Sisters of Charity Anticipate Opening of New Museum Honoring Mother Seton's Legacy - Seton Shrine

Sisters of Charity Anticipate Opening of New Museum Honoring Mother Seton’s Legacy

The Sisters eagerly await the opening of the new Seton Shrine Museum

By Lori Hadacek Chaplin

EMMITSBURG, Md – After months of getting sneak peeks at the construction, excitement is building for the Sisters of Charity, as they await the September opening of the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s new, state-of-the-art museum.

The $4 million museum and visitors center will bring to life the story of legacy of Mother Seton – their foundress – through rarely seen artifacts, stories and interactive exhibits

The hope is that the Seton Shrine Museum will offer a modern way to speak to more souls, offering a way for a new generation of Catholics to grasp the depth of Mother Seton’s courage and determination – and the relatability of her life story. It’s especially poignant for those who have devoted their lives to living out her mission.

Interacting with the exhibits “is like taking a journey through her life to see how she evolved, what and who she encountered along the way and how each of those parts of her journey shaped her,” said Sr. Maureen Shaughnessy, General Superior at Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station, N.J.

It was on the site of the Shrine and the museum that Mother Seton opened one of the first Catholic school for girls and established the first religious order of sisters in the new nation, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. From that original order came others, who trace their lineage back to Mother Seton.

The Sisters of Charity Federation now consists of 14 congregations of religious women who trace their lineage to Saint Elizabeth Ann SetonSaint Vincent de Paul, and Saint Louise de Marillac. The Federation gives input into the Shrine’s mission, so the sisters are taking a keen interest in the design and construction of the museum. Several sisters have been able to tour the construction site in recent weeks.

“We were there for our Federation board meeting, and we were able to tour the area,” said Sr. Jane Ann Cherubin, General Superior of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill in Greensburg, PA, “We even put on hardhats.”

In the museum, visitors can view three rooms, divided into the categories of Seeker, Servant, and Saint. The museum’s first room, Seeker, shows her young life and the evolution of her conversion; the second room, Servant, illustrates how she served God through her religious community and school; and the third room, Saint, highlights her canonization process. The museum concludes at the doors of the Shrine’s Basilica.

“The different rooms allow the visitor to better understand the process of Mother Seton’s conversion,” said Sr. Mary Joseph Ritter, General Superior of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy in Charleston, S.C.

Evangelizing experience

The Sisters of Charity feel that the museum will be an evangelizing experience reminding Catholics that we can obtain holiness as a single person, spouse, widow, or religious.

“The exhibit confirms that the call to holiness is given to all of us, no matter our vocation in life,” Sr. Mary Joseph said.

Living only 46 years, Mother Seton experienced the gamut: she was a socialite, wife, mother, widow, foundress, teacher, and ultimately a saint. Mother Seton lived life joyfully, even amidst many difficulties, including the deaths of her beloved husband and two of her daughters, and the rejection of friends and family when she converted to Catholicism.

“I think her life will speak to all people. Everyone’s struggling, especially these days with big concerns, hardships, and sickness. Mother Seton experienced all of that,” said Sr. Jane Ann.

Added Sr. Maureen: “Her life is a gift for people to see today. She speaks to women—especially women who have been single mothers.”

Sr. Mary Joseph said, “I especially love that she cared so lovingly for her own children while fostering the life of her religious sisters in the community.”


Through the museum exhibits, a new generation of Catholics will learn about Mother Seton’s heroic drive to serve God. In her book Elizabeth Seton: American Saint, Catherine O’Donnell calls Mother Seton “an institution builder and a thinker.”

In 1809, four years after she converted to Catholicism, she established the first American congregation of religious sisters — the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s, which would produce many offshoots. They would eventually unite in 1947 under the Sisters of Charity Federation.

In 1810, Mother Seton founded Saint Joseph’s Academy and Free School at Emmitsburg. It was the first free, private Catholic girl’s school staffed by women religious, and Mother Seton is recognized to this day as a patron saint of Catholic schools.

Considering the time period, that she was a woman, and a Catholic, these were extraordinary accomplishments.

“She was a woman of hope, a woman who took risks, and trusted in God,” Sr. Maureen says.

Mother Seton’s story offers healing

Sr. Jane Ann said Mother Seton resonates with those who get to know her story. For 32 years, Sr. Jane Ann lived in Korea, and she recalls how a priest she knew was at a loss to figure out how to help a troubled woman he was counseling.

“The priest told the Korean woman, ‘I’m going to be going away for a few months, and I will not be able to see you, but while I’m gone, I want you to read this book called Mrs. Seton [by Joseph I. Dirvin] translated by SrSung Hae Kim,’” Sr. Jane Ann recalls. “When Father came back, the woman was a changed person, she said, ‘Mother Seton really spoke to my soul.'”

Now, the sisters hope the museum will do the same for people for generations to come.

When visiting, people may also worship at the Seton Shrine Basilica, pray before her entombed remains and tour the buildings where Mother Seton and her sisters lived. For more information, visit