Finding the Catholic Faith in Livorno
Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was the first native-born citizen of the United States to be made a Saint by the Catholic Church. It was during her stay in Livorno in 1803 that she first became close to the Catholic faith.
Born 28 August 1774 in New York, Elizabeth Bayley had a comfortable life in an affluent family, and at the age of 20 she married the wealthy young William Magee Seton (1768-1803). The first years of their marriage were happy and prosperous, but within a few years William’s family business began to fail, and he himself became ill.
In 1803 the Setons, with their eldest daughter, decided to come to Italy in an attempt to improve William’s health. Arriving in Livorno they were obliged to spend a month in quarantine in the cold stone lazzaretto of San Jacopo because of an outbreak of yellow fever in New York. William died of tuberculosis just two weeks after leaving the quarantine, in Pisa, on December 27th 1803. He was buried in the old English cemetery in Via Verdi, Livorno.
Following the tragic death of her husband, Elizabeth stayed with the Filicchi family in Livorno. Filippo Filicchi had been a friend and business associate of William’s (Filippo Filicchi 1763-1816, renowned merchant of Livorno and US consul). Antonio Filicchi and his wife Amabilia Baragazzi Filicchi (1773 – 1853) provided hospitality to Elizabeth and Annina her daughter before they returned to the US in the spring.
It was Filippo Filicchi and his wife Mary Cowper from Boston (1760-1821), with Antonio and his wife, who introduced Elizabeth to Roman Catholicism.
Elizabeth often accompanied the Filicchi family to the Church of Santa Caterina, the Church of San Jacopo and to the Sanctuary of Montenero where she is said to have had a revelation. There is a plaque at the Church of San Jacopo that commemorates her attendance there.
Elizabeth finally joined the Catholic Church in 1805, after returning to the United States. Her family deserted her as a result and she brought up her children alone and in poverty.
She was responsible for setting up the sisterhood known as the Sisters of Charity, and for founding the first free Catholic school in America.
Elizabeth Ann Seton died in 1821 at the age of 46, only sixteen years after becoming a Catholic. She was canonized on September 14, 1975.
Her feast day is the 4th January.
In Livorno a church dedicated to Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was established on April 21 1968, five years after her beatification. The founding of the Church of Santa Elisabetta Anna Seton in Piazza Lavagna (close to Livorno's hospital) commemorates the link between the New York Setons and the Filicchi of Livorno. It seems appropriate that Livorno, where the seeds of Elizabeth Seton's Catholic faith were planted, should have the first church in her honour.
In 2004 the body of William Magee Seton was exhumed from the Protestant Cemetery in Via Verdi and transferred to the Church in Piazza Lavagna, to mark the 200th anniversary of his death.
For further information about the life and work of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, follow this link