'Hazard Zet Forward'
Motto of the Seton's of Parbroath


Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Mother Seton, of Parbroath of New York

The Filicchi Portrait of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, dated 1804. click to view largeElizabeth Ann was born on August 28, 1774 to Richard Bayley and Catherine Charlton of New York City. She was raised in the Episcopal Church. Her mother, daughter of an Episcopal priest, died when Elizabeth was three. At the age of nineteen, she married William Magee Seton of the Parbroath line, a wealthy businessman in the import trade who's father the noted William Seton had emigrated to New York in 1763, at the instigation of his brother-in-law Andrew Seton of the Barnes Family. Elizabeth had five children were born from her marriage: Anna Maria, William, Richard, Catherine, and Rebecca.

William Magee Seton married Elizabeth Ann Bayley in 1793, although after the death of his father, William Seton Sr in 1798, they assumed care for William's seven siblings and he assumed control of the family Seton shipping business.

Elizabeth had always been busy with raising a large family and the management of their home, yet she continued to show the concern for the poor of the city which her father and stepmother had taught her. She helped to organize a group of prominent ladies who would visit the sick poor in their homes to render what aid they could. This circle was informally called the "Ladies of Charity" due to their conscious inspiration by the work of St. Vincent de Paul in 17th century France.

Their home in Manhattan, New York City, was located at the site on which a church now stands in her honor, with the formerly matching building at the right (7 State Street) forming part of the shrine. By 1802, the effects of the blockade by the United Kingdom for Napoleonic France, coupled with the loss of several of her husband's ships at sea, led to his bankruptcy and soon after this he fell ill and his doctors recommended sending him to Italy for the warmer climate to recover, with Elizabeth and their eldest daughter were to accompanying him.

Due to his own ill-health he poorly managed the business, and it failed, and in 1803, due to a developing tuberculosis, he and Elizabeth went on a voyage to Pisa, Italy where he had hoped that the mild and beneficial air would be a remedy for his condition.  They landed at the port of Livorno, however, they were placed in quarantine by the Italian Government for almost a month. 

Later in Italy, they became acquainted there with the Catholic Chevalier Philip Filicchi and his family, although it was too late for William and he died two weeks after his release from the effects of the quarantine, at the Filicchi home in Pisa on Dec. 27th, 1803.  He was buried in the Cemetery at Leghorn, in a modest tomb next to Smollett's. 

Elizabeth and Anna Maria were taken-in by the family of her late husband's Italian business partners, and while staying with them she was introduced to Roman Catholicism. Two years later, after her return to the United States, she converted to the Roman Church, where she was received on March 14, 1805 by the pastor of St. Peter's Church, the only Catholic church open in the city at that time due to the recent lifting of anti-Catholic laws under the new Republic. She was confirmed a year later by the only bishop of the new nation, the first bishop of Baltimore, the Right Reverend John Carroll.

It was after her return to New York, in order to support herself and her children, that Mrs. Seton started an academy for young ladies, as was common for widows of social standing in that period. The news of her conversion to the Roman Church spread, and most of the parents withdrew their daughters from her tutelage due to the anti-Catholic sentiment of the day. By chance, around this time she met a visiting priest, the Abbé Louis Dubourg, S.S., who was a member of the French emigré community of Sulpician Fathers. The priests had taken refuge in the United States from the religious persecution of the Reign of Terror in France, and were in the process of establishing the first Catholic seminary for the United States, in keeping with the goals of their Order. For several years, Dubourg had envisioned a religious school to meet the educational needs of the small Catholic community in the nation.

In 1809, after some trying and difficult years, Elizabeth accepted the invitation of support the Sulpicians had made to her and moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland. A year later she established the Saint Joseph's Academy and Free School, a school dedicated to the education of Catholic girls, due to the financial support of Samuel Sutherland Cooper. He was a wealthy convert and seminarian at the newly established Mount St. Mary's College and Seminary, begun by the Abbé (later Bishop) John Dubois, S.S., and the Sulpicians. In July of that year, Elizabeth was able to establish a religious community in Emmitsburg, Maryland dedicated to the care of the children of the poor. It was the first congregation of Religious Sisters to be founded in the United States, and its school was the first free Catholic school in America. The order was initially called the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. From that point on, she became known as Mother Seton.

Mr. Cooper, a Virginian convert and seminarian, offered $10,000 to found an institution for teaching poor children. A farm was bought half a mile from the village of Emmitsburg and two miles from Mt. St. Mary's College. Meanwhile Cecilia Seton and her sister Harriet came to Mrs. Seton in Baltimore. As a preliminary to the formation of the new community, Mrs. Seton took vows privately before Archbishop Carroll and her daughter Anna. In June, 1809, the community was transferred to Emmitsburg to take charge of the new institution. The great fervour and mortification of Mother Seton, imitated by her sisters, made the many hardships of their situation seem light. In Dec., 1809, Harriet Seton, who was received into the Church at Emmitsburg, died there, and Cecilia in Apr., 1810.

