St Elizabeth Ann Seton shrine exhibit displays rarely-seen relics

The shrine acquired the items from the Sisters of Charity of New York; the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati; and the Daughters of Charity. The three orders have a common lineage with the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, the order founded by Mother Seton as the first religious order for women in the United States. 

Catherine O’Donnell, a professor of history at Arizona State University and the author of “Elizabeth Seton: American Saint” told CNA that she was “thrilled” the artifacts were now available for the public to see: “To see the portraits that I’ve only ever seen in reproduction, was just ‘whew!’ That was very exciting.” 

And while she was particularly taken by the miniature wedding portraits, O’Donnell told CNA that seeing Mother Seton’s bonnet and shawl in person prompted a “visceral response” more than anything else. 

“Her spiritual daughters [the Daughters of Charity and Sisters of Charity], you know, wore a habit based on [the shawl and bonnet] for years,” she said. And while the habit eventually changed, “they were still very connected to that.” 

The wedding portraits, explained O’Donnell, portray “a very human Elizabeth.” 

“No one knew the future when they painted that.” she said. “She is a lovely young woman with an almost arch expression on her face, which is very characteristic.”