St Elizabeth Ann Seton

Foundress of the Sisters of Charity of St Joseph (entered heaven this day in 1821)

Dear Liz,

You mustn’t be so negative.  If your Protestant friends truly love Christ (which it seems they do, judging from your last few notes), then as soon as you help them see through their misconceptions about the Catholic Church, they will run with open arms into the fullness of the faith.  It’s a matter of prayer, of your example of Christ-like virtue, and of time for God’s grace to go to work. Don’t give up, and don’t get discouraged. After all, the first American-born saint, today’s saint (happy saint’s day, by the way), started out as an Episcopalian, and yet she ended up influencing the fledgling Catholic Church in the States perhaps more than anyone else.

She was one of those rare girls of delicate beauty and extraordinary culture.  She came from families (on her mother’s side and her father’s side) that were on the inside of the early American “aristocracy.”  Educated at all the right schools, she moved as easily among New York’s elite as she did among visiting European dignitaries. She married “well,” as they say, after losing her parents and a sister during her early years.  She and her husband William had five children, but financial difficulties aggravated William’s weak constitution, such that she took the doctor’s advice and brought him to Italy, hoping that the milder climate would do him good. Soon after their arrival, he died.  She stayed on with his business associates, who were faithful Catholics and financiers of international repute until she was able to sail again for home.

The months she spent in Italy gave her an opportunity to experience the beauty of Catholic worship, and to begin learning about Catholic doctrines like that of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  By the time she returned to New York, she was already falling in love with the ancient Church. Of course, this didn’t go over well with her family and friends, nor with her Episcopalian pastor. She entered a period of loneliness and confusion and turned more and more to prayer and study to discover God’s will for her.  Finally, with her doubts resolved, she was confirmed in the Catholic Church, and soon after began fulfilling her dream of educating the young Catholics of America. She was invited to Baltimore to start her first school and lay the foundations for the religious order that would carry on her work after she died. She suffered much in those years, especially from the loss of three of her children through painful sicknesses, but now she had Christ in the Eucharist to give her naturally iron willpower a supernatural boost (she was granted the uncommon – at that time – privilege of receiving Holy Communion daily), and by the celebration of the American Bicentennial in 1976, the Sisters of Charity of St Joseph had 7000 members serving parishes, orphanages, and hospitals throughout the fifty states.

Do you think it’s a coincidence that the first American-born canonized saint was a convert from Protestantism?  I highly doubt it. I think it is a sign of great things to come, and I don’t see why your efforts shouldn’t be a powerful stimulus to the process – as long as you are willing to follow in Mother Seton’s steps of determined faith, enterprising work, and passionate love for our Lord in the Eucharist.  Count on my prayers.

Your affectionate uncle, Eddy

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