Mother Seton is a major figure of the Catholic Church in the United States. Her accomplishments contributed greatly to the growth of Catholicism in this country. She founded the first American religious community for women, the Sisters of Charity. She opened the first American parish school and established the first American Catholic orphanage. All this she did in the span of 46 years while raising her five children.
And she didn’t start out Catholic. She was born to an Episcopalian family and married an Episcopalian, William Seton, bearing five children with him before his untimely death. At 30, Elizabeth was widowed, penniless, with five small children to support.
While in Italy with her dying husband, Elizabeth witnessed Catholicity in action through family friends. She was drawn to Catholicism because of the Real Presence, devotion to Mary, and the apostolic succession which led back to the original Apostles and to Christ. She converted to Catholicism in 1805, and because of that, many of her family rejected her.
But perseverance was a special aspect of her spirituality. She wrote to her sisters: “Perseverance is a great grace. To go on gaining and advancing every day, we must be resolute, and bear and suffer as our blessed forerunners did. Which of them gained heaven without a struggle?”
It is especially appropriate that we celebrate St. Elizabeth’s feast day during this season of Epiphany. Just as we hear in the Gospel that Christ continued to come and shed more light on the people, so her life radiated with light that led to our Savior. And the light of Christ’s most merciful coming has continued to shine in our Church, through the hard work and intercession of saints like Elizabeth Ann Seton.