There’s an actual Saint lurking in my family tree. It’s not me, and it’s not Charlemagne!
It’s Elizabeth Bayley Seton. Mother Seton. And she really was the niece of my 7th Great Uncle’s wife. Uncle Thomas Dongan of Staten Island was the nephew of the Colonial Governor, and his wife (Elizabeth’s aunt) was Magdalena Charlton.
There’s an odd plaque at the grand old Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Richmondtown, Staten Island, where Magdalena’s father Richard Charlton was minister. It marks one of their cemetery plots as belonging to the family of Mother Seton (though she herself is not interred with them).
Mother Seton is described at length on AmericanCatholic.org – it’s a very shoddily proofed and edited article, but it’s instructive. In pertinent part:
Mother Seton is one of the keystones of the American Catholic Church. She founded the first American religious community for women, the Sisters of Charity. She opened the first American parish school and established the first American Catholic orphanage. All this she did in the span of 46 years while raising her five children.
She died January 4, 1821, and became the first American-born citizen to be beatified (1963) and then canonized (1975). She is buried in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
She and a handful of others began a school for financially-challenged young girls in 1809, which she ran until her death in 1821. The school continued to grow and eventually became known as St. Joseph College. There is also cemetery there – and the mortuary chapel is Mother Seton’s final resting place.
Her Sisters of Charity eventually united with the French order, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, in 1850. Among the many accomplishments of these woman, they were known as “Angels of the Battlefield” for their work tending to soldiers in the American Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I.
Intriguing twist-of-fate: Out of the Dongan family line came my 4th Great-grandfather, Joseph Wood. His wife was Sarah Hassell. Sarah’s brother Samuel and sister-in-law Josephine (Hutton) Hassell were heavily involved with the Catholic community in New York City in the years around the turn of the 20th Century. (He converted.) The family had a particular connection with St. Joseph College (since affiliated with Mount St. Mary’s College) and the Sisters of Charity, attending and hosting frequent events benefiting the organizations.
Sam & Josephine’s son Augustine Paul Hassell died in Emmitsburg in 1932. A well-born, educated, unmarried Catholic man living in a town with two (2) Catholic institutions of higher learning. Although I’ve yet to prove it, I’m guessing he was a priest, a brother, and/or a teacher of some kind. In fact, I suspect there were several Hassells who passed through the gates of St. Joseph and Mount St. Mary. To this day, the award given at Saint Joseph alumni reunions for the class with the highest attendance percentage is called the Hassell Cup!
The Hassell name lives on!