Thursday, January 4, 2007

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and the mountain of grace

The place of my retreat is 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 and was happy to go to Mass today on the mountain at 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 and left my 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 and 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 Mass today was in the glass chapel on the side of the mountain. I could see through the tall trees 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.) There was some Latin and Father Jack offered the Mass with great reverence; Adoration followed.
At the Grotto one can see 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 emigres 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...

Not for nothing does Mount St. Mary's University boast of its famous landmark!
The gold statue of Mary can clearly be seen from Route 15 whether day or night. There's a stairway accessible from the MSM campus to the Grotto.
Thanks pointing this famous Frederick County, MD landmark! :)

elena maria vidal said...

You are welcome, Elisa! It is beautiful there all year around, even in the winter!