SHRINE OF ELIZABETH ANN SETON
Manhattan, NY, USA
Standing at the very foot of Manhattan island overlooking Battery Park stands a little church and a building attached to it. The building is 7 State Street. It dates to 1793 and stands where an older building once stood. In this older building Elizabeth Ann Seton (nee Bayley) was born in August 1774. Although born an Episcopalian, she would become best known as the United States first native born Catholic Saint.
The family lived in 7 State Street from 1793 onwards. At 19 Elizabeth Ann was married to William Seton. He was in the shipping business and had a run of bad luck in the late 1790s which ended up leaving the family bankrupt. William then fell ill and was told to go to Italy (with its warmer climate) to recuperate. Elizabeth and their eldest daughter also travelled to Italy but they were all held in quarantine and William died. Unable to afford to return to the US, Elizabeth lived with a wealthy Catholic family and when she finally returned to the US in 1805 she converted to the Roman Catholic faith.
Her timing was good, at that time the Catholic faith was just emerging from the shadow of illegality (it was banned in England at the time and only became legal with the Revolution). Elizabeth attempted to start a school, but strong anti-Catholic feelings meant this failed.
In 1809 she was invited to Emmitsburg, Maryland by the Sulpician Fathers where she finally succeeded in setting up the Saints Josephs Academy and Free School a traditional Catholic Girls School, the first of its kind in the USA to thrive. This eventually became the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, for whom Elizabeth Ann Seton worked for the remainder of her life.
In 1959 Elizabeth was declared Venerable by the Church, Pope John XXIII beatified her in 1963 and then, in 1975, she became Americas first native-born Saint after she was canonised by Pope Paul VI.
The little church that was built next to 7 State Street was constructed as a shrine to her memory and her former home has become a Museum. Both stand swamped by the leviathans of Downtown Manhattan looking like something picked up from a small New England town and placed incongruously amongst the shining silver and glass.
Photo - Andrew J. Müller
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