1. Elizabeth was born in NYC in 1774 to a wealthy physician, Dr. Richard Bayley and Catherine Charlton. Dr. Bayley was world-famous and credited with the first successful shoulder amputation. He wasn’t interested in God, very interested in his career, and rarely home. Elizabeth had two sisters. When she was 3 her mother died in childbirth and that youngest sister died a year later. In her memoirs she writes that at the age of four she wanted to die so she could be with her mother and sister.
2. Her father remarried and had seven more children with second wife. Elizabeth’s step-mother favored her own biological children and was mean to both Elizabeth and her sister, so she felt alone and unwanted. She recalled in her memoirs that at 8 she still wanted to die to be with her mother and sister. That’s how bad step-mom was.
3. Because Elizabeth’s step-mother’s entire side of the family wouldn’t pay attention to her or her sister, probably due to the fact that her father and step-mother were having marital difficulties, he sent the two to his brother’s house 20 miles away. Four years later they went back to live with their father and step-mother. However, the arguing continued, and her father became prone to violent mood swings. By the time Elizabeth was a teenager she became depressed and thought about suicide by overdosing on her father’s opiate medicines (used for pain when he treated people). She writes about this in her memoirs. Dr. Bayley again sent her and her sister back to their aunt/uncle and he took off to Europe to lecture at a university for a semester. Then, he stayed separated from his wife even after he returned.
4. Eventually, Elizabeth and her sister grew up. We don’t know much about her sister, but Elizabeth fell in love, got married, and had 5 children. Her doctor-dad delivered her children and they developed a close relationship. As an adult, she called her step-mother by her formal name, Mrs., indicating there never was a reconciliation. However, Elizabeth did leave her duties for a time to care for this woman when she was on her deathbed.
5. As an adult Elizabeth’s husband died, she became a Catholic, founded the American Catholic school system, and started the Sisters of Charity. Before she died her two sons went into the navy, two of her daughters died, and her third daughter joined the Sisters of Mercy and lived into her 90’s.
Joseph Dirvin, Mrs. Seton: Foundress of the American Sisters of Charity, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975.
Joseph Dirvin, The Soul of Elizabeth Seton, Ignatius Press, 1990.
(Picture is the author’s from the cover of her book)