She was born to the prominent Bayley family of New York City, and raised in the Episcopal Church. At the age of nineteen, she married William Magee Seton, a wealthy businessman. Five children were born to the marriage, Anna Maria, William, Richard, Catherine (also known as "Kit") and Rebecca. Her husband's business lost several ships at sea and the family ended up bankrupt. Her husband soon became sick and the doctors sent him to Italy due to the climate with Elizabeth accompanying him. They were held in quarantine in Italy where her husband died. She spent time with a wealthy family where she was exposed to Catholicism. Two years later she converted to Roman Catholicism, on March 14, 1805. One of her half-nephews, James Roosevelt Bayley, would later become Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Owing to her conversion she lost the support of her friends and family. To support her children, she started a school in Baltimore, however it failed due to the anti-catholic bigotry of the day. After some trying and difficult years, Elizabeth was able to establish a community in Emmitsburg, Maryland dedicated to the care for the children of the poor. She founded the first free school in America. The religious order was the first religious community of apostolic women founded in the United States. The remainder of her life was spent in leading and developing the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph's which she had founded, along with the Sulpician priests of Baltimore. Today six independent religious communities trace their roots to the humble beginnings of the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
She was described as a charming and cultured lady. Her connections to New York society and the accompanying social pressures to leave the life she had created for herself did not deter her from embracing her religious vocation and charitable mission. She established St. Joseph's Academy and Free School in order to educate young girls to live by religious values. The greatest difficulties she faced were actually internal, stemming from misunderstandings, interpersonal conflicts, and the deaths of two daughters, her loved ones, and young sisters in community. She died of tuberculosis at the age of 46 in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
Elizabeth Seton helped the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children, New York City's first private charity organization. In 1810, Seton established Saint Joseph's Academy and Free School in Emmitsburg, Maryland, a school dedicated to the education of Catholic girls, at the invitation of Samuel Sutherland Cooper. Cooper was a wealthy convert and seminarian who knew of the Catholic settlement near Emmitsburg and the newly established Mount St. Mary's College and Seminary, being begun by Father John Dubois and the Sulpicians. Dubois would later become Bishop of New York. St. Joseph's Academy developed into Saint Joseph College which closed in 1973.
Elizabeth founded the first religious community of apostolic women of the United States, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph's, in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.Emmitsburg, Maryland, was the home of Elizabeth from 1809 until her death in 1821. Today, her remains are entombed in the Basilica that bears her name: Basilica of the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.
Dedicated to following the will of God, Elizabeth Ann had a deep devotion to the Eucharist, Sacred Scripture, and the Virgin Mary. The 23rd Psalm was her favorite prayer throughout her life. She was a woman of prayer and service who embraced the apostolic spirituality of Saint Louise de Marillac and Saint Vincent de Paul.
"We must pray literally without ceasing—without ceasing—in every occurrence and employment of our lives . . . that prayer of the heart which is independent of place or situation, or which is rather a habit of lifting up the heart to God as in a constant communication with Him." Elizabeth Ann Seton. many people feel that she didnt complete much in her life time. a church is named after her in naperville, Il
Several schools have been named for Seton: