Tag Archives: Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

St. Joseph’s School before St. Joseph’s Academy

The commitment to education of the American Daughters of Charity and Sisters of Charity dates to Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s initiative for female education, begun in Baltimore in July 1808.  It took two years, however, for female education to become a primary mission of the Sisters of Charity in the form of St. Joseph’s School in Emmitsburg, MD.   

Invited by Rev. Louis William DuBourg, P.S.S., President of St. Mary’s College, the Widow Seton began a small boarding school for Catholic girls on Paca Street with the support of the Sulpician priests at St. Mary’s Seminary.  There she met Samuel Sutherland Cooper, a seminarian who was divesting himself of accumulated wealth in order to pursue his vocation to the priesthood.  He encouraged the widow to agree to direct an educational program on a property that he would purchase.

Pace Street House, Baltimore, c. 1890s

Located beyond the town limits of Emmitsburg, Cooper and the Sulpicians believed the setting to be ideal for an institution to educate girls, with nearby Mount St. Mary’s College providing education for boys. 

On June 22, 1809, Mother Seton arrived at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg with one of her daughters and a few of her companions; the rest of her children, early community members, and two pupils arrived a little more than a month later when the Stone House was ready for occupancy.  On July 31, 1809, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s officially began, and St. Joseph’s School became one of the first free Catholic schools for girls staffed by sisters in the United States.

As it became increasingly clear that funding was required, the school began admitting boarding students who paid tuition in May 1810.  These students came from the surrounding Frederick County and became the first boarding students. 

The school curriculum included grammar, spelling, reading, writing, geography, parsing, arithmetic, French, music, and fine sewing, etc.   All pupils received religious education and faith formation, according to their grade level.  Mother Seton wrote to her friend, Julia Scott, how her daughter Annina “studies French, Spanish and Italian with [the day students] under a mistress who is sweetness and modesty itself”

After St. Joseph’s School became St. Joseph’s Academy in 1828, the school continued to teach “day scholars” from the surrounding area for free up until 1870.  When operating costs began to hinder this practice, the Sisters still offered discounts and worked to find ways for students to afford tuition when they needed it. 

St. Joseph’s School and, later, St. Joseph’s Academy, were not parochial schools but Catholic schools sponsored and funded by the Sisters of Charity.  Saint John Neumann, CSsR, 4th bishop of Philadelphia, initiated Catholic parochial education when he established the first diocesan parochial school system in the United States in 1852.

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Filed under Baltimore, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Emmitsburg, Paca Street, St. Joseph's Academy

The Hamilton Letter

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, the Emmitsburg-based Sisters united with the international community of the French Daughters of Charity.

Lin-Manuel Miranda did not include Mother Seton in his smash Broadway hit Hamilton, but be assured that the two of them ran in the same New York society in the early days of the American experiment at the southern tip of Manhattan.

Many of Mother Seton’s surviving letters from this period of her life discuss the social scene, business partners, her friends, and friends and business partners of her husband, William Magee Seton.  Among these is a draft of a letter to John Wilkes, a friend and cousin-through-marriage to her husband.  Although it is undated, its subject matter reveals that it was written a short time after July 14, the day of Alexander Hamilton’s funeral.

In the heyday of William’s business, the family had lived at 27 Wall Street, a block away from Hamilton’s home and across the street from the office of The Manhattan Company, the predecessor to JPMorgan Chase Bank founded by Hamilton’s dueling partner, Aaron Burr.

At the time of Hamilton’s death, however, John and Charles Wilkes, alongside another related family, were helping Elizabeth (now a widow) and her children through a New York situation that seems highly modern – paying too high a rent on a too-small apartment.  Located on N. Moore Street, today in Tribeca, Elizabeth for the first time had to rely on her relatives’ assistance to make it by, and even pushed back on the suggestion to begin taking in boarders.

Hamilton’s funeral was at Trinity Church, at the end of the Seton’s former neighborhood on Wall Street.  Fresh from the funeral, Charles stopped by Elizabeth’s Moore Street House:

“He was quite pleased with my little House and my darlings whom he found eating their bread and milk with a very good appetite but I observed that he was really so affected at the tolling of the Bells for the death of poor Hamilton that he could scarcely command himself…how much you will be distressed at this melancholy event – the circumstances of which are really too bad to think of”

Although their paths divided significantly, Hamilton going into government and meeting an untimely demise; Burr to a treason trial, a westward land scheme, and undignified obscurity; and Seton to Catholicism and a small town in Maryland, what we refer to as the “Hamilton letter” helps show how closely Mother Seton’s world was intertwined with the world of the early U.S. government and high society.

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Filed under Alexander Hamilton, Elizabeth Ann Seton