Borrowed from my January 2010 post about St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821), whose feast is celebrated today, an excerpt from Fr. Charles Connor's Classic Catholic Converts;
Some time later, [Seton] wrote to Amabilia's husband, Antonio:
After reading the life of St. Mary Magdalen, I thought: "Come my soul, let us turn from all these suggestions of one side or the other, and quietly resolve to go to that church which has at least the multitude of the wise and good on its side"; and began to consider the first step I must take. The first step-is it not to declare I believe all that is taught by the Council of Trent.One event that may have finalized her decision to convert was an action taken by the Anglican Church. In 1783 the church took as its official name the Protestant Episcopal Church. At the new church's first general convention, held in Philadelphia in 1789, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer was revised. Among the significant revisions was this: the former Book of Common prayer had stated that at communion "the Body and Blood of Christ ... are verily and indeed taken and received by the faithful in the Lord's Supper." After the revision it said the Body and Blood of Christ are "spiritually taken and received".
The old wording explains Elizabeth's intense devotion to the Anglican sacrament and her eagerness to accept the uncompromising Roman Catholic belief in the Real Presence.
To Amabilia Filicchi she wrote:
A day of days for me. .. . I have been where?-to the Church of St. Peter with the cross on the top instead of a weathercock! ... When I turned the corner of the street it is in- "Here, my God, I go," said I, "[my] heart all to You".Mrs. Seton was received into the Catholic Church by Father William O'Brien on March 14, 1805, at Saint Peter's Church on Barclay Street. She paid dearly for her action. Her former friends and fellow parishioners thought she was mad, and they developed a bitter opposition to her. Many ofthem tried to persuade parents to remove their children from a small boarding school she had opened for her own livelihood. Eventually, she left New York and with her children went to Baltimore, where she engaged in similar work.
The rest of her story is known worldwide. A group of likeminded women whom she had gathered around her became the core, the nucleus, of the Sisters of Charity. On Paca Street in Baltimore, one can still visit the chapel where Elizabeth Bayley Seton and the others professed their vows.
From Baltimore, Mother Seton and her community moved to the small hamlet of Emmitsburg, Maryland, not far from the Pennsylvania border. Today, one may visit here the tomb of this very American saint, enshrined in a beautiful basilica on the grounds, as well as the graves of two of her five children in an adjoining cemetery. In this quiet, peaceful corner of rural America, Catholic education in the United States had its beginnings. Here, too, was the start of five major divisions of the Sisters of Charity in the United States and Canada. All this exists because of one woman's thirst for the Real Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
At the time of her canonization in 1975, in his foreword to a biography of Mother Seton, Terence Cardinal Cooke summed up her legacy:
In Elizabeth Ann Seton, we have a saint for our times. In Elizabeth Ann Seton, we have a woman of faith, for a time of doubt and uncertainty...a woman of love for a time of coldness and division ... a woman of hope for a time of crisis and discouragement. Thanks be to God for this saintly daughter of New York, for this valiant woman of God's Church."
Related Ignatius Press resources:
• Soul of Saint Elizabeth Seton: A Spiritual Portrait, by Fr. Joseph Dirvin, C.M.
• Mother Seton and the Sisters of Charity, by Alma Power-Waters
• A Time for Miracles (DVD)