By: Joan Barthel
There are few figures in our country’s short history that are as varied in their life experiences, whose fortunes’ are as ever changing, and are as strong in their convictions as Elizabeth Seaton. Recently I had the pleasure of reading the history of her life by author John Barthel. The American Saint: The Life of Elizabeth Season is a detailed history of the life of the founder of the first Catholic women’s religious group in our country. The work is full of quotes, prominent people who had an impact on her life in one way or another, as well an amazing array of photos to better paint the picture of what life was like for this singular woman. As a daughter, mother, and nun Elizabeth Season’s life seemed to emulate the seasons with patches of sunshine quickly clouding over into darkness or despair. Barthel’s book provides a unique look into the life and work of both Seaton and the religious order which she founded.
American Saint: The Life of Elizabeth Seaton is an enjoyable read and a great one for anyone interested in the plight of women’s suffrage, religious evolution and history or the saints. John Barthel’s style of writing carries authority on the subject yet blends with an ease of storytelling making the book an easy or enjoyable read. Despite its important and historical context, this book does not feel like a history text but rather the story of an interesting and important woman, faced with difficult decisions which would have a lasting impact on the colonial world as well as the future of this great nation. Complete with the written account of her life and that of those who shared it, is a wonderful selection of pictures. These range from Elizabeth and her loved ones, to her tutors or mentors, to that of the significant places and buildings in her life. The two combine to form a vivid picture of what life was like for this Protestant turned Catholic, at a time when Catholicism was still very much unpopular if not outlawed.
I would definitely recommend this book to others. Her’s is a story of faith, of conviction, and of strength. Medicine was not what it is today and many people around Elizabeth Seaton suffered and perished. The impact this had on her life was not only interesting but profound making her a great role model for women today. Not perfect by any means, there is much to be learned by modern women from the life, triumphs and mistakes of this enigmatic woman of the cloth. If you enjoy history, the plight of women, religious texts and evolution, or great stories this is a book worth picking up.