Saint Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was a notable Vincentian woman whose confidence, clarity, and purpose shaped education, nursing, and social services to assist persons at the margins of society. Sister Betty Ann McNeil, D.C., M.S.W., Vincentian scholar-in-residence in the Division of Mission and Ministry at DePaul University, reflected on the saint’s life during a lecture on Sept. 25, 2019, in the Castellani Art Museum as part of Niagara University’s celebration of Vincentian Heritage Week.
Sister Betty Ann says she developed a “personal kinship” with the saint, noting similarities in their backgrounds—both were called Betty, both were young children when they lost a parent, and both grew up by the seaside and enjoyed solitary pursuits such as reading and collecting shells. Sister Betty Ann attended a Catholic elementary school run by the Daughters of Charity and entered the Province of St. Louise at Emmitsburg, Md., after earning a bachelor’s degree in social welfare from Saint Joseph College in Emmitsburg and a master of social work from Virginia Commonwealth University.
Sister Betty Ann remembers hearing the bells ringing on March 17, 1963, signaling Elizabeth Ann Seton’s beatification, and was one of the Sisters chosen to go to Rome to be in attendance when she became the first U.S.-born person canonized on Sept. 14, 1975, by Pope Paul VI. Sister Betty Ann’s articles on the Vincentian and Setonian tradition have been widely published, and she served on the Daughters’ advisory committee to publish the multi-volume opus “Elizabeth Bayley Seton Collected Writings.” She also developed and teaches an online course “Notable Vincentian Women—Elizabeth Bayley Seton” in DePaul’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Mother Seton’s connection to the Vincentians is strong. She founded the first American congregation of religious sisters, the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph, and based the Rule of the Sisterhood on the Rule St. Vincent de Paul had written for his Daughters of Charity in France. The co-founders of Niagara University, the Most Rev. John Timon, C.M., then bishop of Buffalo, and Archbishop John J. Lynch, C.M., of Toronto, invited the Sisters of Charity to establish hospitals and schools in their dioceses.
“Her service and influence in the Vincentian spirit spread nationally and internationally,” Sister Betty Ann said. “Elizabeth Bayley Seton lived an ordinary live in extraordinary ways as a result of her heightened sense of purpose. (This) still informs the Sisters’ service to create a more just world for the tomorrow of others.”