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Posts Tagged ‘Mother Seton’

It is the very nature of love to make us seek the presence of the person we love, and to delight in their company and conversation. Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton

We have spent the last few months on a journey through the Middle Ages looking at the lives of Christian Women Mystics. It is time to turn to the stories of many other saints in other times in the history of the church.

Thsaintelizabethannsetonis week I would like to share some writings of Elizabeth Ann Seton. Though “Mother” Seton lived well after the Middle ages, (she was born in 1774 and died in 1821), her writings show a strong desire to have union with Christ and therefore we can place Elizabeth Seton among the Christian Mystic saints. Mother Seton comforted many thousands of Christians who looked to her as an inspiration in contemplating Christ. Her closeness and utter dependence on Christ place her among mystic saints. Mother Seton said, “This union of my soul with God is my wealth in poverty and joy in deepest affliction.” Elizabeth was so completely aware of God’s presence at all times that she inspired everyone around her.

I have already done a post on Mother Seton (August 3, 2015). There you will find the details of her life – her happy marriage, motherhood, and the founding of the American order of the Sisters of Charity. You will also see the tragedies she suffered – the deaths of her mother at an early age, her father, her husband, and her two daughters. Through all of life Elizabeth trusted and depended on God. She never let troubles get her down. Through all heartaches, deaths of loved ones, poverty, and the many challenges as she started her charitable work she turned to God Who did not let her down but provided for her and often in unexpected ways.

Elizabeth was raised as an Episcopalian. After her husband’s tragic early death, she was introduced to Catholicism by her husband’s Catholic relatives. Elizabeth was also influenced by Abbe Louis William Valentine Dubourg, a member of the Sulpician Fathers. The Sulpicians went to North America around 1800 as refugees escaping from the Reign of Terror that occurred in France in the 1790’s. Elizabeth was inspired by the goals of the Sulpicians to start religious schools in North America. She longed to start a school for the poor also.

Elizabeth’s love for Christ and for the poor was all that mattered to her. Founding a religious order similar to other Catholic Religious orders was the method she chose to fulfill her dream of free education for the poor. She joined the Catholic church and began her order with just a few sisters. The American Sisters of Charity adopted the rules written by St. Vincent de Paul for the Daughters of Charity in France. (See related post on Louise de Marillac, November 15, 2016.)

After founding the Sisters of Charity, Elizabeth worked tirelessly for twenty years and then slowly and painfully succumbed to tuberculosis. On her deathbed she offered prayers for the sick and dying. She was unselfish in her devotion to Christ and others right up to the end of her life. She died surrounded by Sisters on January 4, 1821.

At the time of her death there were more than twenty communities of Sisters of Charity. The sisters opened schools, built orphanages, boarding schools, and hospitals in 8 states and the District of Columbia.

During Elizabeth’s final years she spent much time ministering to the elderly. Because of her vibrant faith and anticipation of life in Heaven after death, she was able to comfort many who were dying. Here is something she shared with one friend who was at death’s door, “In the course of the day, while you work or pray, sometimes think: “Oh, how happy I am! Jesus, my dear Jesus, is coming to me. Oh, dearest Lord, prepare me for Yourself.”

Following are quotes from her many letters to family and friends (Taken from “The Collected Writings of Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton”.)

“What was the first rule of our dear Savior’s life? You know if was to do his Father’s will. eliz-seton-quoteWell, then, the first purpose of our daily work is to do the will of God; secondly, to do it in the manner he wills; and thirdly, to do it because it is his will. We know certainly that our God calls us to a holy life. We know that he gives us every grace, every abundant grace; and though we are so weak of ourselves, this grace is able to carry us through every obstacle and difficulty.”

“Faith lifts the soul, Hope supports it, Experience says it must and Love says … let it be!”

“The gate of heaven is very low; only the humble can enter it.”

From a letter to Cecilia, October 7, 1805 – “and in every disappointment great or small let your dear heart fly direct to Him your dear Saviour throwing yourself in his arms for refuge against every pain and sorrow ‘He will never leave you nor forsake you.’”

“We must pray literally -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.

“The accidents of life separate us from our dearest friends, but let us not despair. God is like a looking glass in which souls see each other. The more we are united to Him by love, the nearer we are to those who belong to Him.”

“Our God loves us; this is our comfort.”

“He gives us every grace … this grace is able to carry us through every obstacle and difficulty.”

“How liable we are to err in our judgments respecting others, unless we thoroughly know the motives of their actions.”

“Trust all, indeed, to Him my dear one; put all in His hands…”

“Cheerfulness prepares a glorious mind for all the noblest acts.”

“Live simply so that others may simply live.”

“Blessed, blessed Lord, keep us always in your company and press our weak hearts forever in your service.”

“Oh my God, forgive what I have been, correct what I am, and direct what I shall be.”

“Without prayer I should be of little service.”

And last, but not least, a prayer we all should say every day:

“How gracious is the Lord who strengthens my poor soul!”

 

 

 

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A series on Nineteenth Century women who made a difference in society, following Christ by serving others must include Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton.

