Elizabeth Seton by Catherine O’Donnell

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: I have no idea why this woman is a saint.

Quick synopsis: A biography of Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American born saint. For some reason.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Seton was a terrible babysitter! She was constantly trying to convert kids against their parents wishes! Even after Catholic priests told her it was a jerk move!

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Nothing. She was super boring, honestly. And everyone around her kept dying of consumption.

My Take: Ultimately, this book is truly a fantastic work by the author because Elizabeth Seton’s life was very boring, and she comes off as a rather difficult person to deal with. How O’Donnell kept this book readable is beyond me because it should have felt like a much bigger chore.

Saints are supposed to be the ultimate do-gooders. They somehow transcend human pettiness to become beacons of kindness and selflessness. Think Mother Theresa or Francis of Assisi. Elizabeth Seton was not one of these people it seems.

She grew up somewhat well off (O’Donnell tells an interesting story of how economics varied wildly back in those days) and when she becomes Catholic, she becomes uber-Catholic. Priests have a hard time dealing with her. She routinely ignores their guidance or fights with them. Her husband dies and she creates her own cloister and keeps fighting with people. The aforementioned consumption deaths are spread throughout. My reading of her life is that she was someone who fixated on things. First, she fixated on her husband. When he died, she fixated on Catholicism.

Then again, no one will every confuse me for a saint so what the hell (pun intended!) do I know?

Verdict: Catherine O’Donnell is very talented. She needs better subject matter.

If You Liked This Try:

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  • Justin Pollard, Alfred the Great
  • Giles Tremlett, Catherine of Aragon
  • Robert Massie, Catherine the Great
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Elizabeth Seton by Catherine O’Donnell
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