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Persevering with St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

I’ve bumped into St. Elizabeth Ann Seton a lot this past year.

As strange as it may sound to say I’ve been running into a dead person, I think this patroness of our diocese and founder of Catholic education in our country has much to teach us about God bringing good out of life’s difficulties.

The Seton Shrine is just a couple of miles down the road from where I attend seminary at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Md., so I’ve learned a bit about her there. My first seminarian summer assignment was at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Lake Ridge, and Vacation Bible School — featuring St. Elizabeth Ann Seton — was one of my bigger projects.

I have long understood that Mother Seton was “successful.” I have relatives who have attended schools named after her. I know that history smiles at her memory. Over the course of this year though, I’ve also learned of all the tragedy that became her path to sainthood.

On first glance, it seems she led a very charmed life. Betty Bayley, as she was known, grew up as a devout Anglican in New York City where her father, Richard Bayley, was a prominent doctor. She married William Seton, who had helped establish Wall Street and the Bank of New York. The Seton family rubbed elbows with Alexander Hamilton’s family.

It didn’t last though; all of her seeming “privileges” came crashing down. Her husband’s business failed, then he contracted tuberculosis and died, leaving her with their five children along with some of his younger siblings who needed her care and attention. She had no money and many mouths to feed.

It was precisely these difficulties that served as the entry point for God into the life of the future saint.  The witness of Catholic friends who came to her aid inspired her to learn more about the Catholic faith, and eventually to convert. She then worked at the request of her bishop to establish schools that became the model for Catholic education in our country. Subsequently she founded a religious order, the Daughters of Charity, which has done tremendous good caring for and educating the needy in their communities.

God obviously can work through whichever circumstances he chooses, but it does seem to be those moments we might deem tragic, when we are at our most vulnerable, that he is more able to enter in. As we look back at our sufferings of the past year and a half, let us draw hope from the inspiration of this patroness of our diocese, and recognize that the worst tragedy of the COVID-19 experience could be not letting God use it to transform us.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us.

McDade, who is from St. John the Beloved Church in McLean, is in his second year of pre-theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. He is a member of the Youth Apostles.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021