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. Had to go with Mother Seton. I went to graduated from the now defunct Elizabeth Seton College in Yonkers. She's been a favorite for many years.

  2. A serious toughie! Voting for both is a no-no, but voting for neither would accomplish the same thing. But that is a cop out, something neither of these saints would have stood for! Guess the getting murdered while performing mass will have to tip the scale for me. Oscar fought a more deadly enemy than ostracism.

  3. Oh, this is so so so hard. I have a fondness for both, particularly for Archbishop Romero. However, I live on a portion of land that was part of Elizabeth's husband's family's estate in the northern corner of New York City, and we have a nearby park which the Setons carved out to preserve natural old-growth forest which is a huge refuge for me. Elizabeth was baptized as an infant in my current Episcopal Parish, and I love the Sisters of Charity. I have to vote for my homegirl.

  4. Another tough choice, but in the end I had to go with Romero, who sacrificed his life for the disadvantaged people in his country.

  5. The first parish named for Elizabeth Ann Seton in Shrub Oak New York is sister parish to St. Mary's Episcopal Mohegan Lake and we run a food pantry together. This Fall we went on Pilgrimage together to all the Seton sites in NYC including St. Andrew's Staten Island and Trinity New York. The Seton folks were greeted with love like long lost cousins and were overwhelmed by Episcopal hospitality. We had a sweet taste of heaven together just like Elizabeth Ann and John Henry now share together. It may be in fits and starts but God has ways and ways of getting us all on the same track. Votin' for my sister today!

    1. Hi Claire ,

      It sounds as if ecumenism can be a grassroots enterprise. I really, really love to hear about people and parishes overcoming differences to get on the same track. The rscj's helped to make ecumenism a part of who I am as a Christian (RC). Thank you for letting me know that I am not alone in my hope for church unity.

      P.S. I wonder if the Lent Madness folks will consider Mother Janet Erskine Stuart, rscj, for next year's brackets?http://sofie.org/resources/founding-mothers/janet-erskine-stuart

  6. An amazing story, especially for a woman of her time with absolutely no backing of authority or power other than the intentions of her most generous soul. She was fed in and she fed by the power of the Holy Spirit. God bless her.

  7. I worked for the Sisters of Charity during college, and that seems to have decided me on this one. Even though I did not belong to the church at all then, I learned a deep respect for the Catholic Church and for Christianity in general from that experience, because of some of the people I met there and the things I saw.

    I don't know much about Oscar Romeo, but I like the way his story is framed here - that he was courageous enough to change in his thinking. I like the broadcast masses, too, and his being "the Voice of the Voiceless" - and I especially love the story of cancelling masses so that everybody would have to attend together. Fantastic idea....

  8. Worthy opponents, well matched. Elizabeth Seton--first U.S. citizen canonized by RC Church; founded first U.S. religious order for sisters; Seton Hill College (named after, but not founded by, her) just down the road; a lifetime of service to the poor. Former Episcopalian...haven't figured out if that should count pro or con, though. Oscar Romero--a humble, even meek, priest turned bishop turned Archbishop, who found great courage to face a great evil head-on, in the name of Christ for the sake of the poor. Both seemingly modest Christians who discovered grace in great adversity. I find Romero's courage just too compelling, though; plus, his feast day and my birthday, one & the same. Vote to Oscar.

  9. I'm for the poor widow who finds joy in charity. Remember that her socialite Episcopalian family rejected for becoming a Roman Catholic. She stood by her faith. All of the candidates are worthy...but I have a soft spot for blessed Elizabeth.

  10. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who's having trouble choosing today. I've admired both saints for many years. I cried the first time I heard Oscar Romero's story. But as a person who started out as Southern Baptisit then went to the Church of the Nazarene before coming home to the Episcopal Church, I admire Elizabeth Seton for joining a church that met her spiritual needs. At least I didn't have to worry about being shunned. I also love Seton's work in education and believing the poor should be educated too. I think I need more caffeine before I make this decision.

  11. Today's vote went to Oscar Romero. I, perhaps like many others, have such a profound respect for those who literally give up their lives for what they believe in. Unfortunately it seems to me that the bracket this year is particularly heavy with martyrs making future votes even harder to decide. The SEC or the Bracket Czar are not making it easy this year.

  12. As an Episcopalian who loves the sacramental liturgy of the modern church...I have to vote for Mother Seaton. I like to think we would have enjoyed worshipping together.

  13. You're not going to go easy on us Roman Catholics are you? What a choice.

    I finally had to go with Elizabeth because -- while the difficulty of standing up to hoards of bad guys is pretty much recognized -- the difficulty of standing up to your own family and friends is often not.

  14. I love them both dearly. Archbishop Romero for his powerful witness and his sacrifice, Seton for choosing God over social convention and for her work with women who struggled. I voted for Mother Seton for sentimental reasons:at my elementary school I was taught by Sisters of Charity, who were tough working-class women with deep and powerful faith. I learned a lot from them.

  15. Voted for the Archbishop. I am in a small group studying some of the prophets for Lent. I'm wrestling with saying things that are not comfortable/popular and Archbishop Romero is an inspiration. I'm finding myself voting for the martyrs this year which is not usual for me - need to ponder how God is working in this.

