This is part of a yearlong series about the early days of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s commemorating the 200th anniversary of the death of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, foundress of the community. In 1850, Emmitsburg-based Sisters united with the global community of the French Daughters of Charity.
After Mother Seton and her companions left Baltimore in June 1809, the small group formed the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s in the village of Emmitsburg in northern Frederick County on July 31, 1809. They began to enact their mission of service to those living in poverty and began with their nearby neighbors.
Dated February 5 and addressed to Mrs. Seton, two women, simply named “Cecilia and Catherine” wrote “an account of the first Mission of Charity.”
This mission was in the tradition of Saints Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac, whose rules for community life the Sisters adapted for the American situation. When visiting the poor, sisters provided nursing care and resources to those in difficult situations. Catherine and Cecilia evidently travelled to a home in the vicinity of Emmitsburg “after some difficulty on the road about eggs.”
The family they ministered to on this day was sick, likely from one of the waterborne disease that routinely swept through Western Maryland in the early 19th century. This brief letter described what the sisters observed about the family’s situation. The spellings and grammar are kept as written (if you can imagine where the periods go in modern standardized English, it becomes easier to understand):
They note that a doctor has not had the chance to visit yet, but they seem aware that they have done what they could to improve health and comfort for the family going through a difficult time.
The Catherine of the report may be either Sister Catherine Mullan or Catherine Seton, Mother Seton’s nine-year old daughter who travelled with her from New York and lived with the community. After her mother’s death, Catherine lived with her brother William and travelled around Europe before joining the Sisters of Mercy of New York in 1846.
Cecilia could refer to either Sister Cecilia Seton, Mother Seton’s sister-in-law who was one of the first to join the community, or Sister Cecilia O’Conway. However, other correspondence of Cecilia Seton shows a very different handwriting. It shows far more similarity to Cecilia O’Conway’s handwriting, although not definitively so.
The authors recognized this event as the First Mission of Charity undertaken by the new community!