Friday, January 4, 2008

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and the Mountain of Grace

Last winter I made a retreat about ten miles from the tomb of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born citizen to be canonized. Today is her feast-day. She was a beautiful, cultured, educated lady who suffered the loss of husband, two children, and social standing. Shunned by most of her family after she converted to Catholicism, Saint Elizabeth started a community of teaching nuns in what was called Saint Joseph's valley at the foot of Saint Mary's mountain near Emmitsburg, Maryland.

I often came to Emmitsburg during my childhood and young adulthood, visiting the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. It is the spot where my husband and I became engaged on Easter Sunday in 1996. We also visited it after our wedding in November of the same year, leaving the bridal bouquet at Our Lady's feet.

The grotto is a popular pilgrimage site and has a miraculous spring. My mother once injured her foot after she dropped a motor bike on it. We took her to the grotto. After bathing her foot in the icy water the pain disappeared, even as she was walking back to the car. There are many other healings that have happened there, both physical and spiritual. The daily Mass is in the glass chapel on the side of the mountain. Through the tall trees can be seen the blue expanse of Frederick County, "fair as the garden of the Lord," as the poet Whittier said. (Well, at least it used to be; now it is a bit congested.)

At the grotto is the rock where Mother Seton would come every Sunday and teach the children, those of the neighborhood and her own, the catechism, explaining the truths of the faith with clarity and love. Mother and her nuns would walk up from the valley, rain or shine, to spend Sunday on the mountain. It was in the first decades of the nineteenth century, before the Lourdes apparitions in France, but the grotto was seen as a venerable and holy place by Mother and the French priests who assisted her. Walking there in the twenty-first century one is still overwhelmed by the sense of being on holy ground.


Anonymous said...

Being a Marylander (born and raised) I have traveled to Emmitsburg on numerous occasions---as an adult and also remember taking a high school field trip to the grotto and mountain--it is gorgeous. My mother, too, loves St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and named my sister after her.

Your engagement story is lovely!! And I didn't remember that the grotto at Emmitsburg is related to Lourdes, so for the 150th anniversary year of Lourdes wouldn't an Emmitsburg visit assist one in obtaining the Lourdes anniversary plenary indulgence?
I wonder.
Love your blog always!

Ann Murray said...

It sounds like a very special place indeed. No doubt many pilgrims benefit from graces obtained through prayer at the grotto and/or through the intercession of St. Elisabeth Ann Seton.
It's lovely that the family tradition of visiting the Mountain Of Grace is being honoured by you and your husband, and that modern developments have not robbed you of such ' holy ground.'

Anonymous said...

A spot of holiness and tranquility in what has become a busy congestd area of the Mid-Atlantic.

Dymphna said...

My husband and I go to Emmitsburg once a year. We do the rosary walk, and visit the Blessed Sacrament and go to Mass with the seminarians if we can. It's a very special place. I went to a high school run by St. Elizabeth Ann's order so I always consider myself as one of her girls.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank, SF, julygirl and Dymphna, I am glad you know exactly what I am talking about! Yes, Veritas, it is a mystical place that has played a role in the lives of many people from far and near!