Oscar Romero vs. Elizabeth Ann Seton

February 20, 2013
Tim Schenck

Today's matchup features two Roman Catholics, the martyred archbishop of El Salvador and an American nun known for her charity and educational work. See, we're doing our part for Christian unity here at Lent Madness. However, lest you think this was a diabolical attempt to pit them against one another, don't forget Dorothy Day is yet to come.

Yesterday, Janani Luwum trounced Thomas Tallis 69% to 31% and will face fellow martyr Jonathan Daniels in the Round of the Saintly Sixteen. While Archbishop Luwum was a virtual Lent Madness unknown, his inspiring story clearly touched many in profound ways.

Perhaps the biggest story in Lent Madness circles was the resolution of the 2013 Mug Controversy. That collective sigh of relief heard 'round the world was confirmation that Tim finally received his Lent Madness mug, thereby preserving the Lenten Detente between the two members of the Supreme Executive Committee.

oscar_romeroOscar Romero

Oscar Romero was born in Cuidad Barrios, El Salvador, on August 15, 1917. He wanted to be a priest, but his family, like almost everyone else, was poor. He had to drop out of seminary several times before he was ordained, to work as a carpenter. But he finished, he excelled, and he was named a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in 1967.

Romero was known as a quiet, academic type. He had studied at the Vatican in Rome. He was conservative, unlikely to make waves or to upset the status quo. Because of this reputation, in 1977, he was elevated to archbishop of San Salvador, the highest church office in the country.

At the time in El Salvador, 90% of the population lived on less than $100 a year. 200 families owned 75% of the farmable land. A quarter of the children died before the age of five and the average life expectancy was 46 years old. All labor unions were forbidden by law.

A number of the Catholic priests and nuns had begun to question this, to ask what the Christ who healed the leper and befriended the impoverished would make of this situation. Romero's conversion process had begun when he worked with the poor as a local bishop, but when a dear friend was assassinated by a death squad, it was complete.

Weeks after becoming archbishop, Romero called a meeting of all the clergy, priests and nuns, in the country, to figure out how to respond to the assassination of clergy. He canceled all Catholic services in the country, save the funeral mass at the cathedral in San Salvador where he was preaching. This forced everyone, rich and poor alike to attend the same mass, or commit a major sin.

From this time forward, he broadcast every mass from the cathedral on the radio. Everyone heard his sermons, and he became known as the "Voice of the Voiceless."  He called on the government to stop the death squads. He called on the soldiers to disobey orders to kill. He called on the rich to support reform. He established a permanent diocesan commission to discover and document human rights abuses in the country. Again and again, he used his authority and power as archbishop to throw the considerable weight of the church behind the oppressed and the victimized.

On March 24, 1980, he was celebrating mass in a small hospital chapel, when he was shot by an assassin whose identity remains unknown. At his funeral, bombs exploded among the 50,000 mourners, killing at least 40, and making Romero's last sermon even more poignant: "Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ will live like the grain of wheat that dies...The harvest comes because of the grain that dies."

Collect for Oscar Romero
Almighty God, you called your servant Oscar Romero to be a voice for the voiceless poor, and to give his life as a seed of freedom and a sign of hope: Grant that, inspired by his sacrifice and the example of the martyrs of El Salvador, we may without fear or favor, witness to your Word who abides, your Word who is life, even Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit, be praise and glory, now and forever. Amen.

-- Megan Castellan

seas_framed_1Elizabeth Ann Seton

Born in 1774 into a prominent Episcopal family (her maternal grandfather was rector of St. Andrew’s, Staten Island), Elizabeth Ann Seton grew up a devout Episcopalian. Her spiritual director while a member at Trinity Wall Street was John Henry Hobart, later Bishop of New York, and her wedding was performed by Bishop Sam Provoost. In 1797, as a 23-year-old wife and socialite, she was one of the founders of the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children, the first private charitable organization in New York City, serving as its treasurer.

