Congratulations to SCNY Associate Anne Merwin, the newest on our Congregation’s roster of published authors. Her biography, Elizabeth Ann Seton is a welcome addition to the literature about our American saint.
Anne is a former president of the Mother Seton House on Paca Street in Baltimore, where Elizabeth and her children lived from June 1808 to June 1809, after they left New York. Anne’s life mirrors Elizabeth’s in many ways; she too was a debutante, wife, mother, Episcopalian, and a convert to Catholicism. She is also related to Mary Hoffman Seton, one of Elizabeth’s sisters-in-law. These connections give Anne an inside track into Mother Seton’s heart and spirit.
“Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton accepted the fullness of God’s grace,” writes Anne. “Blessings became joys, and challenges strengthened her soul with humility and perseverance.” This short (144 pages) but meaty book unfolds the story of those joys and challenges, from New York to Livorno, Baltimore to Emmitsburg to Eternity, in a thoughtful, engaging way.
The author, a careful researcher, includes helpful historical context to prove her point that Elizabeth was led to be “in the right place at the right time,” and that her story, though “fully American,” had a global dimension that fits the woman who called herself a “citizen of the world.”
For those just getting acquainted with Mother Seton, the book presents her simply, readably, and gracefully, deftly underscoring the Providence that marked her life at every turn.
For those who know the story well, the book offers many fresh insights and connections. For example, Anne speaks of the life-changing risk that Elizabeth took when she left her socioeconomic class to become a Catholic, yet on the flip side, notes that her conversion also left her “free to pursue a new life.”
Anne captures spirituality in its fully human dimensions: “She [Mother Seton] responded to the needs of each day and to the events of her time. She answered the call of Christ with a grateful and willing heart. She accepted God’s will and moved forward.” The book’s closing chapter, “Divine Education,” demonstrates that the author has mulled over and prayed with Elizabeth’s words for many years. Anne sums up the core of Elizabeth’s holiness as extraordinary faith, hope, and charity lived in everyday ways—an especially relevant theme in this 40th anniversary year of the saint’s canonization.
The book’s footnotes are useful but not intrusive. A chronology, lists of sources and Seton pilgrimage sites, and reflection questions, make the book ideal for a prayer or discussion group.
–Sr. Regina Bechtle