St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was canonized in Rome on September 14, 1975, a couple of weeks after my arrival in Halifax. I remember it vividly as there was a wonderful celebration of thanksgiving at St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica that day, for the Sisters of Charity of Halifax (an offshoot of Mother Seton's sisters who came to Nova Scotia at the invitation of Archbishop William Walsh in May 1849).
Since that time, I have become a great admirer of Mother Seton, the first native-born saint of the American Church, and of her legacy in the spirituality of the Sisters inspired by her who are engaged in diverse ministries (beginning with education and work in the health care field). Many Sisters of Charity are friends and acquaintances, so I am pleased to join with them today in celebrating the feast of their foundress and recalling her story:
Born two years before the American Revolution, Elizabeth grew up in the "cream" of New York society. She was a prolific reader, and read everything from the Bible to contemporary novels.
In spite of her high society background, Elizabeth's early life was quiet, simple, and often lonely. As she grew a little older, the Bible was to become her continual instruction, support and comfort; she would continue to love the Scriptures for the rest of her life.
In 1794, Elizabeth married the wealthy young William Seton, with whom she was deeply in love. The first years of their marriage were happy and prosperous. Elizabeth wrote in her diary at first autumn, "My own home at twenty-the world-that and heaven too-quite impossible."
This time of Elizabeth's life was to be a brief moment of earthly happiness before the many deaths and partings she was to suffer. Within four years, Will's father died, leaving the young couple in charge of Will's seven half brothers and sisters, as well as the family's importing business. Now events began to move fast - and with devastating effect. Both Will's business and his health failed. He was finally forced to file a petition of bankruptcy. In a final attempt to save Will's health, the Setons sailed for Italy, where Will had business friends. Will died of tuberculosis while in Italy. Elizabeth's one consolation was that Will had recently awakened to the things of God.
The many enforced separations from dear ones by death and distance, served to draw Elizabeth's heart to God and eternity. The accepting and embracing of God's will -"The Will," as she called it - would be a keynote in her spiritual life.
Elizabeth's deep concern for the spiritual welfare of her family and friends eventually led her into the Catholic Church.
In Italy, Elizabeth captivated everyone by her own kindness, patience, good sense, wit and courtesy. During this time Elizabeth became interested in the Catholic Faith, and over a period of months, her Italian friends guided her in Catholic instructions.
Elizabeth's desire for the Bread of Life was to be a strong force leading her to the Catholic Church.
Having lost her mother at an early age, Elizabeth felt great comfort in the idea that the Blessed Virgin was truly her mother. She asked the Blessed Virgin to guide her to the True Faith. Elizabeth finally joined the Catholic Church in 1805.
At the suggestion of the president of St. Mary's College in Baltimore, Maryland, Elizabeth started a school in that city. She and two other young women, who helped her in her work, began plans for a Sisterhood. They established the first free Catholic school in America. When the young community adopted their rule, they made provisions for Elizabeth to continue raising her children.
On March 25, 1809, Elizabeth Seton pronounced her vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, binding for one year. From that time she was called Mother Seton.
Although Mother Seton was now afflicted with tuberculosis, she continued to guide her children. The Rule of the Sisterhood was formally ratified in 1812. It was based upon the Rule St. Vincent de Paul had written for his Daughters of Charity in France. By 1818, in addition to their first school, the sisters had established two orphanages and another school. Today six groups of sisters trace their origins to Mother Seton's initial foundation.
For the last three years of her life, Elizabeth felt that God was getting ready to call her, and this gave her joy. Mother Seton died in 1821 at the age of 46, only sixteen years after becoming a Catholic.
One part of St. Elizabeth's story is of her stay in Leghorn, Italy which, I discovered this summer, is Livorno where I spent a week's vacation. At the nearby shrine of Montenero there is a plaque recalling that she prayed there after the death of her husband and gradually was drawn to the Catholic faith.
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ADIOS, PADRE GRATIEN... BIENVENIDO, PADRE JORGE
Yesterday the French parish of Sainte-Famille and the Hispanic community that worships there (Sagrada Familia) said good-bye to Abbe Gratien Girod, the priest who has been their pastor for more than twenty-five years. To mark the retirement of the Swiss-born missionary to Mexico, who came to Canada a quarter of a century ago to care for Catholics of Hispanic background, I sent a note in French and Spanish for the occasion:
Aujourd’hui, solennité de l’Épiphanie du Christ, est un jour important dans la vie de vos communautés francophone et hispanophone, puisque vous soulignez le départ à la retraite de votre curé de longue date et frère-disciple du Christ, l’abbé Gratien Girod.
Depuis plus de vingt-cinq ans, il a guidé votre vie paroissiale et il vous a accompagnés lors des événements que la vie dans le Christ apporte : vie et mort, joie et peine, succès et contretemps – en un mot, la vie comme participation au mystère pascal, dans laquelle la faiblesse de Dieu est plus forte que la force humaine et la folie de Dieu plus sage que notre sagesse humaine.
Avec lui vous avez célébré la puissance de la résurrection du Christ qui nous devance et agit constamment parmi nous dans les célébrations sacramentelles (les baptêmes, les confessions, le mariage, l’onction des malades, les rites funéraires et, en premier lieu, l’eucharistie), la puissance de la Parole de Dieu qui illumine et clarifie, et le partage d’une communauté qui a façonné des liens d’amitié et de respect mutuel que seul le temps peut affermir et la mémoire éclairer.
Au nom de l’Archidiocèse, je tiens à exprimer ma plus sincère reconnaissance pour tout ce que sa direction vous a apporté et l’assurer de nos prières pour la vie et le ministère qui s’ouvrent à lui. Que Dieu continue de le bénir et que notre Bienheureuse Mère veille sur lui, intercédant auprès de son Fils pour lui obtenir toutes les grâces dont il aura besoin pour les années à venir. De plus, je vous offre mes meilleurs souhaits et l’assurance de mes prières alors que vous vous préparez à accueillir votre nouveau pasteur.
The new priest in charge is Father Jorge Lopez Parra, resident in Canada for close to fifteen years and ordained two years ago as a member of the Neo-Catechumenal Way.
Incardinated in the Archdiocese of Toronto, Father Jorge has been released by Archbishop Collins for service in this bilingual French and Hispanic parish on Glenora Avenue for a period of three years.
Born in Guatemala but raised in Nicaragua, this polyglot intends to polish his French to better serve the small community that welcome the Spanish-speaking Catholics of the Capital Region who now outnumber the original founding parishioners.
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"Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow..."
Ottawa takes on a different aura as snow lightly covers the Capital.
Here are some photos from my (extended) neighbourhood: