Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

Kathryn Walker '26

To many of our students, it is well-known that the Academy of Elizabeth was established in 1860 by the Sisters of Charity and named after Elizabeth Ann Seton. But who exactly was Saint Elizabeth?

Elizabeth Ann Seton was born Elizabeth Ann Bayley on August 28, 1774, in New York. Her family was wealthy, as her father made a good living as a physician. She was raised Episcopalian, which is another denomination of Christianity. Elizabeth and a Scottish-American philanthropist named Isabella Marshall Graham founded the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children in 1797. Elizabeth worked for seven years as the treasurer of the organization.

A few years prior, in January of 1794, Elizabeth had married William Seton, with whom she went on to have five children. In 1804, however, William fell ill with tuberculosis, so Elizabeth, William, and their eldest child, Anna Maria, went to Italy in hopes of a swift recovery. Their efforts were futile; William passed away shortly after their arrival.

It was in Italy that Elizabeth was introduced to Roman Catholicism. One year after she and her daughter returned to America, Elizabeth officially converted and became Catholic. Her decision resulted in financial difficulty as a widow and mother and social discrimination because of her conversion. Not to mention she had converted to a controversial religion, and several anti-Catholic laws had only recently been lifted.

For some time after her return, she ran an all-boys school. It was in 1808 that Elizabeth accepted an invitation to open an all-girls Catholic school in Baltimore, Maryland with a few other young women. A year later, she and the other girls took a vow before Archbishop John Carroll to become the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph.

The sisters’ community grew significantly, and they accepted several charitable missions throughout the following years, resulting in her later moving back to New York. Although she had been in Maryland, two of Elizabeth’s daughters had died of tuberculosis. Her health gradually declined until her death on January 4, 1821, at the age of 46.

In 1856, about 35 years after her death, New Jersey’s Seton Hall University was opened in her name and later branched off into a preparatory school. In 1885, Seton Hall Junior College was opened in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, also named Elizabeth. The colleges are now called Seton Hall University and Seton Hill University. The Academy of Saint Elizabeth was founded in 1860 by Mother Xavier and the Sisters of Charity.

Elizabeth Ann Seton was beatified by Pope John XXIII in 1956 and canonized as a saint in 1975. She was the first saint to have been born in the United States.

For further information about the history of our Academy, feel free to check out this page from AOSE’s website:,thousands%20of%20successful%20young%20women