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In some ways, this Vincentian Mindwalk is a follow-up to a recent well-received reflection “The Wisdom of an 8-Year-old”.

Tammy, an eight-year-old with chronic renal failure and a second failing transplant, comforted a newly admitted five-year- old who was being investigated for renal failure. She had her arm around the crying girl saying, “Now, don’t you worry. I have been through all this and will help you through it.”

Her thoughts were still fresh in my mind when I rediscovered an essay by Elizabeth Bookser Barkley Elizabeth Ann Seton: A Profoundly Human Saint. When I finished it I thought  little Tammy’s words summed up much of what Elizabeth Ann Seton could say at the end of her 46 years of life. ““Now, don’t you worry. I have been through all this and will help you through it.”.

She had it all, lost it all, yet found all the more

These words sum up Elizabeth Ann Seton’s life.

Over the course of her life, she was a daughter, debutante, wife, mother, widow, teacher, sister, religious sister, and a founder of a religious community. Each of these stages brought with it joy, pain, and new challenges.

From her earliest days she knew grief. Her mother died when she three. The following year her two-year old sister died. Toward the end of her life she buried two of her daughters.

Well-born and equally well married, she knew the New York “society life” of the early 19th century. She may even have danced at George Washington’s inauguration ball. She and her husband were accomplished musicians.

She almost died in childbirth. Her husband’s business failed. With yellow fever rampant they were quarantined in a damp cell outside Leghorn, Italy where he died.  

Italian friends were kind enough to take her into their home. They introduced this Episcopalian to the Catholic Eucharist. When she converted to Catholicism she was shunned by her societal friends. She bravely started a new life in rural Maryland supporting herself by teaching which led to her pioneering role in the Catholic school system and even founding a religious community.

Through it all she remained a mother concerned especially about one of her problem children.

Through it all she remained a seeker of God. She steadfastly sought to discover God’s presence in these events. She recognized that “Grace has its moments”.

Our own cycles in life

Our own cycles in life may not have as wide a range. Yet, her feast on January 4 at the beginning of a new year can serve as a time to reflect. Our life cycles and the many roles we have lived within each of these cycles have brought with them many of the same joys and sorrows, hopes, and challenges.

One of her more recent biographers, Anne Merwin, writes in “Saints by Our Side: Elizabeth Ann Seton”.

“ Elizabeth experienced a wide range of challenges and joys as a daughter, wife, mother, laborer, and convert to Catholicism. God’s love and the hope for eternal life gave purpose, meaning, and direction to Elizabeth’s life. Elisabeth’s sacrifice and service to others gave her peace. That peace of God is also meant for us. She changed “Why, God?” into “With God’s help, why not?”

In the words of Bishop Barres “She was attentive to the voice of grace!”

Things to ponder in our hearts

  • What parts of Elizabeth’s life resonate with your own experience?
  • Have you ever asked,”Why God?”
  • How might God be calling you to a deeper trust in his wisdom and providence?

Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk

Elizabeth Ann Seton

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