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St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. John Neumann, and “The Spirit of 1884”

Editor’s note: The following homily was preached by Father Stravinskas at the Church of the Holy Innocents in Manhattan on January 4th, the liturgical memorial of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

The first week of January is a sanctoral hit-parade for the Church in the United States. Today we honor St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and tomorrow, St. John Neumann. Both of them have connections to New York City.

Mother Seton, of course, was a New Yorker of the upper class, a communicant of Trinity Episcopal Church on Wall Street. By a somewhat circuitous path, she came into full communion with the Catholic Church at St. Peter’s on Barclay Street. I am sure most of us have been to St. Peter’s and also have visited her former residence, now part of her shrine at Our Lady of the Rosary at the Bowery.

John Neumann was a Bohemian (ethnically, not socially!), who came to the United States as a missionary and was ordained in St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral. His pastoral responsibilities took in most of Upstate New York and portions of Pennsylvania – all done on horseback even though, due to his short stature, his feet couldn’t reach the stirrups! Sixteen years after his priestly ordination, he was consecrated the fourth bishop of Philadelphia in 1852. Here in New York, we call him “Noyman” (the correct German pronunciation), while Philadelphians call him “Newman.”

As you undoubtedly know, Elizabeth Seton was a wife, mother, and widow. After her conversion, the first bishop in the United States, John Carroll, urged her to open a Catholic school in Maryland and then to found the first community of women religious in the young nation. Little did he or she know that they were sowing the seeds of the first parochial school system in the history of the Church. Less than a century later, Bishop Neumann embarked on the first diocesan school system in the country. When he became the Ordinary, there was one Catholic school in his diocese; when he died (eight years later), there were 200 schools!

Read more at Catholic World Report. 

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