The first American-born saint of the Roman Catholic Church, Elizabeth Bayley Seton’s early life experiences shaped her faith. She lost her mother at the age of three. At the age of nineteen, she married William Seton and began a family of her own.
Years later, William took ill with tuberculosis and the family traveled to Italy in search of renewed health. Shortly after arrival, William passed away. Elizabeth remained in Italy with the Filicchi family who shared with her their strong Catholic beliefs. Long a pious member of the Episcopal Church, Seton converted to Catholicism in 1805, a year after her return to New York City. She was promptly disinherited, and anti-Catholic prejudice made it difficult for her to support herself and her children.
In 1809, she moved to Baltimore, Maryland and began a school for Catholic girls. The school’s existence was short-lived. Later that same year, Seton took her first vows and received the title of “Mother.” The vows were for a new order that would be known as the Sisters of Charity, the first American Catholic sisterhood. Mother Seton proved an inspired leader and her order quickly grew. Seton next accepted an invitation to start a school in Emmitsburg, Maryland. In 1810, she established St. Joseph’s School, deriving income from boarding students to provide free schooling to needy girls of the local parish. This work led to Mother Seton being widely recognized as the foundress of the parochial school system in the United States.
In 1882, it was suggested that her cause for canonization be proposed. Investigative work began in 1907 and culminated with her beatification in 1963. At that time, Pope John XXIII named her “the flower of sanctity which the United States of America offers to the world.” Mother Seton was canonized a Saint by Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975.