In Pope Francis’s homily during vespers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Sept 24, 2015, he praised Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton for her heroic charity to found the first free Catholic school for girls in America. Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born in New York City on August 28, 1774 to a prominent Episcopal family, and became a widow at a very young age. After the death of her husband, she entered the Catholic Church in 1805 in New York. Later, she founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, the first community for religious women established in the United States. She also began St. Joseph’s Academy, a Free School, planting the seeds of Catholic education in the United States. She died on January 4, 1821. Mother Seton, as she is often called, was canonized on Sunday, September 14, 1975 in St. Peter’s Square by Pope Paul VI. She was the first citizen born in the United States to be canonized as “Saint.”
Almost two hundred years since her death, the American Catholic Church is living in the world where Mother Seton’ legacy is almost destroyed. In the past two decades in the United States, more than 1,800 Catholic elementary and secondary schools have closed. Moreover, Catholic school closures have led to increased crime and disorder and decreased social cohesion in the urban neighborhoods where they are located. On the memorial of Elizabeth Ann Seton, let us pray for the rise of many heroes of charity who want to spend their time, energy and money to revive Catholic education in this country. Let us pray for the increase of vocations to women religious life who can continue the legacy of Mother Seton. Let us pray for many young men and women who are called to be teachers in Catholic schools. Let us pray for the Bishops so that they give more priorities and support for Catholic elementary and secondary schools.