–By Sr. Regina Bechtle, SC
Labor Day was first observed in 1894, 120 years after Elizabeth Bayley Seton’s August 28th birthday. While she never knew about the holiday, she certainly experienced hard work. As a married woman in New York City, Elizabeth Seton knew the daily work of being a loving wife and mother. She fed, clothed and raised her family and her husband’s younger sibilings. She nursed them when they were ill, taught her children their first lessons, and helped her husband with letters and accounts in his mercantile business. In the little time she had left, she volunteered with a group of women who helped poor immigrant women and their children. She visited their cramped rooms, assessed their needs and connected them with resources: food, clothing, firewood, jobs.
After her husband died and she became a Catholic, Elizabeth needed to earn a living. She took in boarders and considered opening a tea shop. Then she moved to Baltimore where she started a small school. Her next move – to rural Emmitsburg – opened up a vast field of work, as she began a free school for country children, then an academy for girls. She managed all this while she organized a new religious community and supervised its affairs through its difficult early years.
The stated purpose of the Sisters of Charity was to render “every temporal and spiritual service in their power” to those in any need. It would be an impossible mission were it not based on profound trust in God’s provident care. Work, Elizabeth taught, was a “service of the heart, without which whatever else we give has no value.”
As we remember those whose work makes our life possible, those who seek work to support their families, and those who long for meaningful work, may we take courage from Elizabeth Seton’s words: “Only do your best, as you have always done, and leave the rest to our dear God.”