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Reflection on Elizabeth Ann Seton

St. Paul's Episcopal Church Wednesday Eucharist





There are certain lulls in the church calendar, especially between major feasts and high holy days – when things seem to slow down just a bit – when people are moving at something like half speed. The time between Christmas and epiphany, the 12 days of Christmas – Christmastide as we sometimes call it seems like one of them.


Our saint for today is Elizabeth Ann Seton, the namesake of Seton Hill University in Greensburg, and if you would stick with me, I would like to read her entry from Holy Women Holy Men:


Elizabeth Ann Seton was the founder of Sisters of Charity, the first community of sisters native to the United States. She was also a wife, a widow, a single mother, an educator, a social activist and a spiritual leader. Elizabeth Ann was born in New York in 1774. She endured a turbulent childhood and suffered severe bouts of depression. She survived by immersing herself in poetry, piano lessons, and devoted participation in the Episcopal Church. In 1795 she married William Seton. Samuel Provoost, the first Episcopal Bishop of New York, presided. Three years later, her father in-law died leaving her husband with the responsibility for a large family and a struggling family business and Elizabeth with a large, inherited family to care for.
In 1801 the business failed and the Setons lost everything. Her husband showed the symptoms of tuberculosis and in 1803, they set sail for Italy in the hopes that the warm climate would cure his disease. The Italian authorities fearing Yellow Fever quarantined them in a cold stone hospital for the dying. William soon died and left Elizabeth Ann a young widow with five children and few resources. While in Italy, she discovered Roman Catholicism. Returning to New York, she encountered bitter opposition to her new religious leanings. With five children to support, she felt alone and estranged. She turned to Roman Catholic clergy for support and in 1805 she formally converted to Roman Catholicism. In 1806, she met Father Louis Dubourg, S.S. who wanted to start a congregation of women religious, patterned after the French Daughters of Charity.
In 1809 Elizabeth Ann took vows and became “Mother Seton” to a small community of seven women dedicated to teaching. The sisters were given land in rural Maryland and in 1810 they opened St. Joseph’s Free School to educate needy girls. The Sisters intertwined social ministry, education and religious formation in all their varied works. Mother Seton dispatched sisters to operate orphanages in Philadelphia and New York. Elizabeth Ann Seton remained the Mother of the Sisters of Charity until her death on January 4, 1821.

The days leading up to Christmas are incredibly busy, and just like the famous passage in 1 Kings where Elijah did not hear God in the loud and mighty things – the fire, the earthquake and the wind, but rather the still small voice, I wonder if this season is not an opportunity for us to hear God. For us to step back, and rather than looking at the busyness of the past month, to engage the quiet of this one. Throughout her turbulent life, Elizabeth Seton heard the voice of God, she listened to God amid her suffering. And out of her listening and her faithful discernment of call, many people came to know the love of Christ.


Edras invites us to rest, not for vain purpose, but to accomplish the things that is laid out in the previous verse:


"Guard the rights of the widow, secure justice for the ward, give to the needy, defend the orphan, clothe the naked, care for the injured and the weak, do not ridicule the lame, protect the maimed, and let the blind have a vision of my splendour. Protect the old and the young within your walls. When you find any who are dead, commit them to the grave and mark it, and I will give you the first place in my resurrection. Pause and be quiet, my people, because your rest will come.”


I invite you to rest so that we can evangelize. I invite you to quiet so that the air might be filled with the voice of God. I invite you to listen for the voice of God in this lull of the church calendar, so that we might find a renewed sense of purpose and meaning in the Gospel mission. Amen.


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