Bishop Flaget was commissioned in 1810 by the community to obtain in France the rules of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Three of these sisters were to be sent to train the young community in the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul, but Napoleon forbade them to leave France. The letter announcing their coming is extant at Emmitsburg. The rule, however, with some modifications, was approved by Archbishop Carroll in Jan., 1812, and adopted.

Against her will, and despite the fact that she had also to care for her children, Mrs. Seton was elected superior. The remainder of her life was spent in leading and developing the new congregation. Many joined the community; Mother Seton's daughter, Anna, died during her novitiate (12 March, 1812), but had been permitted to pronounce her vows on her death-bed. Mother Seton and the eighteen sisters made their vows on 19 July, 1813. The fathers superior of the community were the Sulpicians, Fathers Dubourg, David, and Dubois. Father Dubois held the post for fifteen years and laboured to impress on the community the spirit of St. Vincent's Sisters of Charity, forty of whom he had had under his care in France. The fervour of the community won admiration everywhere. The school for the daughters of the well-to-do prospered, as it continues to do (1912), and enabled the sisters to do much work among the poor. In 1814 the sisters were given charge of an orphan asylum in Philadelphia; in 1817 they were sent to New York. The previous year (1816) Mother Seton's daughter, Rebecca, after long suffering, died at Emmitsburg; her son Richard, who was placed with the Filicchi firm in Italy, died a few years after his mother. William, the eldest, joined the United States Navy and died in 1868. The most distinguished of his children are Most. Rev. Robert Seton, Archbishop of Heliopolis (author of a memoir of his grandmother, "Roman Essays", and many contributions to the "American Catholic Quarterly" and other reviews, and who began the process of Beatification), and William Seton.

Mother Seton had great facility in writing. Besides the translation of many ascetical French works (including the life of Saint Vincent de Paul, and of Mlle. Le Gras) for her community she has left copious diaries and correspondence that show a soul all on fire with the love of God and zeal for souls. Great spiritual desolation purified her soul during a great portion of her religious life, but she cheerfully took the royal road of the cross. For several years the saintly bishop (then Father) Bruti was her director. The third time she was elected mother (1819) she protested that it was the election of the dead, but she lived for two years, suffering finally from a pulmonary affection. Her perfect sincerity and great charm aided her wonderfully in the work of sanctifying souls. In 1880 Cardinal Gibbons (then Archbishop) urged the steps be taken toward her canonization. The result of the official inquiries in the cause of Mother Seton, held in Baltimore during several years, were brought to Rome by special messenger, and placed in the hands of the postulator of the cause on 7 June, 1911.

Today, six separate religious communities trace their roots to the beginnings of the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland. In addition to the original community of Sisters at Emmitsburg (now part of the Vincentian order), they are based in New York City; Cincinnati, Ohio; Halifax, N.S.; Convent Station, New Jersey; and Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

Her cause is entrusted to the Priests of the Congregation of the Mission, whose superior general in Paris is also superior of the Sisters of Charity with which the Emmitsburg community was incorporated in 1850, after the withdrawal of the greater number of the sisters (at the suggestion of Archbishop Hughes) of the New York houses in 1846. This union had been contemplated for some time, but the need of a stronger bond at Emmitsburg, shown by the New York separation, hastened it. It was effected with the loss of only the Cincinnati community of six sisters. With the Newark and Halifax offshoots of the New York community and the Greenburg foundation from Cincinnati, the sisters originating from Mother Seton's foundation number (1911) about 6000. The original Emittsburg community now wearing the cornette and observing the rule just as St. Vincent gave it, naturally surpasses any of the others in number. It is found in about thirty dioceses in the United States and forms a part of the worldwide sisterhood, whilst the others are rather diocesan communities.

Mother Seton was described as a charming and cultured lady. Her connections to New York society and the accompanying social pressures to leave the new life she had created for herself did not deter her from embracing her religious vocation and charitable mission. She established St. Joseph's Academy and Free School in order to educate young girls to live by religious values. The greatest difficulties she faced were actually internal, stemming from misunderstandings, interpersonal conflicts, and the deaths of two daughters, other loved ones, and young Sisters in the community. She died herself of tuberculosis, on January 4, 1821, at the age of 46.

Today, her remains are entombed in the Basilica that bears her name: the Basilica of the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.

On December 18, 1959, Elizabeth was declared Venerable by the Sacred Congregation of Rites of the Catholic Church. She was beatified by Pope John XXIII on March 17, 1963, and canonized by Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975, making her the first native-born United States citizen to be canonized. Her feast day is January 4.

