It’s that time again when many enlist the help of an online saint generator to randomly select a saint who journeys with us throughout the year. While I’ve enjoyed doing this in the past and getting to know some various and even obscure saints, this year I’m trying something a little different.
Rather than journeying with one saint, I’ll walk with at least twelve. Think of it as a saint of the month club. Month by month, I’ll prayerfully select a saint of the month and highlight his or her life here for you, too. I pray these saints become intimate travel companions for me … and maybe for you, too!
My January saint of the month is Elizabeth Ann Seton. Now I like my name Lisa just fine and I’m not itching to change it anytime soon. But if I were going to change it, I would rename myself to Elizabeth. A name with rich Biblical history, it’s also sophisticated, beautifully feminine, and timeless. Elizabeth Ann closely resembles my full name Lisa Ann, and that’s probably why I chose Elizabeth Ann Seton as my confirmation saint some 25 years ago.
A Selfless Spirit
In the details of Elizabeth’s life, we discover a well-rounded woman who knew how to love deeply. She was a person for others, even in the midst of trying situations. The first native-born saint of the United States, Elizabeth Ann Seton greatly affected the growth of the Roman Catholic Church here. She created the first Catholic parish school that led to the Catholic school system in the United States. She also started the first Catholic orphanage in America. By the time she died at the age of 46, she had founded 20 convents as well. All these accomplishments she did, a fact that still astounds me, while rearing her five children as a young and penniless widow. Elizabeth converted to Catholicism after her husband’s death. By becoming Catholic, Elizabeth lost the support and sympathy of family and friends during a most trying time as a young widow.
A Eucharistic Soul
Two large factors led to Elizabeth’s conversion to Catholicism. The first? The Holy Eucharist. After her husband’s death, Elizabeth lived with an Italian Catholic family whose home contained a private chapel where the Blessed Sacrament was reserved. Even before her conversion, Elizabeth felt a strong pull to the tabernacle and often prayed in front of it. Her first instructions in the faith emanated, quite simply yet mysteriously, from the silence of that tabernacle. The Holy Spirit imbued in her a great gift of faith to recognize the living presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Her commitment to Eucharistic adoration remained an instrumental facet of Elizabeth’s spiritual journey until her earthly death.
Love Me, My Mother
The second key to Elizabeth’s conversion was the Blessed Mother. The wife of that same family with whom Elizabeth lived after her husband’s death owned a prayer-book that Elizabeth used. In it, Elizabeth came upon the text of St. Bernard’s Memorare and found in the Virgin Mary the tenderness of a mother (she lost her biological mother at the young age of three). In Elizabeth’s archived letters, she writes about that first time praying the Memorare, “That night I cried myself to sleep in Mary’s heart.” Below is a photograph of a version of the Memorare handwritten by Elizabeth Ann Seton. At the end of text she added the touching plea, “Love me, my Mother.”
Elizabeth found her life’s calling by continually seeking the will of God in her life and by attending to what she called “the grace of the moment.” And yet, she had no extraordinary gifts. As stated in AmericanCathlolic.org, Elizabeth was not a mystic or stigmatic. She did not prophesy or speak in tongues. She had two great devotions: abandonment to the will of God and an ardent love for the Blessed Sacrament. Her brand of sanctity is open to everyone if we love God and do his will.
- Feast day: January 4
- Patroness of in-law problems, against the death of children, widows, death of parents, and opposition of Church authorities
- Birth: August 28, 1774
- Death: January 4, 1821
- Beatified by: by Pope John XXIII on March 17, 1963
- Canonized by: by Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us!
Copyright 2016 Lisa A. Schmidt
Elizabeth Ann Seton photo courtesy Daughter of Charity Provincial Archives. All rights reserved.