This is the final 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, the Emmitsburg-based Sisters united with the international community of the French Daughters of Charity.
A treasure of the archives is a piece owned by Mother Seton that can seem out of place for her time period in the Northeast United States – an oil painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Purchased by Matthias O’Conway – father of Sister Cecilia O’Conway, the first sister to join Mother Seton’s community in 1808 – from Emmitsburg native James Hughes, the image hung over the altar in the historic St. Joseph’s House (also called the Emmitsburg White House). O’Conway had likely become familiar with the image and the devotion it inspired through his travels around the world, including time in Spanish New Orleans and Cuba. The icon’s cost of $200 in 1811 evidently gave Mother Seton pause in accepting it, writing to Matthias, “I must go back a long way to tell you the mingled feelings of love and sorrow with which I received the dear picture which Mr. Heughs [sic] says he saw you pay down two hundred Dollars for – but it was to our Adored and that is enough for You.”
Indeed, as a Catholic and early supporter of Mother Seton’s community, while this was not the first painting that Matthias donated, he was known to experience money problems when he was not working as a translator and publisher. However, the place of prominence that this painting received, which “[made] our humble chapel look really like a chapel,” points to the place that this work held in the hearts of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s.
The Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe is December 12.