Sunday, February 23, 2014

American Saint ~ The Life of Elizabeth Seton by Joan Barthel

This significant, personal biography was available to me through NetGalley for review purposes, and I was impressed and enthralled with it.Prior to this book I had only a vague idea of the details of the life of the first American saint and how meaningful was her life and the times in which it was lived.

I feel it is an important work, as it lays out the events of Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton's life, though her own diaries and personal correspondence of friends and family members for the judicious reader to reflect upon.Simon Brute, St. Elizabeth Seton's spiritual director in Emmitsburg MD who was with her at her death, told the other sisters "Save everything". This very fine biography illustrates why that was important.

Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born a Protestant into an educated and affluent family. Her life experiences changed her and she changed American Catholicism completely. A Catholic myself, who had ancestors who worshipped in some of the same churches that Elizabeth Seton did, I was not aware how much bravery being a Catholic at that time demanded.

Elizabeth Ann Seton, in her lifetime, was a wife, mother, widow and became the definition of what a female religious was in America. Archbishop John Carroll was her friend and she danced at George Washington's birthday Commemoration Ball wearing monogrammed cream silk dancing slippers.

“Elizabeth Seton was a religious woman who loved the Christian way and dared to support her conscience. Even today, many American nuns are rebuked by the Vatican for following the dictates of their conscience. I can only imagine how a principled Catholic woman of God survived over two hundred years ago in a climate which had few precedents of female leadership.
American Saint is a map which allows us to follow the journey of this remarkable woman. We are to examine each stop she made along the way, and we are amazed at her courage to get up and start her journey again, against visible and tangible odds.

Joan Barthel is the award-winning author of five nonfiction books and a contributor to many national publications, including The Washington Post Magazine and The New York Times Magazine. Her cover story on Elizabeth Seton in the Times Magazine inspired her to bring the singular life of this first American-born saint into contemporary focus and ultimately led to her most recent book, American Saint.

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