“…having for a convent the houses of the sick…for a cell, a hired room; for a chapel their parish church; for a cloister the streets of the city; for enclosure, obedience, with an obligation to go nowhere but to the houses of the sick, or places that are necessary to serve them; for a grille, the fear of God; for veil, holy modesty; making use of no other form of profession to assure their vocation than the continual confidence they have in divine providence and the offering they make to God of all that they are and of their service in the person of the poor.”
“…above all, be very gentle and courteous toward your poor. You know that they are our masters and that we must love them tenderly and respect them deeply. It is not enough for these maxims to be in our minds; we must bear witness to them by our gentle and charitable care.”
“As for your conduct toward the sick, may you never take the attitude of merely getting the task done. You must show them affection; serving them from the heart; inquiring of them what they might need; speaking to them gently and compassionately…”
Up to that point in history, religious communities of women had been restricted to cloistered convents, due primarily to their pronounced perpetual vows.
Vincent and Louise had a radically new concept of how these young women should live their religious commitment.
These peasant women — called “Daughters of Charity” by the poor they served — were lay women who would eventually profess annual rather than perpetual vows.
Given the restrictions of the time, becoming nuns would have prevented their freedom to go about the city and villages serving those most abandoned by society. Vincent and Louise began a revolution of women’s religious life.
Seeing Christ in the faces of the poor, Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac began a legacy of charity that was permeated with endless love, compassion, respect and devotion. The very motto of the Company of Daughters of Charity is: “The charity of Jesus crucified compels us.”
The rule was brought over to the United States and adapted by Elizabeth Ann Seton and her Sisters.
The revolution begun by Vincent and Louise in 1633 made its way to America in 1809.
Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born on August 28, 1774, in New York City. In 1774, the aura of revolution was penetrating the soul of the American colonies. Beleaguered by taxation without representation imposed upon them by their mother country, the colonists were determined to gain their independence from England. . . even if it meant war. It was into a world permeated with the spirit of independence and revolution that Elizabeth was born.
Her father was a respected physician; her mother was the daughter of an Episcopalian rector. When Elizabeth was three years old, her mother died giving birth. Although her father remarried, Elizabeth and her sister were sent to live with relatives in the country, but in spite of difficult and lonely times, Elizabeth demonstrated a courageous spirit.
In her late teens, Ann met William Magee Seton. They fell in love and married when Elizabeth was 19 years old (Will was 25). Within seven years, they had five children: Anna Marie, William, Richard, Catherine and Rebecca. In the course of time, Will’s health began to decline due to tuberculosis. He died while in Italy in 1803. At age 29, Ann was a widow with children, and she was welcomedin Italy into the home of the Filicchi family, two business brothers and friends of the Setons. During her stay, Elizabeth was introduced to Catholicsim, and (after returning to New York) became a Catholic herself.
Her conversion to Catholicism created many difficulties for Elizabeth. Her family and many of her friends abandoned her. At the beginning of the 19th century, Catholics in the United States numbered fewer than 30,000. Most Catholic families were of the immigrant Irish and Italian working class, and they were a despised and barely tolerated minority. However, throughout the century, the Catholic church would gradually become a respected ecclesiastic body influencing the moral fiber of the nation. This was due initially to the leadership of Archbishop John Carroll in Baltimore, the first Bishop of the United States.
Education was a high priority for Bishop Carroll. Father William Dubourg—a Frenchy Sulpician priest in the diocese—invited Elizabeth to Baltimore to open a small school for poor immigrant girls, and since Maryland was relatively free of anti-Catholic sentiment, Elizabeth chose to take the journey there.
Ann Elizabeth Seton opened a small school for girls and invited other women to join her. Along with these women, Elizabeth desired to form a community of religious women. The foundation place for this community was deemed to be Emmitsburg, Maryland, some 50 miles west of Baltimore.
The same revolutionary spirit that inflamed Louise and Vincent burned in the heart of Elizabeth Ann Seton more than a century later when she reached Emmitsburg, Maryland, on June 21, 1809.
This was the first native community of religious women in the United States.
Father Dubourg became the spiritual director of the Sisters. He strongly encouraged Elizabeth to adopt the rules of the Daughters of Charity in France, his desire that the two communities would unite. The rule was brought over to the United States and adapted by Elizabeth and her Sisters.
There was an academy and village school in Emmitsburg, Maryland, as well as an orphanage and school in Philadelphia, and an orphanage in New York.
Eventually, the works of her community spread throughout North America.
The affiliation with the Daughters of Charity in France took place in 1850, and California beckoned them by 1852.
Some worked in the cities where they were missioned, while others traveled from battlefield to battlefield, north and south. They continued Mother Seton’s ministry of charity, bringing solace and healing to the wounded of both armies, sometimes at their own peril.
The armies of the Potomac and Northern Virginia succeeded one another at St. Joseph’s. Like Elizabeth Ann Seton, the Sisters during this battle sought out and served those in need. Approximately 40 years after Mother Seton’s death in 1821, her home was the site of the Union encampment in 1863. St. Joseph’s House, now known as Mother Seton’s White House was where Union officers conducted a war council to prepare for the battle of Gettysburg.