Elizabeth SetonElizabeth Seton founded the American Sisters of Charity in 1808 and served as the Mother Superior from 1809 until her death in 1821. At the time of her death there were more than twenty communities of Sisters of Charity. The sisters opened schools, built orphanages, boarding schools, and hospitals in 8 states and the District of Columbia.

Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born to a prominent Anglican family in New York on August 28, 1774. (2 years before the start of the American fight for independence.) Her mother died when she was only three and so her father raised her and her sister.

Elizabeth was bright, charming, fluent in French, a fine musician, and an accomplished horsewoman. She was popular wherever she went. She captured the heart of William Seton and they were married. They had five children and the marriage was a very happy one.

Sadly, after only a few years William began to suffer ill health. When his father died the Seton’s fortunes began to decline. William began to worry about being sent to debtor’s prison. Elizabeth was certain that God would provide. “Troubles always create a great exertion of my mind,” she wrote, “and give it a force to which at other times it is incapable… I think the greatest happiness of this life is to be released from the cares of what is called the world.” God would test Elizabeth’s resolve in overcoming the cares of the world again and again.

Elizabeth took care of her husband through his illness and bankruptcy. She had to take the children to live with her father for a time. Tragedy struck when the yellow fever came to New York and claimed Elizabeth’s father as a victim. She was grief stricken and lonely.

Elizabeth returned home to care for William. Elizabeth turned to her Bible to get comfort from God. In May of 1802 Elizabeth surrendered her life to God.

In 1803 a doctor suggested a sea journey for William’s health. Elizabeth sold everything to pay for the voyage. The Seton’s traveled to Italy to visit some friends. Unfortunately, when the boat arrived they were forced to stay in quarantine in primitive living conditions because they possibly carried the yellow fever from New York. Elizabeth later said that these were the most horrible forty days of her life. She nursed William but he died two days after Christmas in Pisa. He was only thirty-seven.

Elizabeth stayed with her Italian friends while waiting to return to America. Here she became deeply impressed with the Roman Catholic faith. For Elizabeth the Virgin Mary became a real person to her. Having been raised motherless, Elizabeth longed for a mother. When she decided to embrace the Roman Catholic religion Elizabeth said, “I felt really I had a Mother – which you know my foolish heart so often lamented to have in early days.” After finding Mary, Elizabeth felt that she had found even more than a mother, but a true friend as well.

Elizabeth returned to America. Her friends and relatives were mystified at her change of religion and did not give her much support. Elizabeth tried desperately to raise her family alone. Finally she opened a boardinghouse for schoolboys. After many struggles she was offered a home and a teaching position in Baltimore. She accepted and left New York for her new home in Maryland on June 8, 1808.

Within a year Elizabeth was given some property in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Here she, her sisters-in-law – Cecelia and Harriet, her three daughters, and four other young women founded the new religious order that would come to be known as the Sisters of Charity. The foundation began in a tiny log cabin in Emmitsburg. In the years that
followed orphanages and schools were founded. Women took the work to Philadelphia and New York, Ohio, Delaware, Massachusetts, Virginia, Missouri, and Louisiana, and the District of Columbia. Less than a decade after her death, the first Catholic hospital in America was established by the Sisters of Charity.

As the first Mother Superior of the new order, Elizabeth adopted the rules and with a few modifications the constitution of St. Vincent de Paul. The sisters received a group of buildings for their religious residence and charitable work. They had a boarding school for girls, a school for poor children, and an orphan asylum.

Elizabeth trusted and depended on God. She never let troubles get her down. She grew through her troubles. The excruciatingly horrible forty days of quarantine in a drafty cold stone building prepared her to have compassion on the poor and destitute. She never felt sorry for herself but trusted in God her Savior. Through all heartaches, deaths of her mother, father, and husband, poverty, and challenges as she started her charitable work she turned to God Who did not let her down but provided for her and often in unexpected ways.

Elizabeth worked tirelessly for twenty years and then slowly and painfully succumbed to tuberculosis. On her deathbed she offered prayers for the sick and dying. She was unselfish in her devotion to Christ and others right up to the end of her life. She died surrounded by Sisters on January 4, 1821.

Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1975.

Elizabeth was one of many Catholic women who contributed to the charitable care of the
poor in the nineteenth century. Before the Sisters of Charity went to Louisiana, theUrsulines health care Ursuline Sisters were already there. The Ursulines worked in a hospital in New Orleans in the eighteenth century. They founded Ursuline Academyan academy in 1727 for girls. It is still going today and is considered a foremost school. From there came the first female pharmacist. The Ursulines were the first in caring for and educating African-American girls before anyone else did.

Many Catholic women followed in Elizabeth Seton’s footsteps. Catholic hospitals were often the first institutions established on the frontier in the nineteenth century. The Sisters of Charity were invited to help at hospitals in Vancouver and other places in the Northwest. By 1902 there were eleven hospitals in Washington and Oregon. We thank God for women like Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton who will give their lives in service to others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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