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The Catholic Historical Review 87.4 (2001) 779-780

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The Intimate Friendships of Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton: First Native-Born American Saint (1774-1821)

Celeste, Sister Marie, S.C. The Intimate Friendships of Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton: First Native-Born American Saint (1774-1821). (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America. 2000. Pp. xii, 212. Paperback.) [End Page 779]

Women's friendships are being looked at with increasing interest as a way of gaining a greater understanding of their lives. Historically, women's writings tend to be preserved, not in treatises and lengthy academic pieces, but in soul-revealing letters. In the case of Elizabeth Seton, hundreds of her letters have been preserved which provide a window on her personality, her spirituality, and her life experience. She was a woman with an extraordinary capacity for friendship, and this volume provides an introduction to some of the cast of characters who were an important part of her life.

Sister Marie Celeste's book, a reissue of a 1989 Alba House publication, contains chapters on Elizabeth Seton's relationships with her father, her husband, two sisters-in-law, three women friends from her New York period, and two men who were strong influences in her life. Each chapter provides the context for the period in Elizabeth's life in which the friendship was important. The author uses a chronological approach, but she does not attempt to show growth over time or to analyze the meaning of the relationship for the participants. Only direct quotes are footnoted, and the frequent paraphrases of documents have no citations, making this easily readable for those who are more interested in Elizabeth's life than in the scholarly aspects of the letters.

What the book offers is an insight into the enthusiasm for loving relationships which marked Elizabeth Seton's life. It plunges the reader into the warm, effusive language she used with her friends as she showered them with affection, supported them in times of trouble, and cajoled them to lives of goodness. It shows the variety of persons and influences which came to play within her life and which ultimately helped to form her into the saint that she became.


Judith Metz, S.C.
(Cincinnati, Ohio)



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