Elizabeth Ann Seton became a saint primarily for founding the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's and establishing Saint Joseph's Academy and Free School in Baltimore, Md. She was the first person born in America to be proclaimed a saint by the Catholic Church.
Born in 1774 in colonial New York, Elizabeth Seton married a wealthy businessman at age 19 and had five children. After a period of affluence, her husband was forced into bankruptcy, fell ill and died. In 1805, Seton converted to Catholicism and started a school for young girls in New York. In 1808, the Sulpician Fathers, a society of French priests, invited her to Maryland, where she founded Saint Joseph's Academy and Free School, the first free Catholic school in the United States, and the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's, the first American congregation of religious sisters. This was the beginning of the U.S. Catholic parochial school system. Adopting vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Seton became known as Mother Seton. Her order soon expanded, establishing more schools and orphanages along the East Coast of the United States. In 1821, Mother Seton died when she was only 46 years old.
On March 17, 1963, Pope John XXIII beatified Elizabeth Seton. On Sept. 14, 1975, she was canonized by Pope Paul VI, who made special mention of the fact that she was the first American to be declared a saint.