For nearly 200 years, the Sisters of Charity of New York have met the challenges of the times and ministered to the needs of the poor. The Congregation’s history begins with its foundress, Elizabeth Ann Seton, who was later canonized as the first American-born saint.
Elizabeth Ann Bayley, was born in 1774, into an upper class, well educated, Episcopalian family in New York City. Her mother died when she was three. Out of this confluence of birth and life events, she became a well-educated, talented young lady, who was also prayerful and caring, particularly for people in need.
Elizabeth married William Magee Seton and had five children in seven years. She and other young prominent women in New York society served the poor, particularly widows and orphans. Ironically, Elizabeth became a penniless widow within 10 years of marrying when her ailing husband died in Italy. Influenced by the kindness of her husband’s friends and her attraction to the Eucharist, Elizabeth converted to Catholicism.
In order to support her children she taught school. Later, Elizabeth Ann Seton opened a Catholic school for girls in Baltimore and still later moved to Emmitsburg, opened another Catholic school and with a small community of women concentrated on a defined lifestyle for their religious congregation. They adopted the rule that Saints Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac had created in 17th century France.
Within a year, Elizabeth took vows and founded the first American congregation of women religious. In 1817 she sent three of her sisters to New York City to open an orphanage, establishing the foundation of the Sisters of Charity in New York.