Catherine O’Donnell’s superb new biography ... brings Seton vibrantly back to life ... What jumps out on every page is both how devout Seton became (after a brief flirtation with skepticism) and how quintessentially American she was ... Especially moving are the last few chapters, which examine Mother Seton’s final illness, her passionate love for the sacraments, and her longing for eternal life. There is a power to this book that will remain with readers long after they complete it, and I highly recommend it to people of all faiths.
Ms. O’Donnell persuasively argues from Seton’s own writings that the standard account overstates the resistance to her religious choices posed by her family and society at large ... Ms. O’Donnell’s story encompasses a cast of characters worthy of a Russian novel; readers may be forgiven for wanting a Seton-Bayley family tree as well as a separate table of names. For the secularly inclined, the number of extended deathbed scenes—albeit standing in a long religious tradition of edifying deaths—may verge on the morbid. And, to this reader at least, the book does not do justice to the charm and humor that formed a central element in Mother Seton’s charisma. But these are mere cavils weighed against a remarkable biography of a remarkable woman.
Biographer Catherine O’Donnell asserts that Seton has been overlooked ... O’Donnell gives Seton the detailed portrait that she deserves—one that highlights her journey of faith, her contribution to Catholicism and education, and her 'struggles over health and money, the dispossessions of war, the labors of motherhood.'
Avoiding hagiography, O'Donnell...considers Seton's struggles as she tried to be simultaneously Mother to the women in the new religious community she'd founded and mother to her own children. Making extensive use of archives, O'Donnell recounts the story of a woman who struggled to embrace her new-found faith and with members of the clergy (both Episcopalian and Catholic) who challenged her decisions. The author situates Seton in the America of the times ... She further considers the role of slavery in the growth of early American Catholic institutions ... This well-documented study complements but does not replace Annabelle Melville's Elizabeth Bayley Seton.