EMMITSBURG, MD (Oct. 2, 2023) – The National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton hosted the annual Pilgrimage and Mass for the Sea Services on Sunday, October 1, honoring those who serve the country in the Sea Services. At this special Mass, members of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, Merchant Marine and Public Health Services and their families, along with many other attendees, joined in thanking Mother Seton for her protection and asking for her continued intercession for all Sea Services personnel and their families.
Bishop F. Richard Spencer, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Services USA, was the celebrant and homilist the Mass. He was commissioned as an Army officer in 1973 and served in the Army for five years before being released from active duty in 1978 to pursue ministerial studies. Ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 1988, he later served as an Army chaplain in assignments around the world, deploying to Iraq on five occasions and serving two deployments in Afghanistan. He was ordained a bishop in 2010.
“Bishop Spencer truly understands the needs of those who serve our country and sacrifice so much,” said Rob Judge, executive director of the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. “As a son of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Bishop Spencer also appreciates just how much Mother Seton offers to all of us and particularly to those who serve at sea. Her prayers bring hope, solace, and the strength to complete their missions.”
The Sea Services Pilgrimage is co-sponsored each year by the Archdiocese of Military Services. In addition to attendance by many active duty and retired sea services personnel and their families, a large contingent of Midshipman from the U.S. Naval Academy Catholic Choir, led by long-time director Monte Maxwell, provided Sacred Music.
Midshipmen from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and several University NROTC units also participated. National Colors were presented by the Ceremonial Honor Guard, Military District of Washington. Knights of Columbus served as ushers and provided a ceremonial escort for Bishop Spencer. U.S. Naval Sea Cadets assisted in welcoming guests to the Shrine. The entire event was broadcast in live programming around the world by EWTN, the Eternal Word Television Network.
As the Patroness of the Sea Services, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton has a deep connection with those who spend their lives at sea and those devoted to public health. Her son, William, served in the Navy on the USS Macedonian, while another son, Richard, was a civilian, who served on the USS Cyane. Her father, Richard Bayley, was a prominent New York City physician in the 18th century and the city’s first Chief Health Officer.
“Our sea-going men and women and their families ask for the intercession of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton for their protection,” said retired Admiral William J. Fallon, chair of the Pilgrimage Sponsoring Committee. “Through the experiences of her sons, she had a personal understanding of life at sea and is uniquely positioned to intercede to God on behalf of service members and to be an inspiration, spiritual guide and a friend to all sea service personnel and their families.”
The late Cardinal John J. O’Connor of the Archdiocese of New York, together with the late Admiral James D. Watkins, advocated for Mother Seton’s designation as the Patroness of the Sea Services in 1975 when O’Connor served as the Navy Chief of Chaplains and Watkins was Chief of Naval Personnel.
The Shrine celebrates both the spirituality of the first native-born American to be canonized and Mother Seton’s role as one of the most prominent Catholics of the early 19th century in the U.S. After her husband died and she converted to Catholicism, she moved to Emmitsburg where she founded one of the first Catholic schools for girls and the first U.S. congregation of religious sisters.
The story of her life and legacy is commemorated in a new museum and visitors center that opened on Sept. 22 at the Shrine. The museum is comprised of three core galleries that portray her life as a seeker, servant and saint, using rarely seen artifacts and interactive exhibits.
The Sea Services Pilgrimage and Mass is one of many programs throughout the year at the Shrine. In addition to asking Mother Seton to intercede for the safety of all those who serve the nation, and for our country, attendees at the Mass also prayed for more Catholic priests to serve as chaplains. Catholic chaplains in the military numbered in the thousands during World War II. Today, the Navy has less than 50 active Catholic priests to serve hundreds of thousands of Catholic Sailors, Marines, Merchant Mariners, Coast Guard and Public Health Service personnel.
More about the Sea Services Pilgrimage can be found here.
For more information about the Shrine, please visit setonshrine.org.
The National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
The National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Md., is a place of God and of history, where visitors can walk in the footsteps of a saint. The Shrine offers pilgrims prayerful comfort from Mother Seton’s story and her intercessions as a friend in heaven. It is an active Basilica and has a wide range of historical buildings and programs that show what life was like when Mother Seton lived here more than 200 years ago. It was here that she founded the first community of religious women established in the U.S., created the first free Catholic school for girls staffed by sisters in the U.S. and fulfilled her mission of serving those in need. Today, her legacy includes several religious communities with thousands of sisters, who serve others through schools, social service centers and hospitals throughout the world. She was canonized in 1975. Her remains are entombed at the National Shrine that bears her name. For more information, please visit https://setonshrine.org/.
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