July 19, 1813 the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's pronounced their first vows under the recently approved Vincentian rule (for the United States), the first American religious community founded for women wishing to lead a life of total consecration to God by vow and dedicated to education and the service of the sick and the poor in the United States.
Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton is the first United States-born person to have been canonized in the Roman Catholic Church. She was the foundress of the American Sisters of Charity of St Joseph and is credited with starting the parochial school system in the United States.
Elizabeth Ann was born in New York City on August 28, 1774. She was the daughter of Catherine Charlton and Dr. Richard Bayley, devout Episcopalians. She was baptized and grew to maturity in the Episcopal faith. Her father, a distinguished surgeon and physician, became the first health officer of the Port of New York and later a professor of anatomy at King’s College (Columbia University). She grew up in New York City and New Rochelle, New York.
On January 25, 1794 she married William Magee Seton, the son of a wealthy shipping family and the new couple lived on State Street in Manhattan.
Their marriage was blessed with three daughters and two sons. Early in their marriage, William became ill with tuberculosis. Elizabeth, William and their eldest daughter, Annina, sailed to Italy in an effort to restore his health but he died there December 27, 1803, leaving her a widow with 5 children when she was only 29 years old. Close business and family friends - the Fillicchi family from Livorno, Italy - gave her hospitality and consolation. Always deeply spiritual, Elizabeth was impressed with their Catholic devotion and faith.
A year after her return to New York City she decided to be received into the Roman Catholic Church at St. Peter's on Barclay Street. She was received on March 14, 1805 and made her first Communion on March 25, 1805. Her conversion to Catholicism cost Elizabeth dearly in family and friends.
The next years were filled with much hardship: supporting five children, attempting to earn a livelihood as a penniless widow due to the bankruptcy of the shipping business before William’s death and lacking the support of family and friends.
In the summer of 1808, Fr William Louis Dubourg, a Sulpician priest, president of Saint Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland, met Elizabeth while visiting New York and invited her to come to Baltimore with the promise of opening a school there.
Through the generosity of a benefactor,Samuel Sutherland Cooper, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph's began July 31, 1809 in the Stone House in Saint Joseph's Valley, near Emmitsburg. It was successful and she was joined by other women thereby establishing the first religious order of women founded in America, the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's. The Sisters of Charity operated St. Joseph's Academy and Free School for values-based education of girls and young women.
On January 17, 1812 the official approbation of the Rules and Constitutions of the Sisters of Charity in the United States was received from John Tessier, Sulpician Superior of St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore and John Carroll, Archbishop of Baltimore. These Rules were based on the Common Rules of the Daughters of Charity founded by Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise de Marillac in France in 1633.
July 19, 1813 saw the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's pronounced their first vows under the recently approved Vincentian rule, the first American religious community founded for women wishing to lead a life of total consecration to God by vow and dedicated to education and the service of the sick and the poor in the United States.
Elizabeth saw Christ in the poor, especially in women and children in need, even before being received in the Catholic Church. She is a Saint because of the way she searched for and responded to God's will in her life.
Her holiness developed from her Episcopalian faith. Her fidelity to prayer and liturgical life was based on her fidelity to the liturgy of the Episcopalian Church of her time. She was a devoted communicant at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church and prior to and after her conversion to Catholicism she liked to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament in nearby St Peter's Catholic Church.
Elizabeth died January 4, 1821 at the age of 46 in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
On March 25, 1850 the Emmitsburg Community joined the French Company of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul.
Elizabeth Ann Seton was beatified by John XXIII March 17, 1963 and canonized by Paul VI September 14, 1975.