January 4th is the feast day of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. She is the first native born American to be canonized the Church. She is a convert, was married with children, and the woman who started the first Catholic School in the United States. She was a prolific reader and loved the scriptures and the Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin Mary. She also gave me the gift of my daughter (see below).
Elizabeth was born two years before the American Revolution and was from the upper class of New York City. She married a wealthy man and was extremely happy for many years. Unfortunately, her husband became quite ill and lost his import business. She cared for him and his younger siblings when his parents died. Elizabeth brought her sick husband to Italy to help his health, and they stayed with friends, but he finally died there from tuberculosis. While in Italy she was influenced by their friend’s Catholic faith and converted to Catholicism. She returned to the United States to settle in Baltimore. There, at the suggestion of the president of St. Mary’s College, Elizabeth started a secular school. It didn’t take long for Elizabeth to decide to change it to a Catholic School. She started an order of sisters known as the “Sisters of Charity” (following closely the rule of St. Vincent de Paul in France) who helped children by establishing schools and orphanages. Even though Mother Seton contracted tuberculosis herself, she worked tirelessly guiding the order. Mother Seton died in 1821 at the age of 46, only sixteen years after becoming Catholic. She was beatified by Pope John XXIII in 1963 and canonized by Pope Paul VI on September 14th, 1975.
Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton is very special to me. I attribute the gift of our daughter to her. My wife and I desperately wanted children but after many years of trying and then going to doctors, we decided that God wanted us to adopt. The doctors never found anything wrong with either of us, but we were never able to conceive. Back in the 70’s it was very difficult to adopt. I didn’t have the money to go through a private adoption and I was worried if we would ever have any children. One day, both my wife and I felt, through prayer, that the time was right for us to go through an agency to try to adopt a baby. We really wanted a newborn, but most agencies just laughed when we told them. However, we felt inspired to not give up and to keep trying. We called the Long Island Adoption Services number and they told us to give a call to New York Foundling Hospital in Manhattan. They said that this hospital offered classes twice a month on ways to adopt.
When we called NY Foundling Hospital, the woman on the phone seemed so excited. She told us to come in to the next meeting that they were having on September 14th, 1975. We signed up for that and drove in that day. We found ourselves in a room with eleven other couples and one single person. The social worker came in and said she would explain different ways to go about adopting. She first said that she would show us pictures of some older children that were awaiting adoption. Most of them were special needs children that really tugged on your heart. They were also older children. She then explained ways that you could adopt younger, normal (I really don’t like that word, but that is what she used) children. At that time, Korean children were popular and she explained how to get them. She also told us that there were a number of black American children available and how to get them. She then paused for a moment, quite dramatically, and said that she had something very important to tell us. Both Martha and I were sitting there a little stunned by all that had been presented to us. We were quite curious what was left to tell.
The social worker said to us that for the first time in about eight years, their “white infant” list was growing short. Their adoption committee decided that they could not advertise that they were taking new names for this list because too many would apply. Since they placed only two or three babies per year, they decided to open the list only to the people who showed up at the next adoption class, the one we were attending. Martha and I both looked at each other, recognizing that this was no coincidence that we were here. We knew God was at work. We immediately put our names in and were told that we would be contacted in within 30 days by a social worker. Martha and I walked out of the class and went downstairs and went in to the chapel to thank God. We knew we were there as part of His plan. I remember a large statue of Elizabeth Ann Seton just outside the chapel. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought that she winked and smiled at us. We later found out that New York Foundling Hospital was operated and founded by the Sisters of Charity who were founded by Elizabeth Ann Seton. We were told that the process could take several years, first we had to be checked out, and then we had to wait until we were next on the list and a baby arrived. Martha and I drove home to Long Island praising and thanking God.
A little before Christmas in 1976 we were called and told we were next up. It was a great Christmas for us. On January 4th, 1977, we were called and told that our daughter was born the day before and we could pick her up at New York Foundling Hospital on January 7th. I looked on the calendar and we were called on the Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. We had remembered that when we were driving in to the initial session in September 1975 at New York Foundling, the radio was covering the news that Elizabeth Ann Seton was just canonized that day. We had received our daughter through the Sisters of Charity, the order she founded. We saw the hand of God at work in all of this and felt that St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was an integral part of his plan, and knew we had to name her Elizabeth Ann McIndoe. Our social worker told us that she had been doing this for many years and had never seen a baby go to a couple that shared so much of the same ethnic background as the child. Not only was our daughter from basically the same Irish, English and a little Italian background, but her mother was Catholic and her father protestant, just as Martha and I had been. Our social worker told us that Elizabeth’s birth mother became pregnant in High School and would not abort her baby due to her Catholic faith. I thank God that her birth mother saved her life and offered her for adoption. She was a very strong, faith filled young woman. Our social worker told us that many of the babies that they placed were born to drug addicted mothers and needed special medical help. Elizabeth was born from a drug free mother and in perfect health. God is so good.
The evening before we had to pick our daughter up in Manhattan a winter storm was brewing. We woke up to find about 11 plus inches of snow on the ground. The roads were not good and we had to drive almost 60 miles in to the city. I called the hospital and told them that we planned on coming no matter what the weather. It was a slow trek in to the city, but we made it. Nothing was going to stop us from getting our daughter. A last worry was parking near the hospital. If anyone has been to NYC, they know that parking is always a problem. When you have a snow storm, it becomes much worse as there is no place to put the plowed snow. I remember coming up to the hospital, praying that God would get us a parking spot close to the hospital. Just as we pulled up to the entrance we needed, a parked car pulled out and gave us a place. God answers prayer, even for parking spots.
We drove home with our little miracle adopted baby. We were so very happy. To this very day, exactly 40 years later, our daughter has brought us so much joy. She has also given us three wonderful grandsons who light up our life. There has never been a time that I haven’t thanked God for the precious gift he gave us, through adoption, of our daughter, Elizabeth Ann.
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, we thank you for your role in bringing us our FANTASTIC daughter. God works through His Saints. God is so good!