This day, January 4, 2021, is a special and significant one for the American Daughters of Charity and the global Vincentian family – the 200th anniversary of the day that the American foundress of the community left this world and entered eternity.
Elizabeth Bayley Seton was first addressed as Mother Seton by Archbishop John Carroll at the St. Mary’s Seminary on Paca Street in Baltimore on March 25, 1809. Eleven-and-a-half years after she founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s, which brought the Rule of St. Vincent to the Western Hemisphere for the first time, and 18 years after the dread tuberculosis took the life of her husband, changing the course of her life forever, Mother Seton succumbed to the disease herself. She was 46 years old.
The most valuable records of that moment, after midnight on the morning of January 4, come from her Sisters in community; her last living daughter, Catherine; her Sulpician superior, Father John DuBois; and her spiritual director, Father Simon Bruté. In her bedroom in the Emmitsburg White House, the Sisters of St. Joseph’s gathered for her last moments on this Earth. The scene, heartbreaking to witness:
“Oh, the beautiful countenance of our Mother at that moment, never can it be effaced from my memory. As she was too feeble to address them herself, the Rev. Superior, Father Dubois, performed this office in her name, and thus delivered to the assembled community the last will of their dying Mother.”
Father DuBois went on to address the Sisters: “Mother Seton, being too weak, charges me to recommend to you at this sacred moment, in her place; first, to be united together as true Sisters of Charity; second, to stand most faithfully by your holy rules; third, that I ask pardon for all the scandals she may have given you, that is, for indulgences prescribed during her sickness by me, or the physician.” (V. 2 Annals, 412)
To all assembled, she gave her last pronouncement as Superioress of the community:
“I am thankful sisters, for your kindness, to be present at this trial. Be children of the Church; be children of the Church” (V. 2 Annals, 412)
Father DuBois gave her the last rites of the Church.
Her last words were the names of the Holy Family.
Father Bruté created emotive, beautiful, haunting images of those last moments.
Today, five religious communities in North America recognize Mother Seton as their foundress: The Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, Sisters of Charity of New York, Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, Sisters of Charity of Halifax, and the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill. The American Daughters of Charity have a special devotion to Mother Seton because of the joining of her Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s with the French Daughters of Charity in 1850. She was canonized in 1975.
In this year 2021, expect us to look at many aspects of Mother Seton’s life and legacy.
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us!