EMMITSBURG, Md. (CNS) – When the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg opens its new $4 million museum and visitor center next year, it will be a milestone for those with a deep devotion to the first saint born in the United States.

But for the sisters who trace their lineages back to Mother Seton, it will be a particularly poignant moment – ​​especially as pilgrims enter through the grand provincial entrance that so many of their predecessors used.

“Our sisters are very enthusiastic,” said Sister Mary Catherine Norris, provincial of the Saint Louise Province of the Daughters of Charity and a member of the sanctuary’s board of directors. “They are delighted that the space is being used in a way that they can see pilgrims come and go and have the opportunity to interact with people, which we think will be enjoyable.”

The sisters are “happy to have people come to share in Mother Seton’s legacy,” she added.

The shrine kicked off a year-long project on June 24 to renovate and relocate the museum and visitor center. Work will begin this fall for delivery scheduled for fall 2023.

The modernized museum will bring state-of-the-art and interactive techniques to tell the story of Mother Seton’s life, from childhood to sainthood, and strengthen devotion to Mother Seton and spread “her message of faith, hope and perseverance in the face of adversity,” a press release said.

Plans call for a reconfiguration of the original – but underused – grand entrance near the sanctuary basilica into a spacious and welcoming visitor center that will lead people into the new museum.

Once inside, visitors will learn about the dramatic journey of Mother Seton, from socialite in 18th-century New York to founder of the first community of nuns to be established in the United States, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph.

They will hear about the national effort to have Mother Seton officially declared a saint – she was beatified in 1959 and canonized in 1975 – as well as the legacy of her work that continues today.

A young Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American born to be canonized, is depicted in this painting by Joseph Dawley. A widowed mother of five children, she founded the Sisters of Charity. Her legacy includes several religious communities with thousands of sisters, who serve in schools, social service centers and hospitals around the world. Raised in a wealthy Episcopal family, she entered the Catholic Church on March 14, 1805. (CNS file photo)

“Mother Seton is a saint to all of us,” said Rob Judge, the shrine’s executive director. “His story resonates with so many people today because his life was filled with ups and downs, joys and struggles, which permeate our own lives.”

He added, “One of our missions at his sanctuary is to preserve his legacy for generations to come, and this museum project is a major step in that effort.”

Visitors will be able to see artifacts such as the bonnet she wore after establishing the community and the dancing slippers she wore as a girl. Videos and other exhibits will help visitors experience the life of the saint in a tangible way.

“Since the past is this big, far away thing, it doesn’t always feel real,” said Scott Keefer, archivist for the Daughters of Charity of the Province of St Louise, who is based at the shrine. But he added that the museum’s improvements will help show people “he was a real person”, he added.

Leaders of the Sisters of Charity and Daughters of Charity believe the museum is also key to introducing Mother Seton to new audiences who are looking for a saint they can relate to despite the fact that she died a while ago. 201 years old.

“We’ve been talking for a while now about the realization of Elizabeth Seton as a saint of our day,” said Sister Donna Geernaert of the Sisters of Charity Halifax, Nova Scotia, and chair of the Seton Shrine board.

“Thinking about the time she lived in and the role of women in that time, Elizabeth really stands out as a strong woman,” she said.

“There is nothing like looking at Elizabeth’s ballet slippers to realize that she was a person who loved life,” Sister Geernaert added. “More and more today we need to talk about the love of life and his commitment to faith and the care of his family and friends.”

Funding for the project comes from the $10 million “New Century of Charity” fundraising campaign which was launched last September by the National Council of Shrine Leaders and is continuing, having surpassed its original goal of $7 million. dollars.

Money raised during the campaign will also be used to support the ‘Seeds of Hope’ retirement program for people on the margins of society and to create an ‘Innovation and Sustainability Fund’ to support the expansion. sanctuary living history programs and other ministries and activities. .

“We all yearn to have a purpose-driven life and at the end of the day feel like we’ve made a difference in one way or another,” said Luci Baines Johnson, president of the National Leaders Council. “Elizabeth Ann Seton was an American wife, mother, and widow who fell on hard financial times and nurtured a start-up company, the Sisters of St. Joseph, and all who trace their lineage to her.”

“She has something we can all relate to – and so do I,” Johnson added. “She has been my inspiration and strength for over 50 years. To serve his mission is to give me the greatest of rewards, a purpose-driven life.

Mother Seton lived through tumultuous times that resemble those experienced by people today – times of illness, financial turmoil and other difficulties. She dealt with the loss of her husband, bankruptcy, rejection from her family for joining the Catholic Church, and the untimely death of children and other friends – never wavered in her faith.

“His struggles are just as relevant today as they were 200 years ago,” Sister Norris said. “Mother Seton’s legacy is that she was fearless in a time when women weren’t really known for it. She’s a great role model, whether you’re a mother, an educator, a daughter or a widow.


Learn more about St. Elizabeth Ann Seton National Shrine online at SetonShrine.org.