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.
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