In 1798, her husband, William Seton, took over the Seton family shipping and mercantile business, which fell on hard times. Facing both bankruptcy and tuberculosis, in 1803 William took Elizabeth and the eldest of their five children, Anna Maria, to Italy in hopes of regaining his health and connecting with a former business connection, Filippo Filicchi. Unfortunately, as news reached Italy of Yellow Fever in New York, instead of recovering in the Italian sun, Seton and his wife and daughter were quarantined in stone barracks. Days after the family left quarantine, William died, leaving Elizabeth, now 29, a poor widow with five small children.

Staying with the Filicchi family, Elizabeth was introduced to Roman Catholicism and found herself drawn to its sacraments and worship. As she wrote to her sister-in-law, “[Y]ou know how we were laughed at for running from one church to another, sacrament Sundays, that we might receive as often as we could; well, here people that love God…can go every day.”

Returning to New York City, she was received by the Roman Catholic Church but rejected by her friends and family, some of whom disinherited her. An impoverished single mother, she ran a boarding house for boys attached to St. Mark’s, New York, but parents withdrew their children upon learning of her religion. After the conversion of Elizabeth’s young sister-in-law to Catholicism, even Bishop Hobart warned others to cut off any communication with her.

Invited to Baltimore to begin a school, in 1810 Elizabeth founded St. Joseph’s Academy and Free School in Emmitsburg, Maryland. This school for girls from poor families as well as paid boarders became the foundation for the parochial school system in America. She trained the sisters to be teachers and wrote the textbooks. In 1812, she established the first religious order for women in America, the Sisters of Charity, which under Mother Seton’s leadership established orphanages in Philadelphia and New York City. She also worked to assist Baltimore’s poor and sick all while continuing to care for her own children. She died in 1821 at the age of 46.

Collect for Elizabeth Ann Seton
Holy God, you blessed Elizabeth Seton with your grace as wife, mother, educator and founder, that she might spend her life in service to your people: Help us, by her example, to express our love for you in love of others; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- Laura Toepfer


Oscar Romero vs. Elizabeth Ann Seton

  • Oscar Romero (68%, 3,294 Votes)
  • Elizabeth Ann Seton (32%, 1,557 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,851

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165 comments on “Oscar Romero vs. Elizabeth Ann Seton”

  1. I went with Oscar in stead of EA Seton mainly because Oscar confronted evil face on. No offence to EA Seton, but her endurance was not as profound to me as Oscar Romero.

    1. You are absoluty correct. I remember the turmoil in South and Central America and Oscar Romero was a beacon of hope that was unjustly extinguished.

  2. Voted for Mother Seton for sentimental. I am named after a Sioster of Charity, See her chapel everytime I ride the Si Ferry to Manhattan, and her grandfather, Richard Charleton, was a rector at the first Episcopal parish I attended. I do think Oscar is the runaway favorite on this one, but this one is for Eliza.

    1. I too voted for Mother Seton because of her lecacy and she was once an Episcopalian. Her being the first American born saint of the Roman church also influenced my decision. Oscar Romero had to be the popular choice but I went for the underdog.

  3. Gee, Padre Schenck. I've been drinking good black coffee from my Mary Mags 2013 LENT MADNESS cup for a couple of weeks now and I'm not in charge of anything. Oh! It just occurred to me.....I paid for mine....and my poster aussi! Think that made a difference in Cincy with your partner, to put it loosely the way you guys carry on? Just jesting...of course.

    1. Aleathia-not only did you PAY for your mug, you are very nice to talk with on the phone, AND you write great letters to my boss! Kisses from the FM Penthouse Headquarters.

      1. Did y'all get your raises yet? I enjoyed talking with you also and love writing comments! The Cathedral folk think it's a hoot because I am so obviously obsessed with LENT MADNESS. I keep being more and more amazed by respondents' remarks about "fairness" as if "MADNESS" isn't a BIG clue. Oh well! As my HS French teacher used to say (phonetically for the full flavor) "Well, sex-lah-vigh, y'all!" And people think I'm weird!

