Catholic Herald Reporter MRS. ELIZABETH SETON, married at 19, a widow with five children at 29, a convert, foundress of a religious order now 11,000 strong, and who died only 142 years ago, was formally beatified on Sunday.
More than 3,000 citizens of the United States packed themselves into the Basilica for the ceremony which took Mother Seton well on her way to becoming their nation's first native-born canonised saint.
Cardinals Spellman and Ritter were there, and a high place among honoured guests went to 15-yearold Ann O'Neill, of Baltimore, whose cure from leukaemia is attributed to Mother Seton's intercession.
Pope John went down to St. Peter's in the evening to venerate the new beata, and to pay tribute to the United States. "Citizens of America have explored the air and the sea, they have given openhanded hospitality and employment to people immigrating from every land," he said.
Elizabeth Bayley was born in 1774 in pre-Revolution New York. Her father was a doctor and her family were related to some Dutch pioneer families including the Roosevelts and the Van Cortlands. They were Episcopalians, and Elizabeth, a gay, fun-loving girl who loved parties, was married at 19 to William Seton, heir to a New York mercantile fortune.
But with the turn of the century William Seton's fortune collapsed, and so did his health. The family went to Italy where, it was hoped, that Mr. Seton's health and finances would improve. But William died leaving Elizabeth almost penniless and with five children to care for. It was then that Italian friends introduced her to the Catholic faith. She was not, however, received into the Church until her return to New York some time later: an action which just did not fit in with Society's idea of what at the time was "the done thing" In desperation she opened a boarding-house for schoolboys. It failed. She moved to more Catholic Baltimore and opened a school. In 1809 she formed a religious community of women at Emmetsburg, Maryland. There she started what was in effect the first Catholic parish school in the U.S.
By the time she died, of TB in 1821, her tiny order had expanded to 10 houses. In 1850, it united with the Daughters of Charity founded by St. Vincent de Paul. Today. with 11.000 members. they run many of America's most successful colleges and high schools.
The beatification of Archbishop Neumann of Philadelphia, fixed for June 23, may be attended by President Kennedy who is due to be in Rome at that time.