"We must pray literally without ceasing—without ceasing—in every occurrence and employment of our lives . . . that prayer of the heart which is independent of place or situation, or which is rather a habit of lifting up the heart to God as in a constant communication with Him."--Elizabeth Ann Seton
Today is the feast day for Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821), the first person born in the United States to be canonized by the Catholic Church (1975). She is the patron saint of Catholic schools.
Born in New York to a prominent Episcopalian family, Elizabeth Ann Seton was left motherless at the age of three. Even as a child, she was dedicated to Christianity, wearing a small crucifix around her neck and taking delight in reading the Psalms. Psalm 23 remained her favorite prayer throughout her life. When she was 19 years old, Elizabeth married a New York businessman, to whom she was devoted. The couple had five children. Despite her many household duties, she found time to organize prominent women in New York City to visit the sick poor in their homes and bring them and their families sustenance. Inspired by the work of Saint Vincent de Paul, the group was called informally the "Ladies of Charity."
In December 1803, Elizabeth Ann Seton was widowed and lived for a period of time in Rome with the Italian family of her husband's business partner. Here she was introduced to the Catholic faith, and in March 1805 was received into the church, amid the protests of her family and friends. Faced with the necessity to support her children, Mrs. Seton sought teaching positions. In 1809, after several difficult years, she accepted the invitation of the Sulpicians Order to teach in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Here she founded the Saint Joseph's Academy and Free School for the education of Catholic girls, the first such school in the United States. She also established a religious community in Emmitsburg dedicated to the care of the children of the poor. She died at the age of 46 of tuberulosis, having already buried two of her daughters.
You can get a glimpse of the soul of this saint in the book Elizabeth Seton: Selected Writings edited by Ellin Kelly and Annabelle Melville. Here is a benediction that she wrote toward the end of her life:
Mary Queen and Virgin pure!--as poor unfledged Birds uncovered in our cold and hard nests on this Earth we cry to her for her sheltering outspread wings--little hearts not yet knowing sorrow--but poor tired and older ones pressed with pains and cares seek peace and rest--O our Mother! and find it in thee.--