The Canonization of Elizabeth Seton
September 14, 1975
Elizabeth Seton’s canonization as the first American-born saint was celebrated Sept. 14, 1975. The process leading to this event was a long road that required the prayers and fortitude of many of her Sisters of Charity descendants as well as many devoted followers.
It all began Aug. 22, 1882, when James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, after saying Mass at St. Joseph’s in Emmitsburg, Md., turned to the Sisters and said, “I have been inspired this morning to begin the Cause of Mother Seton’s canonization.” His statement inspired others and the Cause was taken up by thousands of men and women throughout the United States and in Rome. The Archdiocese of Baltimore undertook extensive studies of Elizabeth Seton’s life and writings before the Cause for Elizabeth Seton’s sainthood could be introduced to the Holy See.
Pope Pius XII signed the Decree of Introduction of her Cause Feb. 28, 1940, 58 years later. The decree was the first official document ever issued by the Holy See in English. The following year the Mother Seton Guild began working to promote devotion to Elizabeth Seton and to solicit prayers for her canonization.
The first meeting of the Conference of Mother Seton’s Daughters, held at Emmitsburg on October 1947, proposed “to strengthen the bond of union among the member congregations and to work together in advancing the cause of Mother Elizabeth Seton.” This was followed by semi-annual meetings attended by the major superiors of each congregation.
In 1957 the Sacred Congregation of Rites approved the documentation of the Cause and on Dec. 18, 1959, Pope John XXIII declared her Venerable Elizabeth Ann Seton. The two miracles required for Beatification were approved in 1961. Pope John XXIII presided at the Beatification ceremony March 17, 1963, proclaiming Blessed Elizabeth Ann Seton.
From then until 1975 the Federation focused almost exclusively on promoting the Cause of Elizabeth Seton, sponsoring activities to foster devotion to the prospective saint, obtaining signatures in support of her canonization, and overseeing the republication of the first Seton biography by Rev. Charles I. White.
All of these efforts came to fruition when Pope Paul VI canonized Elizabeth Seton on Sept. 14, 1975 [the International Year of Women and the bicentennial celebration in the United States]. In their planning for the event, Federation members desired that the festivities be marked by a spirit of simplicity. Among the gifts the Federation presented to Pope Paul VI was a contribution of $200,000 to a World Hunger Fund, drawn on the Bank of New York with which Elizabeth’s husband and father-in-law had been associated. S. Hildegard Marie Mahoney, SC (New Jersey), chair of the Federation and lector at the canonization Mass, was the first woman to read at a papal Eucharistic celebration. US President Gerald R. Ford designated Sunday, Sept. 14 as National Saint Elizabeth Seton Day, as she was the first person born in the United States to be recognized as a saint. Celebrations were held throughout the United States and Canada.
Read Reflections Below
It was Friday, Sept. 12 when I took off from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on our Rome pilgrimage. It was a full eight days highlighted by the canonization of Mother Seton, an audience with the Holy Father and the celebration of the Triduum masses at the four major basilicas of Rome: St. Peter’s, St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran and St. Paul Outside the Walls.
Two Sisters of Charity, Carol Bauer and Mary Ellen Murphy, employed by St. Francis of Assisi parish in Centerville, Ohio, were sent as representatives of the parish to the canonization of Elizabeth Ann Seton. S. Grace Murphy accompanied us on the trip.
I begin with the borrowed and adapted words of the evangelist John, because I know of no truer description of the woman whose life we remember and celebrate today. For she was one who never doubted that she came from God, that she was called by Him and sent to witness not to herself and her own goodness, but rather, to show goodness and love are creative of all that is good or beautiful or happy within any of us.
On July 6, 1975, Mary Porter’s 21-year-old son, Jim, sustained a massive brain injury in a motorcycle accident. The doctors gave the family no hope of Jim waking up from his coma. After reading about Mother Seton’s upcoming canonization in the Cleveland Catholic Universe Bulletin, Mary felt a close relationship to this new saint who as a mother had experienced the death of two of her daughters. Mary had already buried two of her seven children – Patty, at age 7, and Hal, at age 20. The family was devastated after Jim’s accident.