  4. For all my awe at Romero, I think EAS is the underdog here, and as a Baltimorean, I'm backing the hometown girl.

    1. You go, Cricket!! My reasoning too... and who wouldn't want to be part of the joy of the Eucharist at any moment, rather than on a strict (and reduced) schedule???

  5. I had to go with Mother Seton. There's an old spiritual that says "I asked Jesus to change my name." His response is your mother and father won't know you if I change your name. Christ said that we might have to give up mother, father and friends to follow him and she did. I also loved how she got excited about being able to receive communion any time she wanted rather than once a month.

      1. She absolutely did not give up her children, and I'm sorry you might have gotten that impression! Being able to care for her own children was of great importance to Seton. In fact, the reason she started a boarding house was so that she could care for them. She continued to care for them while she founded the school outside Baltimore and several of her descendents carried on in ministry in the Roman Catholic church.

  6. I voted for Elizabeth Ann Seton, for that is the high school my wife graduated from here in Cincinnati!

  7. I don't know which of the two stories confounds me more. Archbishop Romero sacrificed his life, mortally and sacramentally for the good of poor and ostracized people in his nation. Elizabeth Ann Seton established her charitable agencies and instituted her sacramental life because of The 18th and 19th Century Episcopal Church's lack of formal attention to the sacraments. Using Romero's analogy, whose work has yielded more wheat because of the sacrificial work they accomplished? I voted for Romero while contemplating more about the themes of sacraments and martyrdom.

    1. You mention the 18th and 19th century Episcopal Church's lack of formal attention to the sacraments....there are still some Episcopal churches in Virginia where Morning Prayer is preferred over Holy Eucharist (gasp!) among the congregants. Good for Elizabeth for having the courage to stand up for the sacraments!

  8. Toughest choice yet! Recent reading reminds me of the deep prejudice against Roman Catholics... which helps to frame the power of Seton's faith and her conviction at a time when her friends and family turned against her... And yet Romero stood up against the prevailing power brokers to demand justice for the oppressed people of his country, ultimately losing his life... think I have to go with Romero...

  9. This is also the toughest choice in Lent Madness I have had to make. I greatly admire Romero, and he certainly would have been my pick. However, as a young five-year-old girl growing up in Oklahoma in a home that did not have a Bible, it was a beloved Catholic Nun who was my Kindergarten teacher in the only kindergarten in town, who told me of God's love for me and changed my life forever. For that reason, I have to vote for Seton.
    I have loved, and am loving so much about saints, some of whom I had never heard about.

  10. I admire Seton enormously and hope to see her again in the future, when I would happily vote for her. In this contest, I must vote for Romero. Having studied Central America in graduate school, the situation he faced is much more vivid to me than that of Seton's. This description leaves out the prevalent racism in El Salvador. In the 1920's, during a revolution, the order was to kill anyone with a machete, namely any Indian. When Romero stood up for the poor, he was also standing up for the despised Indians. While Romero may have been from a poor family, he was not Indian. I think that added dimension is important to remember.

  11. I do love Mother Seton. I have a second or third dgree relic of her. A tiny square of cloth that touched her actual relic? Be that as it may. I admire Blessed Romero for his sacrifice and his Liberation theogy for its holy inspiration. A modern martyr.

  12. My Liberation Theology prof would come back from the dead and give me "that look" were I not to vote for Romero...

  13. Tough choices as always. God uses us all. My heart is with education and serving children. That is the reason I chose Seton.

    1. I think your comment, Mary Ellen, underscores that of Nancy Davidge above. Born and raised in a warm and honorable Roman Catholic family on both sides, I still wonder at the lingering prejudice against Roman Catholics I find in my beloved new spiritual home, the Episcopal Church. The Roman Catholic Church is the people, not the relatively few clergy who have turned away from God in the name of God, as we are all reading about and grieving over these past 15-20 years.

