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Dr Mary Kay Clark - St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s Most Important Lesson for Parents

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s Most Important Lesson for Parents


St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, U.S. Catholic School Pioneer, always emphasized to parents that they must be concerned about teaching and living the Faith at home.

There surely is no saint more appropriate to inspire us Catholic homeschooling mothers than Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. If you have a special devotion to this homeschooling pioneer, there is a great book that grants many insights into her life and work: The Soul of Elizabeth Seton, A Spiritual Portrait, by Father Joseph Dirvin.

Elizabeth was raised by a strong Protestant mother who encouraged Elizabeth in learning about Jesus. Mother Seton wrote that even as a young girl, she would enthusiastically talk about Jesus to other children in the neighborhood. After she married and had her first two girls, she did not send them to school. She admitted that she did not want to send her little girls out in the New York cold, “through snow and wet.” So she began homeschooling.

Later, when Elizabeth and her husband traveled to Italy, she homeschooled her children for a few years while living with a Catholic family. She attended Mass and learned about the Real Presence, and taught her children about the Catholic Faith as well. After her husband died from an illness, she eventually returned home to New York where she continued to teach her own children, and happily added a few other neighborhood children to her children’s homeschool classes.

When Elizabeth began teaching other children, Father Dirvin says, “The little parlor on Stone Street in lower New York was in a rudimentary sense, the forerunner of every Catholic parish classroom in the United States. It was real education, not playacting. School began at ten o’clock each morning and the subjects studied were ‘grammar, reading, writing, spelling of large and small words, marking, sewing, and figures.’”

While Elizabeth taught a variety of subjects, including the geography of the United States, she emphasized their religion lessons, especially the Ten Commandments. Even the young kindergarten children were asked to recite the Commandments. Father wrote that Elizabeth Seton managed to teach the Commandments whenever she could bring it into other classes.

The Bishop’s Invitation

Elizabeth taught at that little school for only a few months before she received an invitation from the bishop of Baltimore, who asked her to move to his diocese and start a Catholic school. The Baltimore bishop even provided a home for her and her children, which was next door to a chapel, where she went to Mass every day. Elizabeth was extremely happy to teach in a Catholic school where she could bring aspects of the Faith into all the classes.

Father Dirvin wrote in her biography that Elizabeth opened her little school for girls in February of 1810 with three students. The school grew quickly and soon other sisters arrived and offered to help her without pay. With such strong support from her bishop and a few priests who arrived to help, she soon realized that this school was the special apostolate God was calling her to accomplish. She became more enthusiastic about this “work of God” to educate children and quickly realized the eternal value of Catholic education for children.

Elizabeth was always concerned about teaching the truths about Jesus and about what Jesus taught. She emphasized to parents that while she was teaching their children the Catholic Faith in the classroom, they must be concerned about teaching and living the Faith at home.

Mother Seton might not have used the words “home schooling,” but she did write, “I would wish to fit you for that world in which you are destined to live, to teach you how to be good…mothers of families.” Though Elizabeth is generally recognized as a pioneer for Catholic schools, her own homeschooling, as well as her emphasis on parental responsibility to continue their children’s education at home, has made her a patron for homeschooling as well.

Pope Paul VI, at the canonization of Mother Seton, said:

“We render homage to those who have expended their lives to communicate Christ through the apostolate of the school, and to give to generations of young Americans true education imbued with Christian principles.”

The pope praised the “powerful example of joyful love and of selfless service” of Mother Seton and spoke about the “absolute necessity of prayer and of the transforming power of the Eucharist” which Elizabeth Seton recognized.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, homeschooling mother in early America, help us Catholic homeschooling mothers to persist in our dedication to teach our own children at home how to learn and live the Catholic Faith.

Help us mothers to recognize that only with Catholic teachings as the basis for learning all subjects, and only with the dedicated love of parents, can children and parents reach the eternal heavenly goal that Jesus intends for all of us.

About Dr. Mary Kay Clark

Director of Seton for more than 25 years. Dr. Clark left Mater Dei Academy and began teaching her children at home at seeing firsthand the opportunities and the pitfalls of private schooling. Meet Dr. Clark | See her book
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