “My Sisters, your Mother is no more.” The grief of the Sisters may not be described. They had lost their foundress, their mother, their sweetest earthly comfort. Her precious words of instruction and her living example were theirs now only in memory, but what a rich heritage!

Time has not dulled the appreciation of her beautiful writings either as literary or religious productions, and the work of the Sisters of Charity shows that though Mother Seton died in the flesh on January 4, 1821, she still lives in the hearts and the homes of the Daughters of Charity.

On January 5, 1821, the desolate hearts of the Sisters accompanied the remains of Mother Seton to the spot in the “Woods,” so often pointed out by her own children and ornamented by them with rose bushes and wild flowers. A single cross was placed at her head, emblem of all her conflicts and victories. “In the cross is life, in the cross is protection from our enemies, in the cross is joy of spirit.”

While the obsequies were being performed, many Masses were being offered wherever her name had been spoken, as it always was in benediction. The poor, suffering, the young, and her dear Community poured forth their hearts in petition for her eternal triumph. As times goes on, these various ranks are thronged, and prayers still rise to Heaven at the mention of her name.

Catherine Josephine was the only one of Mother Seton’s children with her at her last solemn moment. In June, 1821, William Seton having returned on the “Macedonian,” which had cruised in the Pacific for two years, sent a note to his Mother announcing his return and his impatience to see her, and without awaiting an answer, hastened to Saint Joseph’s Valley which he found clothed in its lovely summer garb, but no mother was at the door to welcome him. Father Brute met him and told the sad, beautiful story of his saintly mother’s passing away. Richard had seen her during her illness, but had taken his final leave, called back to Europe by the demands of business. Some years afterward, he was lost at sea. William married. His son, now Archbishop Seton, residing in Rome, was connected with Seton Hall College, New Jersey, for many years. The College was founded by Archbishop Bayley.

Mother Seton’s Daughters are the pioneer religious of Ohio. The first house in Cincinnati, opened October 27, 1829. The Sisters were brought here by Bishop Fenwick and placed near the Cathedral, then on Sycamore Street. The Sisters, following the example of Mother Seton, opened an academy, a poor school, and an orphan asylum. This Mission had for its Superior in 1850, Sister Margaret Cecilia George, destined to be the last of the original incorporators of the Sisters of Charity of Emmitsburg. Mother Elizabeth Boyle, of New York, was still living at the time of the affiliation with France, but she and thirty-five other Sisters had formed a branch independent of Emmitsburg. Mother Elizabeth died in 1861, and Mother Margaret George in 1868.

When the affiliation of the Sisters at Emmitsburg with France was proposed to the Sisters in Cincinnati, Sisters Margaret George, Sophia Gillmeyer, Anthony O’Connell, Josephine Harvey and Regina Mattingly, sent a protest to the council at Emmitsburg. They had entered an American Community, the rules of which had been formed from the regulations of Saint Vincent de Paul, but modified to suit American needs. Mother Margaret had been following them for forty years and had watched jealously lest any change might be introduced. She had heard Archbishop Carroll and Mother Seton analyze every point of these obligations and knew their plans for the future of the Society so dear to their hearts. In those early days, she felt they were inspired by God, and, in her later years, when she alone of the original incorporators was left to see the work spread over the United States, she realized that they had looked into the future, one hundred years, and had laid the foundation of our great works of charity. In this Centennial year, the whole Catholic world is noticing with joyous astonishment the marvelous extent of Mother Seton’s work. Our parochial school system, the surprise of the world and the delight of the Church, inaugurated by her a century ago, when there was but one Archbishop in this vast country, proves that she was chosen by God for an American work and one much in advance of her own time. Her academy at Saint Joseph’s, Emmitsburg, sometimes given as third in the United States, was really the first opened by religious; for the Ursuline Academy, begun a few years earlier, in New Orleans, Louisiana, then a Province of France, did not belong to the United States. The Foundress of the Visitations at Georgetown, had opened an academy, a few years before Mother Seton began her school in Baltimore, but the Visitation Nuns were not approved until 1816, while the Sisters of Charity received Archbishop Carroll’s approbation January 17, 1812.

Before the Community at Emmitsburg affiliated with the Daughters of Charity in France, there were foundations, and often several in one city, as follows:

  • Alabama
    • Mobile
  • Delaware
    • Wilmington
  • District of Columbia
    • Washington
  • Indiana
    • Vincennes
    • Evansville
  • Louisiana
    • Donaldsonville
    • New Orleans
  • Maryland
    • Baltimore
    • Emmitsburg
    • Frederick
  • Massachusetts
    • Boston
  • Michigan
    • Detroit
  • Mississippi
    • Natchez
  • Missouri
    • Saint Louis
  • New Jesery
    • Newark
  • New York state
    • Albany
    • New York
    • Buffalo
    • Brooklyn
    • Rochester
    • Syracuse
    • Troy
    • Utica
  • Ohio
    • Cincinnati
  • Pennsylvania
    • Harrisburgh
    • Philadelphia
    • Pittsburg
  • Virginia
    • Alexandria
    • Richmond
    • Norfolk
  • Wisconsin
    • Milwaukee

