The Catholic Church of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton has been an integral part of the Summerlin region for years. Catholics know the name, but perhaps not many outside of religion realize that Elizabeth Ann Seton’s actions affected society as a whole.
She was born Elizabeth Ann Bayley on August 28, 1774 in New York City. Elizabeth, the second child of a socially prominent couple, Dr. Richard Bayley and Catherine Charlton, grew up in an influential episcopal family.
She was 3 when her mother died. A little sister died the following year. Seton’s father remarried and his second wife was Charlotte Amelia Barclay. Charlotte got involved in Church social programs, visiting the poor and bringing them food and clothing. She would take young Elizabeth with her on these trips.
When Elizabeth was 19 years old, she married a wealthy businessman, William Magee Seton. He was 25. They raised a family and had five children: Anna Maria (Annina), William II, Richard, Catherine, and Rebecca Mary.
Elizabeth said to her sisters, “The first goal I propose in our daily work is to do the will of God. second, to do it the way he wants; and third, to do it because it is his will. “
Soon after the turn of the century, a tragedy occurred. Her husband’s business failed, he contracted tuberculosis and died in 1803. Elizabeth remained an impoverished widow with five young children whom she had to raise alone.
Although Elizabeth was raised episcopally, she was drawn to Catholicism. She was one of the founding members of the Society to Help Poor Widows with Young Children and served as treasurer. She converted to Catholicism in 1805. It was a step that alienated her from her strict episcopal relatives.
To support her family while ensuring that her children received an adequate education, Elizabeth opened a private school in Boston. It was a secular institution, but she ran it almost as if it were a religious one.
When the archbishop saw her success, she built a Catholic girls’ school in Baltimore. History recognizes it as the beginning of the parochial school system in America. Seton founded the Sisters of Charity, the first American religious group, in 1809.
Seton took part in the work in this group and took care of the needs of the sick and poor. She helped build the first American Catholic orphanage.
She once wrote to a friend, Julia Scott, that she would prefer to trade the world for a “cave or a desert.” But God has given me much to do, and I always have, and always hope, to choose his will over my own. “
Seton died of tuberculosis in 1821. She was 46 years old.
At the time of her death, the church had grown to 50 and operated in 20 locations. Today six sister congregations have their roots in their work.
Her remains are in the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Md.
Seton was founded in 1975 by Pope Paul VI. Canonized.
While she isn’t the only woman known as a saint – Joan of Arc of France is probably the best known – she was the first American woman to be honored in this way.
The Rev. Bede Wevita, who took over the helm of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s Church on 1811 Pueblo Vista Drive about two years ago, said he prayed to Seton many times and asked her for help with a need or situation she got through.
Lots of people talk to the school they started, and indeed the Church in Summerlin has a school component, but Wevita said Seton was more than that.
He said he considered her act of caring for the poor to be the most admirable.
“Because we have responsibility as Christians … when we do something for others, we believe we are doing it for Christ,” said Wevita.
Is Elizabeth Still Relevant Today?
“Yes, because of the school system,” said Wevita. “… She influenced the country to train teachers and she wrote textbooks.”
Victoria Bentley is the former state regent for the Catholic Daughters of the Americas Court. Her home court is Elizabeth Ann Seton and she said she was introduced by the Church of Saints as a child.
“You learned different saints growing up,” she said. “I thought she had a lot of struggles and a lot of problems that she overcame.”
What could we learn from her today?
“Just to never give up and move on,” Bentley said.
Contact reporter Jan Hogan at Summerlin Area View at [email protected] or 702-387-2949.