Shrine welcomes items that belonged to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

By Mary K. Tilghman

Catholic News Service

EMMITSBURG, Md. (CNS) – The faded black bonnet with its gently ruffled frill once framed the face of the nation's first American-born saint.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton's bonnet is seen during a news conference at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Md., March 11, 2021. Sisters of Charity of New York donated several of the saint's items to the shrine for their display and preservation. (CNS photo/courtesy Devine Partners)

The black cap, a familiar sight in portraits of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, rested in a gray archival box back in Emmitsburg March 11 for the first time since 1822.

It is one of several rarely seen artifacts from Mother Seton's life now on display for all visitors to see at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

The "Seton Family Treasures" exhibit officially opened July 1 at the shrine. The exhibit is part of a yearlong commemoration to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of America's first native-born saint. She died at age 46 on Jan. 4, 1821. 

 The items – including St. Elizabeth Ann's rosary, her wedding brooch and her daughter's christening gown – arrived in early March, donated by the Sisters of Charity of New York to the 

The items, mostly objects of daily life, will be used to talk about her diverse life experiences, Judge said. She knew the joys and trials of family life, was faced with financial struggle, confronted death and found solace in the Catholic Church.

The exhibit debuted with a virtual tour of it led by historian Catherine O'Donnell, whose book "Elizabeth Seton America's Saint" is considered the definitive historical account of Mother Seton's life. A special morning Mass, "Pray for America with Mother Seton," will be said July 4 at the shrine's basilica in honor of the saint and the opening of the exhibit.

Among the donated artifacts are:

  • St. Elizabeth Ann's black cap, sent to New York in 1822, a year after Mother Seton's death, and conserved about six years ago, according to Mindy Gordon, archivist for the sisters in New York.
  • The crucifix and black glass bead rosary which she used in prayer.
  • A delicate brooch in the shape of a bow with a chrysanthemum-like flower at its center, which she wore on her wedding day; her portable writing desk.
  • Wedding miniatures of Elizabeth and William Seton; the tea chest belonging to St. Elizabeth Ann's father, Dr. Richard Bayley; and family photo albums.
  • The Civil War-era commissioning certificate and epaulettes of her grandson, William Seton Jr.; and the christening dress St. Elizabeth Ann sewed for her daughter Catherine.

The commissioning certificate recalls a moment of special significance to the sisters. Capt. William Seton III, the saint's grandson, was wounded at the Battle of Antietam 30 miles from Emmitsburg. Sisters of Charity nursed him back to health at St. Joseph's Military Hospital in New York. Only when he awoke did the sisters realize he was the grandson of their foundress.

Editor's Note: For more details about the artifacts, go to The shrine also is releasing a series of four videos about different aspects of her life as "a wife, mother, friend, teacher, spiritual seeker and servant of the poor." The first two videos can be seen at

Tilghman writes for the Catholic Review, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.