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A Light in the Darkness

“…the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.”

Today the Church in the United States celebrates St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born American to be named a saint. Born in 1774 she was born into privilege among the prominent people of New York City. She was not born into a Catholic family, but was raised in a dedicated Episcopal family. The practice of the faith was sustaining for her family and Elizabeth. Which was good, as her story is one of a slow unraveling of privilege, security, and family. Her mother died when Elizabeth was three years old. Her father remarried and her new stepmother introduced Elizabeth into social outreach to the poor and sick as a ministry of the church. But that marriage eventually failed. The stepmother left with her own children as Elizabeth’s father moved to London for further medical studies. Elizabeth entered a time of great darkness in her life, grieving the loss of father and a second mother.

“…the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.”

At the age of 19, she married a wealthy business person and again ascended to the upper echelons of New York society. Elizabeth continued her former stepmother’s social ministry—nursing the sick and dying among family, friends, and needy neighbors. Influenced by her father she became a charter member of The Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children.

A severe economic recession bankrupted the family business and fortunes; in addition her husband of 10 years contracted tuberculosis, and relocated the family to Italy at his doctors’ recommendation. Sadly he died in Italy, but only after Elizabeth had come into sustained contact with the Catholic faith.

“…the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.”

Upon returning home she was received into full communion with the Catholic Church. In order to support her children. After living through many difficulties in life over the next six years, in 1809 Seton accepted the invitation of the Sulpicians and moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland to establish the Saint Joseph’s Academy and Free School, a school dedicated to the education of Catholic girls. She soon established a religious community in Emmitsburg dedicated to the care of the children of the poor – originally called the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph – eventually becoming the Daughters of Charity. By 1830, the Sisters were running orphanages and schools as far west as Cincinnati and New Orleans, and had established the first hospital west of the Mississippi in St. Louis.

“…the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.”

Today, six separate religious congregations trace their roots to the beginnings of the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg. In addition to the original community of Sisters at Emmitsburg

“…the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.”

Our celebration of Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton reminds us that we you have seen the great light are to become the light for others.

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