Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 17, 2000
Elizabeth Seton adds a 'saint'
School decides to finally recognize patron's canonization
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Catholics in the Clareview neighbourhood have placed a "St." in front of the name of Elizabeth Seton School in recognition of the school patron's canonization 25 years ago.
The move, which also seeks to emphasize the school's Catholic identity, means that now the 575-student elementary-junior high school at 3711-135 Ave. is officially called St. Elizabeth Seton School.
"What a way to start the new millennium!" exclaimed principal Gordon Harris at a rededication ceremony Jan. 7. "This celebration marks the beginning of a wonderful year here."
More than 600 people participated in the ceremony, including students and staff, past administrators and representatives of the school district, the provincial government and the Sisters of Charity of Halifax, one order which traces its roots to Seton - a 19th-century American socialite, wife, mother, widow, convert to Catholicism, teacher and saint.
The mid-morning ceremony was part of St. Elizabeth Seton Day, which students marked by praying to their patron saint and by learning about her remarkable life.
"Through her example and prayers, may we learn to express our love of God in selfless love for others," read a large sign at the school gym, where students and guests gathered for the hour-long ceremony.
Opened officially on Dec. 4, 1977, a year after it began as a starter school, Elizabeth Seton School was the first institution in Edmonton to be named after St. Elizabeth Seton following her canonization in Rome Sept. 14, 1975.
Principal Harris didn't want to get into the politics of why the "St." was left out at the time but said an attempt to rededicate the school in the late 1970s failed partly because there is another St. Elizabeth School in Edmonton.
Last October, the school requested the name change as part of its millennium project and got quick approval from the school board. In November, a shiny metal sign donated by the school district was installed above the doorway on the school's front entrance.
Harris said the name change is rooted in the community's desire to profile the Catholic identity of the school.
He described the rededication as "a kind of a renewal for us" which "has given the school a new focus." He announced plans for a mural featuring St. Elizabeth Seton to be painted in the school entrance in the near future.
Dale Ripley, superintendent of Edmonton Catholic Schools, noted Catholic schools are different from public ones not only in their approach to education but also in the way in which they are named.
"We name our schools after sacred people, after people who have demonstrated great faith like St. Elizabeth Seton," he said at the ceremony.
Archbishop emeritus Joseph MacNeil, who blessed the rededication, said the name change recognizes that Elizabeth Seton is a canonized saint.
"To rename your school after Elizabeth Seton means that she is very much alive in your midst," Sister Gabriela Villela, a Sister of Charity, told staff and students.
"What I would like you to remember today is Elizabeth Seton's passion for life, for people, especially children, for nature and for God."
Urging students to find out more about Seton's life, Villela went on to describe her as "a saint for our times."
Elizabeth Bayley was born in New York in 1774 into a well-to-do family. Her father was a prominent New York surgeon. Her mother was the daughter of the rector of an Episcopal church.
Her father was often absent and when Elizabeth was not yet three, her mother died in childbirth. A year later, her father married Charlotte Barclay, who is said to have had little time for Elizabeth and her two sisters.
Though instability characterized her early years, Elizabeth later developed deep and lasting friendships with men and women from various walks of life.
In her twenties, a happily-married Elizabeth delighted in her role of wife and mother. She and her husband William Seton had three daughters and two sons.
When William's father died suddenly in 1798, Elizabeth became adoptive mother of his seven children. She also visited the sick and the poor.
When her husband's business collapsed, they sold their Wall Street home and furnishings to pay creditors. In this situation Elizabeth saw herself "freed from the cares of the world."
Shortly after the birth of their last child, Elizabeth and her husband travelled to Italy to seek a cure for William's advancing tuberculosis. Instead, they found themselves quarantined. William died a few days after their release.
Her return to New York in 1804 was followed by deep struggles of faith. Elizabeth's decision to become Catholic led to her bitter rejection by family and friends.
She also endured financial hardship.
In 1808, at the invitation of a French priest-educator and supported by other clergy, she moved to Maryland to establish a school and a religious community - the Sisters of Charity.
She helped set up the parochial school system, which educated poor day students free through funds garnered from better-off, paying boarding students.
Since their foundation, many groups of Daughters and Sisters of Charity, involved in a host of charitable works, have flourished in North and Latin America.
Shortly before she died Jan. 4, 1821, at age 46, Elizabeth Seton exhorted members of her community to "be children of the Church," for the love and growth of which she had endured much.
After her death, her Sisters of Charity went throughout the U.S. founding schools, hospitals and orphanages. Four of them came to Halifax in 1849 to serve the poor and ended up founding the order of the Sisters of Charity of Halifax.
The sisters came to Alberta in 1927 and have been teaching, caring for the sick and working in other caring professions throughout the province since then.