Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, A Woman of Faith Maryellen Blumlein, SC
Born into a prominent New YorkEpiscopalian family, Elizabeth AnnBayley Seton had a deep faith inGod from an early age. Her motherdied when she was four years oldand, despite the pain and hardshipthis caused, Elizabeth continued tobelieve in God’s great love for her.She saw her doctor father as hetreated the poor and immigrants ofNew York City, and from him learnedJesus’ gospel message of caring forthe poor, sick, and less fortunatepeople of her native city.
She attended Sunday Church servicesat Holy Trinity Church and was agood friend of her pastor, the Rev.Henry Hobart. She married WilliamMagee Seton, a scion in the shippingbusiness. They were extremely happyand had ﬁve children who werebaptized in the Episcopalian faith.
When William’s business began to fail,he succumbed to the “family illness”–tuberculosis. With his declining health,Elizabeth and her eldest daughter, AnnaMaria, sailed with William to Italy in thehopes of improving his physical health.Here they remained in a lazaretto untilthey were ﬁnally allowed into thecountry and could stay at the home ofWilliam’s business partner, AntonioFilicchi. William died shortly after onDecember 27, 1803, leaving Elizabeth awidow with ﬁve children, as well asWilliam’s younger brothers and sisters tocare for. But she continued to believe inGod’s love for her and accept His will inboth good and challenging times.
Awaiting return passage to New York,Elizabeth and Anna Maria remained in thecare of the kind and religious Filicchi familywhere they learned about the RomanCatholic faith. As an Episcopalian Elizabethbelieved in Jesus, but not in the realpresence of Jesus in the Eucharist as did theCatholic Filicchi family. Elizabeth longed tobe able to receive Jesus’ body and blood inCommunion, and began to take instructionsin the Catholic faith during the months sheremained in Italy. Upon her return to NewYork, she decided to make her profession offaith as a Catholic and began instructionsfor First Holy Communion andConﬁrmation which she received at St.Peter’s Church on Barclay Street.
Because of her conversion to “thefaith of the immigrants,” many ofElizabeth’s friends would no longerassociate with her. She was invited tomove to Baltimore and begin aschool for girls. In this way she wasable to support and care for herchildren. She was eventually givenland in St. Joseph’s Valley, nearEmmitsburg, where the community ofthe American Sisters of Charity beganto blossom. Elizabeth’s faith andsimplicity attracted other women tofollow in Jesus’ footsteps. The Sistersof Charity professed vows of poverty,chastity and obedience and took uptheir work of education.
Mother Seton sent Sisters to Philadelphia to takeover an orphanage, and in 1817 sent three Sistersto her native New York to take over the care oforphans in what came to be known as St.Patrick’s Orphanage. Mother Seton faced manyhardships in her life. From the time of hermother’s death, Elizabeth was no stranger to lossand struggle. Her husband and several of herchildren, as well as many younger members ofher ﬂedgling community died from tuberculosis.She and her Sisters lived in great poverty, andMother Seton constantly prayed for God’sprovidence and care for the Sisters and thechildren with whom they worked. Despite thesedifﬁculties, Elizabeth’s faith remained constantand strong. She knew that she and her missionwere held in God’s loving hands and heart.
On January 4, 1821, MotherElizabeth Seton died of tuberculosisin the chapel of The White House,surrounded by her Sisters and herSavior. To her last minutes sheprofessed her love for her DivineMaster and encouraged her Sisters toremain faithful to the Gospel of OurLord Jesus Christ and to be everfaithful “children of the Church.”
About the AuthorMaryellen Blumlein, SC, taught English and religionin elementary and secondary schools in New York.Currently she serves as Assistant Archivist for theSisters of Charity of New York.