In 1857, Bishop Bayley, of Newark, nephew of Mother Seton, wishing to establish a diocesan community to follow the rules of Mother Seton, and desiring the training of Mother Margaret George, sent five postulants to Mount Saint Vincent, Cedar Grove, Cincinnati. At the end of their novitiate, Bishop Bayley asked Mother Margaret or some one of her appointment to return with the Sisters to New Jersey and to remain with them sufficiently long to establish them firmly in the duties of a Sister of Charity. Mother Margaret and Sister Anthony were named to go, but Archbishop Purcell decided later that Cincinnati could not spare any of the Sisters, and Mother Margaret interceded with Mother Jerome of New York, who sent Sisters Xavier and Catherine. The former has been the revered Superior of the Madison Community these fifty years. Saint Elizabeth College, Convent Station, New Jersey, and its many, many branches, show how well Mother Xavier executed the trust reposed in her. Sister Mary Joseph Plunket, one of the five trained in the Cincinnati novitiate, still lives, blessed by God with fulness of days and merits. This is the Golden Jubilee year of the Convent Station Community.

In 1870, Bishop Domenec, of Pittsburg, desiring a diocesan branch of Mother Seton’s Community, sent four postulants to be trained at Mount Saint Vincent, Cedar Grove, Cincinnati, Ohio. Their novitiate ended, the four young Sisters returned to the Pittsburg diocese and the Mother-House was opened at Altoona, Pennsylvania. Four of the Cincinnati Sisters accompanied the Pittsburg Sisters, and were to remain with them a limited time, and to be withdrawn one by one. Finally, all were called but Mother Aloysia Lowe and Sister Ann Reglna Ennis, the former being Mother Superior and the latter Mistress of Novices. These two Sisters were urged by Bishop Tuigg to remain with the young community, and Superiors in Cincinnati, regarding it as God’s Will, advised them to follow the Bishop’s wish. Mother Aloysia governed the community firmly, but tenderly, and before her death, Christmas, 1889, had the satisfaction of seeing the Sisters in their new Mother-House, at Seton Hill, Greensburg, Pa., the academy having been blessed and the chapel dedicated May 3, 1889. Mother Aloysia’s term of office had expired July 19, 1889. She was succeeded by Sister Ann Regina, who followed closely in the footsteps of her predecessor, until God called her to her eternal reward May 16, 1894.

The Sisters at Greensburg number more than three hundred members. Their Saint Joseph Academy at the Mother-House, is a very flourishing institution. They teach from twenty to thirty parochial schools in the diocese of Altoona and Pittsburg, and they conduct the Pittsburg Hospital, Roselia Foundling Asylum, and an Institute for the deaf and mute, in the city of Pittsburg.

The Halifax, Nova Scotia, branch of the New York Community, is very large and has flourishing institutions in Nova Scotia, the Bermudas, and the Eastern States. The New York Community, numbering some fifteen hundred Sisters, has houses all through New York State, the Bahama Islands and many magnificent establishments in the heart of New York, Mother Seton’s native city. Their work of almost a century is their panegyric. Written or spoken words could bear to the soul of man no impression equal to that produced by a visit to their foundling and orphan asylums, their protectory, their hospitals, their schools and academies.

The Cincinnati Sisters, about eight hundred in number, have their Mother-House at Mount Saint Joseph-on-the-Ohio and their seventy branch houses in Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Colorado and New Mexico. The Sisters of Charity are in every state of the Union and, whatever the head-dress, hearts and hands are performing the same deeds of charity through love of Him to whom they have consecrated their lives.

As we look over the vast fields prepared by Mother Seton, we count with uplifted hearts the thousands who claim her as a Mother and who appear before the world as she did, one hundred years ago, and turning our soul’s vision beyond the veil which separates the Church Militant from the Church Triumphant we count several thousand more enjoying with her delights which “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive.”

About This EBook

The text of this ebook was taken from the book Mother Seton, Foundress of the Sisters of Charity, by Sister Mary Agnes McCann. The edition used was the second, published by The Sisters of Charity, Mount Saint Joseph-on-the-Ohio, March 1911.

It has the Imprimatur of Archbishop Henry Moeller, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio.

It has the opening statement – “This little book is published that they children educated by Mother Elizabeth Bayley Seton’s Daughters, the Sisters of Charity, may know the history of her who, a century ago, laid the foundation for the great work of parochial education in the United States. This whole Catholic world is hoping for her beatification, and the Sisterhood founded by her is sending unceasing petitions to God to hasten the day when Mother Seton’s name may be numbered on the calendar of God’s saints. Her Cincinnati Daughters offer this little tribute with the loyal love which was bequeathed to them by her early companion – Mother Margaret Cecilia George.