January 4 – Synaxis of the Seventy Apostles; Elizabeth Ann Seton

Icon of the Seventy Apostles. Date unknown.The Synaxis* of the 70 Apostles refers to the apostles sent out by Jesus in chapter 10 of Luke’s gospel. Unsurprisingly, tradition has actually preserved for us a list of the names of all 70. Or, to be more precise, a number of lists. Admittedly there is a great amount of overlap between them, and (mirabile dictu!) many of them actually have exactly 70 names. None of them begin with the words, “Oh yeah? You call that a list of the 70? Ha! This is the true list of the 70.” Or if they once did, that part got edited out in subsequent copying (which is not to be wondered at).

The first compiler of a list of the Seventy was Hippolytus of Rome (d. 235) (or pseudo-Hippolytus, depending on whom you ask), whose list was deemed dubious. Dorotheus of Tyre (d. 362) was next to try his hand. In the Orthodox Church, the list painstakingly compiled from pains-giving historical records by Dmitri of Rostov (d. 1709) is deemed definitive.

Which is just as well. Attempts to reconcile the many extant lists may be the origin of the oft-repeated (and widely applicable) observation, “God only knows.” Your intrepid hagiographer attempted to reconcile the lists listed in Wikipedia, but couldn’t get it down to under 100 names. This underscores the importance of notarizing lists like this, so you can prove later, should occasion arise, that yours is the authentic one.

Oh, before I forget. One source wants me to relate that the Seventy are called “disciples” in the West and “apostles” in the East, but doesn’t say why that’s important, and indeed immediately goes on to downplay the distinction. We will meet some (but not all) members of the 70 over the course of the year.

Byzantine style icon of Elizabeth Ann Seton from the church of the same name, Hiawatha, IowaElizabeth Anne Seton (1774–1821) was the first American-born saint of the Catholic Church, beating out a clutch of worthy competitors on the first ballot. She had a difficult childhood, losing her mother at 3, being rejected by her evil stepmother, having to go to live with her aunt and uncle, and so on. This led to a lot of journaling, apparently a common malady of young women in that place and time. There are no eyewitness re-ports of black nail polish, however.

She married a rich importer at 19, and between the two of them they made a great deal of money (mostly Mr. Seton’s doing), and five children (a joint effort). She also founded a ladies’ society to care for the poor, which doubtless influenced the Congregation*, even though she was Episcopalian at the time. When Mr. Seton became ill, his doctors suggested a healthcation in Italy (why they rejected Hot Springs, Arkansas, we will never know), but it didn’t work, and he died shortly after arriving. In Italy, Elizabeth was introduced to the services of the Catholic Church.

Widowed with five hungry children to feed, she returned to America and immediately became a Catholic. She also started an academy for young ladies, apparently a popular source of income for widows at the time, if the tricolor broadsheets that have come down to us (“Widowed? Why not start an academy?”) are to be trusted (this joke is not to be trusted). As news of her conversion spread, however, her clients withdrew their daughters from the academy, on the then-fashionable theory that Catholicism was a communicable disease leading to IBS, PTSD, and/or EDS (Eternal Damnation Syndrome).

Frustrated in the teen academy biz, Elizabeth accepted an invitation from the Sulpician Fathers, who were stranded on their world tour by that Revolution thing back in France, to start a school in Emmitsburg, MD, conveniently located in the middle of nowhere. There she founded the first Catholic free school in the United States, as well as the first women’s religious congregation, the Sisters of Charity. For the rest of her life she struggled with the urge to return to the socialite life of New York City, although of course not with the intent of infecting them with IBS/PTSD/EDS in retaliation for their earlier shabby treatment.

Elizabeth is the patron of Catholic schools, as well as of people who lose their parents. This originally meant by death, although I’m sure children lost in the shopping mall are also allowed to pray for her aid.

Throughout 2020 the Onion Dome is running a series of daily saints. In general we will meet one Orthodox saint and one Catholic saint per day, although many of course came before the churches split and thus are both. For an explanation of the whole thing, see the About page. Items with * are defined in the Glossary. Finally the † means “not really”.