“Valley of Blessings” Joins World in Celebration of Local Saint

Anita DiGregory

“Elizabeth Ann Seton is a saint. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is an American. All of us say this with special joy, and with the intention of honoring the land and the nation from which she sprang forth as the first flower in the calendar of the saints. Elizabeth Ann Seton was wholly American! Rejoice for your glorious daughter. Be proud of her. And know how to preserve her fruitful heritage.”—Pope Paul VI, in his homily from the canonization of Elizabeth Ann Seton, September 14, 1975.

The first canonized saint born in America, Mother Seton (as she is still fondly known) remains a saint for our country, our world, and our times. A convert, wife, mother, and founder of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, the first community for religious women established in the United States, Mother Seton remains today a beacon of hope in a time of pandemic, isolation, and uncertainty. 

On January 4, 2021, the world will celebrate St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s feast day and the 200th anniversary of her death. Locally, the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton will kick off a year-long celebration of this momentous anniversary with a commemorative Mass celebrated by Archbishop William E. Lori of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The Mass, scheduled for 11:30 a.m., will be aired live on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network). Father Ted Trinko will celebrate an additional Mass at 1:30 p.m. that day.

Lori, who at the time of Seton’s canonization was studying to become a priest at Mount St. Mary’s seminary, recalls the day Seton became a saint. He and his fellow seminarians helped the Sisters of Charity coordinate the celebrations in Emmitsburg.

“Looking back on it, I’m not sure that we were much help to the sisters,” joked Lori. “But, I certainly remember how happy we were, how excited we were that a saint, who so loved Emmitsburg and who so loved the grotto, and who knew our seminary, and was the first saint born in the United States…we were so excited about all these things unfolding before us.”

Mother Seton had a deep love for the Catoctin Mountains and Valley, referring to the area as the “Valley of Blessings.” It was here that she walked, and prayed, and served the community. It was in Emmitsburg, in the heart of the Catoctin Valley, where she founded St. Joseph’s Academy and Free School, the first free Catholic school for girls staffed by sisters in the United States.  Here is where Mother Seton’s religious community flourished, and she wrote, “Our community increases very fast, and no doubt will do a great deal of good in the care of the sick and instruction of children, which is our chief business.”

The Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph inspired the formation of other communities across North America. Today, her legacy continues as the religious sisters of these communities serve the poor, assist the needy, care for the sick, and educate the young, just as Mother Seton did in countries throughout the world.

“Mother Seton sent sisters out across the country, who in turn have gone out across the world, and they’ve built hospitals and schools and orphanages—all of that came out of our community here,” said Rob Judge, executive director of the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. “The first American-born person to be canonized as a saint, she’s a saint of the universal church, which of course is international—Emmitsburg’s own, so to speak, has an international footprint. That’s a reflection on the community, and they rightly should have a lot of pride in that recognition.”

Now, on this 200th anniversary, the town of Emmitsburg will join with the world to once again celebrate Mother Seton. In addition to the commemorative Masses, The National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton will be hosting a year-long celebration honoring this anniversary and “Two Centuries of Charity.”

On January 4, the Shrine will premiere the new and inspiring film, “Elizabeth Ann Seton:  Seeker to Saint.” Every Saturday throughout the winter, the Shrine will offer free tours of Mother Seton’s historic homes, in addition to exclusive, live virtual tours. They will offer a free, downloadable, spiritual biography, as well as a deep discount on Annabelle M. Melville’s book, Elizabeth Bayley Seton. The year-long celebration has a few surprises in store and promises some big news coming soon. More information on these upcoming events can be found at setonshrine.org/200years.

The Shrine strives to continue Mother Seton’s legacy through prayer, community outreach and support, education, and programs. Some of their newest initiatives include creating a prayer line (where the public can call, and trained staff can offer prayer and outreach), the Seeds of Hope program (offering assistance and support to the community), virtual learning, pilgrimage, educational and spiritual podcasts, and tours that bring guests “back in time” (utilizing adult and junior history interpreters).

“Our goal is to foster devotion to Mother Seton, to continue her legacy, and to make sure that her work remains in the minds and hearts of all,” adds Judge. “This is more than the story of how Elizabeth Ann Seton became an American saint. It’s about a woman who changed the world, the lives she touched, and a legacy that lives on today. That’s why visitors of all backgrounds are drawn here, and why we welcome everyone to share in this celebration.”

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