Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Elizabeth A. Seton 1774 ~ 1821


Founder and first Superioress of the Sisters of Charity. Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born in New York City, the 28th of August, 1774, and was the daughter of Dr. Richard Bayley, a distinguished American physician. Her mother died when she was but three years of age. Miss Bayley was brought up in the doctrines and practices of the Protestant Episcopal Church, to which her parents belonged.

At the age of twenty she became the wife of William Seton, a merchant of New York City, whose early life had been spent in Leghorn. About the beginning of the year 1800, Mr. Seton's affairs became much embarrassed from the consequences of the war and other vicissitudes incident to trade. Mrs. Seton rose to the necessities of the occasion. She not only cheered him by her unfailing courage, but aided him in the arrangement of his affairs. Mrs. Seton was the mother of five children. Her influence was not only confined to her own family circle, but she sought wherever it was possible to draw the hearts of others to the consideration of their true welfare. So zealous was she in this respect that she and another relative were frequently called the Protestant sisters of charity.

In 1801, Mrs. Seton's father, Dr. Bayley, died, but although her father had married a second time, Mrs. Seton was very devoted to him during his entire life. In 1803 Mr. Seton's health became so precarious that they resolved upon visiting Italy. Owing to many calamities and a form of contagion and sudden illness among her children, and the extreme kindness and devotion of the Catholic friends of Mr. and Mrs. Seton, she was brought under the influence and lived in the atmosphere of the Roman Catholic Church, and ultimately she became a convert to this faith.

While away she was in constant correspondence with Father Cheverus, and owing to the counsel and advice of Bishop Carroll she ultimately, on Ash Wednesday, March 14, 1805, presented herself for acceptance in the Church of St, Peter's, New York City. She was received into the church by Rev. Matthew O'Brien. Mrs. Seton being anxious to exert her influence for the benefit of her own family and others, opened a boarding house for young boys who attended school in the city. May 26, 1806, Mrs. Seton was confirmed by Bishop Carroll in the presence of her devoted friend, Mr. A. Filicchi, her husband's former friend of Leghorn. Through Mrs. Seton's zeal she brought her sister-in-law, Cecelia Seton, into the circle of the Roman church and her sister Harriet joined Mrs. Seton when she went to Baltimore, and here she collected around her a band of religiously inclined young women.

Mrs. Seton decided upon establishing an order for the care and instruction of poor children. Mr. Cooper, a convert and student of St Mary's for the priesthood, was anxious to devote his property to the service of God. The clergy were consulted on this occasion and the city of Emmitsburg, Maryland, was fixed upon as full of moral and physical advantages for a religious community. The title of Mother had already been gladly given everywhere to Mrs. Seton. One lady after another came gathering about her in fervor and humility offering themselves as candidates for the new sisterhood. A conventual habit was adopted, which was afterwards changed to that worn by the Sisters of Charity and under the title of Sisters of St. Joseph, a little band was organized under temporary rules.

At the end of July, Mother Seton and the whole of her community, now ten in number, besides her three daughters and her sister-in-law, removed to a little farmhouse on their own land, in St. Joseph's Valley, which was to be their own home. In 1811, measures were taken to procure from France a copy of the regulations in use among the Daughters of Charity founded by St. Vincent de Paul, as it was intended that St. Joseph's community should model itself upon the same basis. All during this time, Mrs. Seton had continued her devotion as mother to her own children, and she says, in writing to a friend, "By the law of the church I so much love, I could never take an obligation which intertered with my duties to the children, except I had an independent provision and guardian for them, which the whole world could not supply to my judgment of a mother's duty." This and every other difficulty in the adoption of the rules was, however, at length arranged by the wisdom of Archbishop Carroll, and in January, 1812, the constitutions of the community were confirmed by the Archbishop and Superioress of St. Mary's College in Baltimore. In 1820 Mrs. Seton's health failed, and her lungs became so seriously affected that medical attendance give her no hope of recovery. Her death occurred January 4, 1821.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.


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