SISTERS OF CHARITY
June 7, 1809
My Dearest Sister Lady Frances,
I think often of the day were together in Syon at a time when my life was in disarray and I was just beginning to learn about the great gifts the Lord has bestowed on me. I am far along on my journey now and owe much to the wonderful people I met in Italy and England. I hope you are all well.
I have become a Catholic and have recently taken a vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience to my Lord. I have begun a little school here where I teach Catholic girls of unfortunate circumstance how to live well in the presence of the Lord. We have bigger plans which I humbly mention. It is my hope to one day be a beacon of light here in this new world. I hope one day to open a school where all unfortunate girls can come, regardless of their color or their beliefs, where they can learn to be witness to the greatness of the Lord.
My born children are often here with me here, as well as my sister Mary. She is not a Catholic but is truly touched by the Lord and our mission. We are truly blessed by our lot in life.
Tell Mr. Richmond and Mr. Smithson that there is hope here in America now. I wish I could do more to help the slave children that Mr. Richmond holds dear to his heart but for now all I can do is pray for them. In my lessons I always include the story of the Exodus and hope one day to witness true freedom here.
May God be with you all,
Elizabeth Ann Seton
Lady Frances showed the letter to her husband, the Second Duke of Northumberland when he returned to Syon. “I knew she would find her way,” The Duke said to his wife. “She has a countenance about her that will lead her to great places.”
Bill Richmond and James Smithson were gladdened to hear of the news from America. “Good things are taking root there,” Bill Richmond said. “With wonderful people like Elizabeth there in America I know that freedom for my people will not be long. Praise the Lord on this day and praise Elizabeth Ann Bayley and her sister Mary. Lady Frances, when you do respond, here is ten Guineas for the poor girls of America. Say it is from me.”
James Smithson looked at his maps and found Emmetsburg, Maryland. “I wonder why they are out in the middle of nowhere? The people of America have much to learn and I know this is but a start. I am just glad that I do not have to go there on a white horse or whatever that silly dream was. I, too, would like to send ten guineas to her to help her with her work with the poor.”
Lady Frances had other ideas. She noticed something in the letter that the others had missed. Something that was so important to her that she could not get it out of her head for days after reading the letter. A school for poor girls in America! A place for all unfortunate girls to learn the ways of the Lord! Lady Frances had a new calling and she knew it the moment she read the letter. She arranged a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury to get his blessing on the plan she wished to embark on. Unfortunately, the Archbishop of Canterbury was an anti-Catholic who could not see behind the petty squabbles that often affect religions and he was adamant that she not try to help any Catholics in any way. Her husband, the Second Duke of Northumberland saw her longing and responded in kind. “What the Archbishop does not know, will not matter to him. I think it fine that you help our dear friend in any way you can.”
Lady Frances sat down at her desk and after great thought wrote out her response.
August 14, 1809
My Dear Elizabeth,
Thank you for thinking of our family and keeping us informed as to your great work. We Northumberlands like to think of ourselves as people of the world who do good things to make the world a better place. We are humbled by your example.
I enclose here contributions from your two great admirers Bill Richmond and James Smithson. They give from their heart and are confident in your great work.
I have made arrangements through an intermediary to attend to your needs to create a place where the unfortunate girls of America can learn to become witness to the great blessings of the Lord. You know that we have more here in England than is anyone’s right. But our blessings are not limited to that which we own, it has also been our great blessing to know people who live the Lord’s creed. I hope our contribution serves you and your country well. I only ask that you refrain from attaching our name to this gift. The thought of its good use is enough recompense for us.
May you always walk in the path of the Lord.
Your sister in charity,
One day, in 1809, a visitor showed up at the little school which had been set up by Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton in Emmetsburg, Maryland. According to local lore, the visitor was a black man, in impeccable dress, riding on a white horse. He delivered the letter from Lady Frances and told Elizabeth Ann Seton that she would soon be hearing from a man named Samuel Southerland Cooper, who would help her in any way she wished. Again, according to local legend, the man and the horse disappeared, perhaps into thin air, but more likely they rode off into the still dark night. Within a few years a great building was constructed in Emmetsburg Maryland where any girl in need could come to be fed and clothed and learn of the great blessings that the Lord bestows.