America's first native-born saint did not become a Catholic until she was over 30 years old. Elizabeth Ann Bayley, born in New York City on August 28, 1774, was the middle daughter of Dr. Richard Bayley, professor of anatomy at King's College and a staunch Episcopalian.
Wealthy, and one of the most beautiful debutantes of her day, Elizabeth married William Magee Seton, son of a prominent ship owner, when she was 19. Leaders in New York society, the Setons lived on Wall Street next door to Alexander Hamilton and entertained such guests as president George Washington. They had two sons and three daughters during their marriage.
On a trip to Italy, where William hoped to recover from tuberculosis and revive the family shipping business, he died. The widowed Elizabeth and one of her daughters found hospitality with the Filicchi family, and there Elizabeth first became interested in Catholicism.
Returning to New York in 1804, Elizabeth entered the Church the next year over the strong objections of her family and friends. Cut off from the financial resources of her family, Elizabeth tried to support herself and her children by operating first a school and then a boarding house.
In 1808, she came to Baltimore, and, at the invitation of Archbishop John Carroll, started a school for girls on the grounds of St. Mary's Seminary on Paca Street. A year later, she founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, established her community at Emmitsburg, and began the first American parish free school.
Before her death of tuberculosis on January 4, 1821, Elizabeth Seton's community of sisters had founded convents in Philadelphia and New York, started an asylum for lepers and opened the first American Catholic hospital. Today, her order operates hundreds of schools, colleges, hospitals, orphanages, and day nurseries in the United States, Canada, South America, the Caribbean, and the Far East.
In 1963, Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was the first American-born citizen to be beatified, and on September 14, 1975, Pope Paul VI proclaimed the wife, mother, convert, teacher, and foundress to be a saint.