Memorial of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, religious

Saint Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton (August 28, 1774 – January 4, 1821) was the first native-born citizen of the United States to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church (September 14, 1975).


Elizabeth Ann Seton was born on August 28, 1774 to Richard Bayley and Catherine Charlton of New York City.[1] She was raised in the Episcopal Church. Her mother, daughter of an Episcopal priest, died when Elizabeth was three. At the age of nineteen, she married William Magee Seton, a wealthy businessman. Five children were born to the marriage, Anna Maria, William, Richard, Catherine, and Rebecca.

Her home in Manhattan, New York City, was located at the site on which a church now stands in her honor, with the formerly matching building at the right (7 State Street) forming part of the shrine

Her husband’s business lost several ships at sea and the family ended up bankrupt. Soon after, her husband became ill and his doctors sent him to Italy (Livorno) for the warmer climate, with Elizabeth and their eldest daughter accompanying him. In Italy, they were held in quarantine, during which time her husband died. She spent time with a wealthy family where she was exposed to Catholicism. Two years later, after her return to the United States, she converted to Roman Catholicism, on March 14, 1805 and was received into the Church by the pastor of St. Peter’s Church, the only Catholic church open in the city at that time due to the recent lifting of anti-Catholic laws under the new Republic. A year later, she was confirmed by the first bishop of Baltimore, John Carroll.

To support her children, she started a hospital, but it failed due to the anti-Catholic sentiment of the day.[citation needed] By chance, around this time Mrs. Seton met a visiting priest, the Abbé Louis Dubourg, S.S., who was a member of the French emigré community of Sulpician Fathers. The priests had taken refuge in the United States from the religious persecution of the Reign of Terror in France, and were in the process of establishing the first Catholic seminary for the United States, in keeping with the goals of their Order. For several years, Dubourg had envisioned a religious school to meet the educational needs of the small Catholic community in the nation.

In 1809, after some trying and difficult years, Elizabeth accepted the invitation of support the Sulpicians made to her and moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland. A year later she established the Saint Joseph’s Academy and Free School, a school dedicated to the education of Catholic girls, due to the financial support of Samuel Sutherland Cooper. He was a wealthy convert and seminarian at the newly established Mount St. Mary’s College and Seminary, begun by the Abbé (later Bishop) John Dubois, S.S., and the Sulpicians.

Eventually, Elizabeth was able to establish a religious community in Emmitsburg, Maryland dedicated to the care of the children of the poor. It was the first religious community of non-cloistered Religious Sisters to be founded in the United States, and its school was the first free Catholic school in America. The order was called the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph.

The remainder of Elizabeth’s life was spent in leading and developing the new congregation. Today, six separate religious communities trace their roots to the humble beginnings of the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland. In addition to the original community of Sisters at Emmitsburg (though now part of an older institute), they are based in New York City, Cincinnati, Ohio, Halifax, N.S., Convent Station, New Jersey and Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

St. Joseph’s Academy eventually developed into Saint Joseph College, which closed in 1973. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) purchased the buildings and land of Saint Joseph College in 1979 and it is now the site of the National Emergency Training Center (NETC) housing the Emergency Management Institute, the United States Fire Administration and the National Fire Academy.

Elizabeth was described as a charming and cultured lady. Her connections to New York society and the accompanying social pressures to leave the new life she had created for herself did not deter her from embracing her religious vocation and charitable mission. She established St. Joseph’s Academy and Free School in order to educate young girls to live by religious values. The greatest difficulties she faced were actually internal, stemming from misunderstandings, interpersonal conflicts, and the deaths of two daughters, other loved ones, and young sisters in community. She died of tuberculosis at the age of 46 in 1821 in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Today, her remains are entombed in the Basilica that bears her name: the Basilica of the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Dedicated to following the will of God, Elizabeth Ann had a deep devotion to the Eucharist, Sacred Scripture and the Virgin Mary. The 23rd Psalm was her favorite prayer throughout her life. She was a woman of prayer and service who embraced the apostolic spirituality of Saint Louise de Marillac and Saint Vincent de Paul. It had been her original intention—as well as of the Sulpician Fathers who guided them—to join the Daughters of Charity founded by these saints, but the embargo of France due to the Napoleonic Wars prevented this connection. It was only decades later, in 1850, that the Emmitsburg community took the steps to merge with the Daughters, and become their American branch, as their foundress had envisioned.

“We must pray literally without ceasing—without ceasing—in every occurrence and employment of our lives . . . that prayer of the heart which is independent of place or situation, or which is rather a habit of lifting up the heart to God as in a constant communication with Him.” Elizabeth Ann Seton.


On December 18, 1959, Elizabeth was declared Venerable by the Sacred Congregation of Rites of the Catholic Church. She was beatified by Pope John XXIII on March 17, 1963, and canonized by Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975, making her the first native-born United States citizen to be canonized. Her feast day is January 4.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is popularly considered a patron saint of Catholic schools. Her name appears on the front two doors of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, as a “Daughter of New York”. The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, is open to the public. In addition, In New York City, the Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was built on the site of her home in Manhattan, and is accessible to the public.[2] She had many schools named after her.

The Mother Seton House at Baltimore, Maryland was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.[3] The house had been offered as an inducement to Elizabeth Seton to come to Baltimore in 1808 and there to found a school and occupy the then newly completed house.[4] It is now operated as a museum by St. Mary’s Seminary.

In 2009, she was added to the Calendar of Saints for the Episcopal Church (United States) with a minor feast day on January 4.

St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church in Raleigh, North Carolina has a relic of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton inside the main altar.[5]


As a pre-condition for canonization, the Catholic Church requires a saint who has not been martyred to have performed at least two miracles.[6] The Holy See recognised that this pre-condition was met by attributing three miracles to Elizabeth[7][8]:


The Seton Hill neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland is named for Mother Seton. Mother Seton School, a Catholic elementary school in Emmitsburg, Maryland,[9] traces its roots directly to St. Joseph’s Academy and Free School, founded by St. Elizabeth Ann in 1810.

One of her half-nephews, James Roosevelt Bayley, would later also convert, and himself go on to became the first Catholic bishop of Newark and eventually Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. In 1856 he founded the first major institution named in her honor Seton Hall College (which is now Seton Hall University).

Quite a number of churches, other schools and hospitals have been named for Elizabeth Seton:

St. Elizabeth Seton, or St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, is a popular name for Catholic parishes in the United States as well as schools, colleges, libraries and hospitals.[citation needed]

She was honored by the Office of the Manhattan Borough President in March of 2008 and was included in a map of historical sites related or dedicated to important women. [10]