Halifax Sisters of Charity built on Seton's legacy

Sr. Elizabeth Ann Seton is shown in a chapel window in Emmitsburg, Md.


Sr. Elizabeth Ann Seton is shown in a chapel window in Emmitsburg, Md.

May 18, 2015

The seeds of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul were planted by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Born into a wealthy physician's family in New York in 1774, Elizabeth married William Seton when she was 19. Theirs was a love-filled marriage, made rich with five children.

Seton saw past her comfortable life and began the Widow's Society for the destitute women and children in New York.

But tuberculosis felled William and, in a desperate fight for his life, William, Elizabeth and their eldest daughter sailed to Italy's warm climate. William died in Italy in 1803.

Now a widow with five children to support, Seton, raised an Episcopalian, discovered her love for Christ when accompanying Italian friends to Catholic Mass.

She returned to New York and set about studying Catholicism. In March 1805, to the dismay of her family and friends, she made her profession of faith and received Holy Communion in the Catholic Church.

Baltimore's Archbishop John Carroll invited Seton to move to his city and open a girls' school there in 1808.

Other women were attracted to Seton and her work. After Seton took her vows of obedience, poverty and chastity, Carroll gave her the title "Mother" in 1809.


Seton found herself attracted to the rules crafted by St. Vincent de Paul for France's Sisters of Charity and in 1809, she and her followers moved to Emmitsburg, Md. They donned black habits and took the name Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.

The sisters responded to the needs around them, opening parochial schools, orphanages along the East Coast of the U.S. and a hospital in St. Louis.

Seton died of tuberculosis in 1821 at age 46.

Still, the order continued to expand.

Four Sisters of Charity arrived in Halifax from New York City in May 1849 at the request of Halifax Bishop William Walsh. Walsh wanted them to work with orphans and in education.

They started a school and by the end of the school year, had 400 students in their classes. The sisters also opened their own home to 20 orphan girls.

They named their home St. Mary's, "the cradle of the community." Out of that building came the start of several city schools, an orphanage and an infirmary.

The Sisters of Charity came to Alberta in 1927.

They worked as teachers at numerous schools in Edmonton, Bon Accord, Fox Creek, St. Paul, Inuvik and Paulatuk, NWT, and Telegraph Creek, Yukon. Some sisters have taught at the Edmonton Young Offenders Centre and the University of Alberta.

They have also served as nurses at hospitals in Wetaskiwin, Jasper, Hardisty, Swan River, Man., and both the Charles Camsell and General hospitals in Edmonton.


The sisters have also worked as pastoral associates in many parishes and have provided various forms of spiritual presence with several organizations including the Social Justice Commission, l'Arche Community, Newman Theological College, the Adult Learning Centre, Catholic Social Services, hospitals, jails and schools.

Their music ministry has lightened hearts in hospitals, parishes and prisons.

While the sisters may claim to be retired, they have volunteered with many Edmonton area organizations ranging from the Cross Cancer Institute to the CNIB.


The order Seton founded retains its commitment to meeting the needs of society, and the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul are still relevant today.

They can be found working as teachers, social workers, hospital and school administrators, and catechists. The countries they serve include Canada, United States, Peru, Dominican Republic and Bermuda.

A statement in one of their histories succinctly states their mission: "The Sisters of Charity . . . stand in solidarity with the economically poor, by ministering to a world wounded by violence and stripped of hope."