The Church honors two great American saints in early January. First, the socialite Episcopalian convert and foundress, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821), is celebrated on January 4th. Next, the immigrant missionary bishop, St. John Nepomucene Neumann (1811-1860) has his feast day on January 5th.
Both of them are great intercessors, models and champions especially for the Church in the United States in our times.
At a time when many Episcopalians in America are seeking full unity with the Catholic Church, especially through remarkable new ecclesial structure of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (“US Anglican Ordinariate”), St. Elizabeth Ann Seton can be a powerful intercessor since she herself experienced the great tension between her social and cultural heritage at Trinity Church in New York and her desire to be united with Jesus in the Eucharist as she came to discover the teaching of the Real Presence and the intercession of Mary during her time in Italy. The path of this conversion experience is recorded in her memoir The Italian Journal (cf. Collected Writings, 1:243) which she wrote for Rebecca Seton, her sister-in-law. [NB: The Vincentian Fathers offer on-line access to this text as well as all of the complete 4 volume Collected Writings of Elizabeth Bayley Seton.]
Words of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
2.11 To Rebecca Seton, 1804 February 24th (within the running text first dated “28 January 1804”), p. 292, Volume 1
“My Sister dear how happy would we be if we believed what these dear Souls believe, that they possess God in the Sacrament and that he remains in their churches and is carried to them when they are sick, oh my. …The other day in a moment of excessive distress I fell on my knees without thinking when the Blessed Sacrament passed by and cried in agony to God to bless me if he was there, that my whole Soul desired only him.”
Pastoral Care of Immigrants
St. John Neumann’s life as a priest began when came to the United States as an immigrant missionary seminarian and was ordained at old St. Patrick’s in New York in 1836. His service to the Germans in the outlying rural areas of Upstate New York became essential to his relentless missionary spirit as an urban bishop in Philadelphia. There, too, he learned many languages to communicate the Gospel to the new immigrant communities of Irish, Germans, Italians, and Easter Europeans who were arriving in the United States throughout the 19th century.
His pastoral example in favor of education for the poor, Forty Hour Eucharistic Adoration in parishes, and personal witness to Christ in his life of prayer is powerful for clergy and laity alike.
Visiting the Relics of the Saints
Their shrines are great places for family pilgrimages, days for private reflection, and simply praying before the relics of canonized saints of our country.
Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Emmitsburg, Maryland
Shrine of Saint John Nepomucene Neumann, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
May these two great American saints pray for all of us, our bishops and our government leaders.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us!
St. John Neumann, pray for us!