  16. First - thanks to all the CBs. The bios are thoughtful and I’m learning things that have eluded even mighty Wikipedia. I went with Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez in solidarity with many sisters and brothers in Central and South America. But moving away from Mother Seaton was tough.

  17. Another seriously unfair matchup. But continuing in my "speaking truth to power" theme, I vote for Romero.

  18. Oh, my. I hope this one is close. Which is better, stronger: giving your life, or giving your death? Which more heroic? Which more Christly?

      1. Oh good grief! Grammarians can be so relentless in their need to correct small errors. Christlike, then, more like Christ.

        1. nope not a grammarian, just asking for the need to know. Sorry so from now on when I don't know, I will be silent.

          1. "Oh good grief! Grammarians can be so relentless in their need to correct small errors. Christlike, then, more like Christ.

            I prefer syntactician."

            To be absolutely correct, a grammarian is a person who is interested in prescriptive studies, the pedagogical rules of right and wrong. A syntactician is a scientist within the broader field of linguistics who makes no right-wrong judgments, but simply analyzes what *is* regarding sentence structure (grammar). The question as to whether "Christly" is a word falls in neither category. it is one of semantics, or the meaning and use of signifiers, words; therefore, the original poster was complaining about the question posed by a semantician or would-be semantician.

        2. and to answer my own question, it IS a word.
          Adj. 1. christly - resembling or showing the spirit of Christ

          1. Thanks for that, Marianne - will look for it; love Raul Julia.

            I searched Netflix and found another film called "Monseñor: The Last Journey of Óscar Romero." Now it's in my instant queue....

          2. Elizabeth you are right, and it is unbecoming of Episcopalians because Anglicanism was created to be a bridge between Catholic and Protestant. That said, we have so many Roman Catholics in our church now who have been told by their friends and families the equivalent of, "you know that's not a REAL church, right??!" I must say among my RC friends I feel my Protestantism and when I am with my Protestant friends (I attend an evangelical seminary, although on the liberal side of E) I feel very Catholic!! I will defend both streams and I believe we Episcopalians are to honor them!

          3. Marianne, thank you for that. My husband and I came to the Episcopal church when looking for a church to be married in, and in which to later raise a family. The Episcopal choice was very much considered a bridge between my Catholic heritage, and his Disciples of Christ/Church of Christ heritage. I still feel very Catholic with my husband's extended family in Missouri, some of whom use the term "Christian" to refer to members of the COC, meaning pointedly that Catholics are not. Hmm, I was 36 and had lived on both Coasts and the Upper Midwest before I heard that usage. I guess it takes all kinds.

  19. I was an activist in the 80's against our government's support for and training of the death squads in Central America. I had a bumper sticker on my 76 Honda Civic that said "El Salvador is Spanish for Vietnam". Even in those non-church days, Archbishop Romero was a hero of mine. I have to support him!

  20. Another agonizing choice. Both so deserving our thoughts of their lives and actions. Thank you, Lent Madness, for that.

    Both gave sacrifices: one lost his life on earth, one was abandoned by her family on earth; there's no way to choose for me. Maybe my vote reason will be just thinking of a little girl who went to multiple churches to receive the Sacrament.

  21. Mother Seton has Baltimore roots, a definite plus. (take a look at mothersetonacademy.org). However, Bishop Oscar has always been one of my heroes because he managed to piss off his government and piss off the Pope in the same lifetime, a truly saintly achievement which led to his martyrdom. Backs up the wisdom that no good work goes unpunished. Oscar in a tight one.

  22. Another tough vote today. 2 great stories. I am drawn to Elizabeth Seton. I am learning a lot everyday, and this is fun. However, at 33% ....picking the winners. I don't think I'll be playing in any tournament games.

  23. Wow! What a tough choice! I greatly admire Mother Seton for her courage in the face of bigotry which was great, even in the face of her living the Gospel in a practicle way, and also for her courage as a woman in the face of utter male domination I admire her for the courage to bring the needed actualization of Mother Spirit to the Church. Yet, my vote goes to the martyred Romero, who battled for the suffering poor with the spiritual sword of God's compassionate truth and justice. His testimony for courageous compassion must have also carried the knowledge that in doing so, his life was certainly at risk, which he was willing to risk for the sake of his people, oppressed and oppressors, in calling them all to the hope of the Gospel.

  24. Another hard choice today. Going in I was sure I would vote for Oscar Romero, and I finally did. I was moved by Elizabeth Seton's story though and began to think about how her life was a living gospel. Of course, so was Oscar Romero's. Such wonderful folks to consider and lives to meditate upon as we travel through Lent.

  25. Romero was martyred by government forces because he stood with the oppressed. As he said, "When the church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises." (8/6/78). -- The Church: Called to Repentance, Called to Prophecy

  26. Really hard choice, but having chosen a martyr over a musician yesterday, I'm going with Mother Elizabeth, who, like Bishop Romero, reached out to the poor, especially children. (Besides, the bishop was way ahead.)

  27. Had to vote for Oscar Romero. That said, I'm writing down Bishop Hobart's name so I can get all judgey if he's ever up for a place in Lent Madness. Dude. I mean I grew up amidst some animosity to the RC (not as bad as it was back then), but my best friend was/is RC.