Pope designates today 'women's day' as Elizabeth Ann Seton becomes saint

By Peter J. Shaw  |  September 14 1975
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VATICAN CITY (UPI) -- The Vatican is making today's canonization of America's first native-born saint a Holy Year tribute to women throughout the world.

Pope Paul VI, who will confer sainthood upon Mother Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton during a two-hour ceremony in St. Peter's square, has proclaimed it "Women's Day" and will have the unprecedented assistance of four women.

The four women will take part in the ceremony by reciting worthy deeds during four stages of Mother's Seton's life -- young girl, wife, widow and religious foundress. They will petition the 77-year-old pontiff to accept these deeds as grounds for canonization.

It will, of course, be pure pageantry, Pope Paul announced his decision to canonize Mother Seton, foundress of the Daughters of Charity, the first American order of Roman Catholic nuns, last Dec. 12.

More than 15,000 Americans are expected to be formal guests in the square when the Pope declares Mother Seton is now Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Among them will be six cardinals at least 80 bishops, more than 700 priests and 1,300 nuns. Also invited are 32 of Mother Seton's relatives, many of them Protestant.

Government dignitaries include Henry Cabot Lodge, the special U.S. envoy to the holy See (Washington does not have full diplomatic relations with the Vatican), U.S. Ambassador to Italy John A. Volpe and U.S. Navy Secretary J. William Middendorf.

A large U.S. Navy representation will be on hand because both of Mother Seton's sons served in the Navy.

Portions of the canonization Mass will be televised (NBC) in the United States, President Ford in a statement hailed the sainthood as "this historic spiritual event for America."

Hundreds of Italians from the coastal city of Leghorn will be cheering as much as the Daughters of Charity and others who have carried to fulfillment the 93-year quest for her canonization.

Had Mother Son not come to Italy as a young wife -- and left as a young widow, America might still have but one saint, the Italian-born Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini.

Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born into a New York City socialite family two years before the Declaration of Independence. Raised a devout Episcopalian, she was 19 when she married William Seton, 26, a Protestant with a comfortable shopping and importing business. She bore him three daughters and two sons.

In 1803, William Seton caught tuberculosis and doctors suggested a sea voyage. The Setons and eldest child Ann sailed to Leghorn to visit two Italian friends, Antonio and Filippo Filiechi, who also were William's business associates.

The ship was quarantined off the coast of Italy for one month for a month because of a yellow fever epidemic in the United States. William Seton, his health failing fast, died a week after finally going ashore.

Mrs. Seton, then 30, was consoled by the Filiechi brothers who took her to Florence, where she became interested in Roman Catholicism. She returned to New York with Ann four months later, still an Episcopalian. On March 14, 1805, she became a Catholic convert.

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