St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was born into an Episcopalian family, in New York’s high society, on August 28, 1774. Her father, Dr. Richard Bayley, was a renowned professor at Columbia College, and her mother, Catherine Charlton, was the daughter of an Anglican minister. She died when Elizabeth was three, leaving her and two other young daughters.
Elizabeth married in the Episcopalian Church on January 25, 1794, to William Magee Seton. They had five children together before William’s business failed, and he died of tuberculosis. At the age of 30, Elizabeth was penniless, a widow, and left with five children to support.
Before William died, he and Elizabeth had visited Italy, where she witnessed Catholicism and became very interested, focusing especially on the devotion to the Blessed Mother and the biblical basis for the faith. On Ash Wednesday, March 14, 1805, she became a Catholic.
Her conversion caused a great strain between Elizabeth and her Protestant family and friends. She left New York and opened a school in Baltimore to support her children. The school followed the lines of a religious community, and in 1812, Elizabeth was elected superior of the Sisters of Charity, the first American religious community for women, against her will.
Her letters reveal her true spirituality, including the trials she suffered — the death of her husband and two young daughters, and a wayward son — and the faith she placed in God. She died on January 4, 1821, and was the first American-born citizen to be beatified in 1963, and then canonized in 1975. She is the patron saint of Catholic schools.
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