St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine begins two years of celebration, marking two anniversaries

Seton Shrine The National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, began two years of celebration on the saint’s feast day Jan. 4, 2024.  | Credit: Seton Shrine

The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, marked the beginning of two years of celebration on the saint’s feast day Jan. 4. 

The shrine, which just unveiled its brand-new $4 million visitor center and museum in September, will be celebrating Mother Seton’s 250th birthday in August and her 50th anniversary of canonization in 2025.

Those celebrations will include participation in the upcoming National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, the release of a new short film detailing the saint’s conversion, the expansion of the shrine’s retreat ministry for the disadvantaged, and a series of other projects.

Born in New York in 1774, the future saint Elizabeth Ann initially married and had five children but was left widowed when her husband, William, died of tuberculosis in Italy. Born into an Episcopalian family, Seton converted to Catholicism in 1805 after her husband’s death.

She moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland, about four years after entering the Catholic Church and founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, a North American-based order that still serves the poor today around the world. She also opened the first Catholic schools.

Elizabeth Ann Seton was canonized in 1975 by Pope Paul VI and is the first American-born saint. 

Rob Judge, the shrine’s executive director, told CNA Thursday that the upcoming anniversaries are an opportunity “to reflect on why she’s important to Americans.”

“It gives us a chance to reflect on that, but also to share aspects of her life that are not widely known, that make her very relatable,” he said.

Judge said that many people who come from different backgrounds and experiences can relate to Mother Seton. 

“She was married, she was religious, she was rich, she was poor. But one of the areas of her life that we feel like has a lot of connection with youth is her own youth,” he said. 

Noting her suffering of losing her mother as an infant and her father’s frequent obligation to be away to work, Judge said that Seton experienced loneliness. 

“In Elizabeth’s experiences, we see the very human trials that youth today have: feeling isolated, feeling that they’re all alone, that maybe God isn’t that active in their life or doesn’t have a plan. And Elizabeth had those same feelings,” he said.

“But it was accompanied with a real strong belief in his providential care that he had a plan for her and come what may, he would take care of her,” Judge added.

On June 5–6, the shrine in Emmitsburg will host walking pilgrims who are headed toward the National Eucharistic Congress. The pilgrims will participate in two days of prayer and service at the shrine. 

There are four pilgrimage routes headed toward the congress in July, and the Eastern route that stops at the shrine is called the “Seton Route” named after the saint. 

Pilgrims stopping at the shrine will also get the chance to watch a new short film on the saint’s devotion to the Eucharist and the role the sacrament played in her conversion. 

The shrine said in a press release that the film is a follow-up to its video series “Seeker to Saint,” which celebrated the 200th anniversary of her death. 

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Judge said the shrine’s goal is to advertise the short film on social media and through its partnership with the National Eucharistic Congress so that the reach will be “leveraged much past the physical destination of the shrine.”

Additionally, the Seton shrine has plans to develop more media in the form of videos and articles in the coming years to focus on the trials of Seton, her devotion to the Church and the Eucharist, and how her life relates to those from different walks of life today. 

Finally, the shrine will be expanding its ministry, Seeds of Hope, to the disadvantaged. A full-time coordinator has been hired to run the program established in 2018 and will begin to offer two retreats each month. 

“At each Seeds of Hope retreat, the most vulnerable among us have the opportunity to visit the Shrine where Mother Seton is entombed. Each retreat is almost entirely subsidized, with transportation, meals, and fees largely covered by the Seton Shrine and generous donors,” the website says. 

Judge said that Seeds of Hope partners with both Catholic and non-Catholic groups that directly serve the poor to offer those populations an all-expense-paid trip to the shrine for a retreat. 

“Elizabeth Ann Seton founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, and their charism is serving the poor,” he said. “So it puts us in line with her charism. And we just think it’s the right thing for a shrine to do.”

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