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The Death of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

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!

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Frederick County Historic Sites Consortium’s annual “Museums by Candlelight” Event Virtual in 2020

Alongside other historic sites here in Frederick County, Maryland, the Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives is participating in the first online “Museums by Candlelight” event! Check out our presentation on Mother Seton’s “Our Lady of Guadalupe” painting, in time for Advent season and Our Lady’s feast day on December 12!

https://www.visitfrederick.org/…/museums-by-candlelight/

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Integrating Parishes: Greensboro

“To work at ending racism, we need to engage the world and encounter others—to see, maybe for the first time, those who are on the peripheries of our own limited view. Knowing that the Lord has taken the divine initiative by loving us first, we can boldly go forward, reaching out to others. We must invite into dialogue those we ordinarily would not seek out. We must work to form relationships with those we might regularly try to avoid.” (23)

“So many of our parishes are richly diverse, composed of people from various cultures and ethnic groups, such that they can be a model for the whole Church and for the country.” (27)

Open Wide Our Hearts:  The Enduring Call to Love a Pastoral Letter against Racism by United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

In 1953, Bishop Vincent Waters of the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina ordered all Catholic churches desegregated in the Diocese, followed shortly afterward, in 1955, by the desegregation of Catholic schools.  Over the course of the next twenty years, the impact of desegregation on the Church and the schools was felt across North Carolina.

Since 1928, the Daughters of Charity taught at St. Mary’s School in Greensboro, North Carolina.  In 1949, the school changed its name to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, a parish school designated to serve African-American children.  When desegregation began, students started to attend St. Pius X School, leading to a drop in numbers at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal School.

In 1972, the difficult decision was made to close the school due to declining enrollment, and the Daughters began to re-examine how best to serve the parish community of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.  That same year, four Daughters arrived at the parish to tackle this challenge.

Letter from Father Robert Clifford, C.M. of Our Lady of Miraculous Medal Parish

The first step taken was to reconnect the parish to its roots and change the name back to St. Mary’s.  The next step, in the spirit of Vatican II and the recommendations for lay involvement in the life of a parish, was to create a Parish Council.  This would prove to be even more important in the coming years as the process of desegregation continued within the church and throughout the city.

In 1974, the Diocese of Charlotte, of which the parish was now a part, ended the designation as the African-American parish.  Instead, the parish was to have a defined territory just like all the others in the parish.  The surrounding territory brought together people of different social classes and incomes, as well as brought white and black neighborhoods together for the first time in the parish.

The Daughters of Charity now served at St. Mary’s Center, the social outreach arm of the parish.  Sisters served on the Council, as social workers, directing programs of the Parish, visiting the aged and sick, and working with returning citizens.

First Parish Council meeting, October 3, 1972

According to Sister Agnes Silvestro’s report in 1975, the purpose of the Daughters’ ministries at the parish was defined as follows: 

“St. Mary’s is an integrated parish where staff and parishioners [sic] are working together to become a people pleasing to the Father, a ‘single people,’ a FAITH COMMUNITY.”

She also wrote about the need to balance competing claims to the ownership of the Parish from white and Black members.  African-American members outnumbered white members, yet, according to Sister Agnes, ”whites for the most part [were] more vocal.”

Nonetheless, the Sisters, assisted by the Vincentian priests who ministered to the parish, persisted in their work.  Although the Daughters departed in 1980, they laid out plans for a long-lasting and successful parish.  The interior of the church today has been modernized, but essentially looks much as it did almost 90 years.  From the 1970s to the 1990s, the Parish incorporated even more changes into its community life as immigrant communities from Africa, Asia, and Latin America arrived in the community.

Interior of St. Mary’s Parish today (Source: https://stmarysgreensboro.org/)
Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish, 1938

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