Dedicated to following the will of God, Elizabeth Ann had a deep devotion to the Eucharist, Sacred Scripture and the Virgin Mary. The 23rd Psalm was her favorite prayer throughout her life. She was a woman of prayer and service who embraced the apostolic spirituality of Saint Louise de Marillac and Saint Vincent de Paul. It had been her original intention—as well as of the Sulpician Fathers who guided them—to join the Daughters of Charity founded by these saints, but the embargo of France due to the Napoleonic Wars prevented this connection. It was only decades later, in 1850, that the Emmitsburg community took the steps to merge with the Daughters, and become their American branch, as their foundress had envisioned.



As a pre-condition for canonization, the Catholic Church requires a saint who has not been martyred to have performed at least two miracles.

The Holy See recognised that this pre-condition was met by attributing three miracles to Elizabeth:

Curing Sister Gertrude Korzendorfer of cancer.
Curing Ann Theresa O’Neill of acute lymphatic leukemia
Curing Carl Kalin of encephalitis


The Seton Hill neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland is named for Mother Seton.

Mother Seton School, a Catholic elementary school in Emmitsburg, Maryland, which traces its roots directly to St. Joseph's Academy and Free School, founded by St. Elizabeth Ann in 1810.

One of her half-nephews, James Roosevelt Bayley, would later also convert, and himself go on to became the first Catholic bishop of Newark and eventually Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. In 1856 he founded the first major institution named in her honor Seton Hall College (which is now Seton Hall University), and St. Elizabeth Seton, or St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, is a popular name for Catholic parishes in the United States as well as schools, colleges, libraries and hospitals.  She has been honored by the Office of the Manhattan Borough President in March 2008, and was included in a map of historical sites related or dedicated to important women.

Statue in Saint Raymond's Cemetery, Bronx: "We must pray literally without ceasing—without ceasing—in every occurrence and employment of our lives . . . that prayer of the heart which is independent of place or situation, or which is rather a habit of lifting up the heart to God as in a constant communication with Him."


Elizabeth Seton's son, William Seton, was recognized by Burke's "Peerage " as the head of the ancient family of the Setons of Parbroath, senior cadets of the Earls of Winton in Scotland.  He married Emily Prime, July 17th, 1832 and had nine children, two if which died young (George died in infancy). Of their children:

  1. William Seton, born the 28th of January, 1835, he educated at the Jesuits College of Fordham and later at Mount St. Mary's, Emmittsburg, Maryland with private tutors.  He was a Latin scholar and studied Law, as well as French and German.  During the US Civil War he became a Captain in the 4th New York Regiment (where he was twice severely wounded at Antietam and acquitted himself with great gallantry) and later a Captain in the 16th Artillery.  After the Civil War he devoted himself to literary pursuits and married Sarah Redwood Parrish on January 3rd, 1884.  They had an only son, William, who died in infancy.  He was a frequent contributor to periodicals and journals, and published "Romance of the Charter Oak" "The Pride of Lexington; a Tale of the American Revolution " ; and other works.

  2. Henry Seton, a Lieutenant in the 26th Rifle Battalion under the Duke of Wurtemberg of Austria, and later Captiand and 2nd Lieutenant in the American Army.  He married Ann Foster, daughter of Major-General John Gray Foster, April 27th 1870 and had two sons:  John Seton, who after studying and Mount St. Mary's College and visiting Europe twice, died unmarried sp., in Emmittsburg; and William Seton, a graduate of Seton Hall College who was a doctor of Medicine.

  3. Robert Seton, born August 28th, 1839, was educated at Mount St. Mary's College and studied Theology and Canon Law in Rome.  After  being named a Protho-notary Apostolic, was Rector of of Saint Joseph's Church in New Jersey.  He later took his Degree of Doctor of Divinity at the Roman University of the Sapienza and was a trustee of Seton Hall College.  He was highly published, and his History of the Seton's of Scotland and America is one of the cherished histories of the House of Seton.  He became Archbishop Robert Seton of New York, and dsp.

  4. Emily, educated at Sacre Coeur in Paris, died young, unmarried, sp.

  5. Elizabeth, educated at Sacre Coeur in Paris, a writer.

  6. Helen, educated at Sacre Coeur in Paris, a nun in the Order of Mercy, died unmarried, sp.

  7. Isabella, educated at Sacre Coeur in Paris, and at the Trinita dei Monti in Rome, married Thomas Jevons, Esq., April 19th, 1870, and had four children, Reginald Jevons, Thomas Seton-Jevons, Ferdinand Talbot Roscoe Jevons and Marguerite Jevons.


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