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St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

My Trip to the National St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine in Emmitsburg, MD

As part of this Catholic mom blog, my goal is share with you different places that my family and I visit throughout the year. Although we don’t have the flexibility to travel as much as I would like to, we definitely plan to see various experiences and locations that have a special Catholic connection to us. The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is a place that has been on my list for a long time which is why I was thrilled to finally have the opportunity to go!

I can actually remember exactly when I learned about St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. It was 1st grade. The Catholic school that I attended would put a class in charge of organizing a mass each month. That year, the 1st grade class was assigned to coordinate the All Saints Day mass. As part of the celebration, each 1st grader was given the opportunity to dress up as a saint. Since my middle name is Elizabeth, I was assigned St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. 

Even through all of the struggles and ups and downs that I have had with my faith, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and that experience in 1st grade is one that has always stuck with me. For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to visit the National St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine in Emmitsburg, Maryland. In February of this past year, my family and I had the opportunity to visit the shrine which is something that I will not soon forget. 

Who Was St. Elizabeth Ann Seton? 

Elizabeth Ann Seton, born Elizabeth Ann Bayley in 1774, was an American Catholic saint and educator. She is recognized as the first native-born citizen of the United States to be canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church. Seton played a significant role in the development of education and social services in the United States.

Elizabeth Ann Seton was born into a prominent Episcopal family in New York City. She married William Magee Seton at the age of 19 and had five children. After her husband’s death due to tuberculosis, she converted to Catholicism in 1805, a decision that led to her social ostracism by her Protestant family and friends.

Seton founded the first free Catholic school for girls in the United States in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 1810. This establishment eventually developed into Saint Joseph’s Academy and College, which is still in operation today as Mount St. Mary’s University. Seton also founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s, a religious community focused on education and caring for the poor.

Elizabeth Ann Seton’s efforts in the field of education helped shape the Catholic school system in the United States. She emphasized the importance of providing quality education to children, especially girls, and stressed the value of religious instruction alongside academic subjects.

Elizabeth Ann Seton died in 1821 at the age of 46. She was beatified in 1963 by Pope John XXIII and canonized as a saint by Pope Paul VI in 1975. Seton’s legacy continues to inspire educators, religious communities, and those involved in charitable work, and she is remembered as a pioneering figure in American Catholicism.

Interesting St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Facts

There is no shortage of interesting St. Elizabeth Ann Seton facts. Over and above the fact that she is part of the group of women who fall under the category of saints who were mothers, here are just a few St. Elizabeth Ann Seton facts that I found fascinating:

  1. Conversion to Catholicism: Elizabeth Ann Seton converted to Catholicism in 1805, becoming the first native-born American to be canonized as a saint. Her conversion led to strained relationships with some of her family members and friends. Although she struggled with this at times, her focus was always on finding God.
  2. Founding of the Sisters of Charity: Seton established the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s, the first American religious community for women, in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 1809. The community focused on educating and caring for the poor and the sick.
  3. Education: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton played a significant role in establishing Catholic education in the United States. She founded the first Catholic school for girls in the United States and emphasized the importance of education for young women.
  4. Sainthood: Elizabeth Ann Seton was canonized as a saint by Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975. She was the first native-born American to be canonized.
  5. Patron Saint: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is the patron saint of Catholic schools, seafarers, and widows. She is also known as the patron saint of the state of Maryland.
  6. Personal Loss: Seton experienced numerous personal tragedies in her life. Her husband, William Magee Seton, died in 1803 due to illness, leaving her a widow with five young children. Despite these hardships, she persevered and continued her religious work.
  7. St. Joseph’s Academy and Free School: Seton founded St. Joseph’s Academy and Free School in Emmitsburg, Maryland, which later became Mount St. Mary’s University. It is the oldest independent Catholic university in the United States.
  8. Legacy: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s life and work have had a lasting impact on the Catholic Church in the United States. Her dedication to education and caring for the poor influenced the development of Catholic schools and social services in the country.
  9. Feast Day: The feast day of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is celebrated on January 4th each year in the Catholic Church.

What is There To Do at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton? 

I was slightly overwhelmed by how much there is to do at the shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. In many ways, I viewed this trip as part of my Catholic mom self care because it’s something that I knew would help me feel closer to not only St. Elizabeth but God in so many ways. I think that I was just overwhelmed in general that I had the opportunity to finally see where this incredibly saint lived for a period of time and was buried. Here are some things you can see and experience at the shrine:

  • Basilica: The shrine houses the Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. The basilica is a beautiful and sacred space where visitors can attend Mass, participate in liturgical celebrations, and spend time in prayer and reflection. One of the main things that I wanted to do when we went to the shrine was go to mass. The shrine offers a daily mass on weekdays at 1:30pm which was perfect because it gave us the opportunity to explore a bit and then celebrate mass. 
  • Historic Homes: The shrine encompasses two historic homes connected to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. The White House, also known as the Stone House, is the original home where Seton and her community of sisters lived and taught. The Historic Sisters’ House, located nearby, offers exhibits and displays on Seton’s life and the history of the Sisters of Charity. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see the inside of the homes during our visit, however, we are definitely planning on doing this the next time we go. 
  • Museum and Exhibits: The shrine features a museum and exhibits that showcase the life, work, and spiritual journey of Elizabeth Ann Seton. You can learn about her conversion to Catholicism, her educational initiatives, her impact on American Catholicism, and her path to sainthood. The shrine recently renovated their museum which is something that was still under construction when we went. Their museum and exhibits also include Civil War history due in large part to the fact that Gettysburg is a mere 20 minutes away. 
  • Relics: The shrine houses a collection of relics associated with St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, including personal belongings and items related to her life and work. Relics are objects or remains of saints that hold religious significance for Catholic devotion and veneration. In the gift shop, my son and I purchased bracelets and placed them on the tomb of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton which means that we left the shrine with 3rd class relics! 
  • Gift Shop: There is a gift shop on-site where visitors can purchase books, religious items, souvenirs, and other items related to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and Catholic faith.

For me, without question, the best thing to see at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was where she is buried. She is buried in the basilica itself in a beautiful niche off to the right if you walk into the basilica from the front. I was in awe of the fact that this woman who had been on my mind and in my heart for so long was now right in front of me. In fact, I made sure that we got a seat for mass that was close to where she was buried just because I was so moved by the fact that now I could be so close to her. 

What is the Best Time to Visit the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton? 

Realistically, you can go and see the shrine any time throughout the year. However, there were a few things that we learned during our trip. We went in February. This was due to school and just general planning issues that we faced when it came to timing. I would not recommend going this time of year, however. There are plenty of things to see and do outside not only on the grounds of the shrine itself but in Emmitsburg as well as Gettysburg which is reasonably close. 

My Reflections on My Trip To See St. Elizabeth Ann Seton 

This trip is one that I will not forget and it’s a pilgrimage that I want to make again. I’m looking forward to coming back here again, when my kids are older and I have some flexibility to enjoy the different aspects of the museum as well as seeing more of what is on the grounds. 

As I grow older, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is a woman that continues to stay close to my heart. She was an incredible mother who became dedicated to her Catholic faith when everything around her seemed to be falling apart. She came to trust in God and His plan for her which is something that we should all strive to do as part of our Catholic mom journey

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