      I think the point is that Mother Seton listened to the call she got from God. We are called in different ways.

  14. Mother Seton as a blow against snotty Episcopalians. Had "Smoky Mary's" been in Manhattan in those days she might have remained an Epicopalian.

      1. I am answering your question about "Smoky Mary's" because Tom hasn't replied yet. St. Mary's Episcopal Church is in mid-town Manhattan and is considered Catholic-Episcopal, and is a heavy user of incense, therefore the "smokey."

  15. This was so hard! I had to go with Romero, but just barely. Please bring Elizabeth Seton back another time!

  16. Romero has long been one of my heroes, have to vote for him. I'm still grieving Thomas Tallis' loss. Truly great sacred music is a direct pipeline to the Divine that never fails us.

    1. Susan, I can't agree more about Thomas Tallis. The image of him was not very appealing but if the voters had heard an audiofile of his music, the result may have been different.
      Oscar Romero is a transformational saint and I voted for him without any hesitation although I do admire Elizabeth Ann Seaton and her work. As usual in Lent Madness, it is not about rejecting one saint, it is about which one speaks to you more.

  17. Oscar Romero is among my very favorite saints. He is an especially ideal role model for clergy who need to find their voice regarding social justice, but his story speaks to laity as well.

  18. Had to go with Romero, during my travels in Nicaragua, I met people who knew Romero and were continuing his work. Has long been a personal inspiration.

  19. Just think! If the Tractarian Movement had occurred a few decades earlier, Elizabeth Ann Seton would not have had to convert to Rome! Because of her work for widows and orphans, work that the new testament specifically calls Christians to do, she has my vote.

  20. This really was a hard choice and while you can't take anything away from Romero I had to go with Mother Seton because I was one of those under-privileged young ladies that benefited from the charity of the Catholic schools.

  21. Laurie Atwater, that is so true for me as well. I've got Oscar going all the way to the Finals (where I haven't made my pick yet), because he is such an inspiration to me: Speak up. Be bold. Fear not. This archbishop gave me courage when I needed it in Sudan. Blessed be this man!

  22. Mother Seton was raised Episcopalian before becoming Roman Catholic? Isn't that apostasy?

    Seriously, this is the first matchup for which I'll have to do some research first.

  23. This is my first year participating in Lent madness. I enjoy learning about and/or revisiting the stories of various saints, but so often wish I could vote for both! I find myself thanking God for all the souls who have spent their lives furthering the message of God's love and grace to all!

  24. I have friends who are Sisters of Charity, and know their work well. But come on! Oscar Romero was assassinated on the altar... I gotta give the martyr his due.

    ¡Viva Romero! ¡El Rey de la Cuaresma Locura!

  25. As a teen, I was deeply touched by the love of his people. His argument that we are the church was news to me, and his bravery inspired me. I even admire that his views changed over time - very human. The fact that he looked a lot like my grandfather might play a part too. So, I voted for Romero.

  26. Three cheers for another priest--and a Catholic priest as well--speaking out against an unjust government. Oscar Romero, you are lovingly remembered.

  27. It seems that when I finally decided who to vote for after much internal wrestling, I found myself being further conflicted as I went to cast my vote. I must confess here, that it occured to me that to ease this internal conflict of voting for just one saint, Romero or Seton, I could sign in under my husband's name and vote for the one I did not vote for under my name. That way, I would be able to support both saints. But after further prayer and coffee, I realized that the word of Lent Madness is clear, only one vote per person, per day. Seeking to be faithful to the word, even though it is at times painful I repented of this plan. So after much wrestling and coffee, this Congregational baptized and confirmed, UCC pastor, granddaughter of Italian Roman Catholics, will vote for Romero in memory of a wonderful professor, Letty Russell, and in honor of a seminarian from my church who just had a transformative experience in El Salvador during January break, I will vote for Romero while also giving thanks for Elizabeth Seton.