Shrine of St Elizabeth Ann Seton, Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, New York City

Shrine of St Elizabeth Ann Seton, Battery Park, New York City, USA


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Mystery Worshipper: Rosamundi
Church: Shrine of St Elizabeth Ann Seton
Location: Battery Park, New York City, USA
Date of visit: Wednesday, 19 July 2006, 12:15pm

The building

The shrine and church sit next to each other and are of similar styles, but they belong to different periods. The shrine, formerly known as the Watson Mansion, is a red brick house built in the late 1700s, whereas the church, also of red brick, was erected in 1964 although the parish dates from 1883. Both are very simple inside. The church interior is all done in white, with sparse decor and an ornate but tasteful free-standing altar. Stained glass behind the altar depicts scenes from Mother Seton's life.

The church

The Watson Mansion was the birthplace in 1774 of Elizabeth Bayley, daughter of a wealthy Episcopalian family. At age 20, Elizabeth married William Seton, a prosperous businessman, whose business was soon to fail along with his health. After William's death, Elizabeth converted to Catholicism and moved to Baltimore, where she founded a school for girls. She lived austerely, adopting a religious habit after the fashion of the day, consisting of a long black dress and black bonnet, and was soon joined by other women seeking a religious life. The resulting community, with Mother Seton as its elected superior, called itself the Sisters of Charity of St Joseph and was the first women's religious community in the United States. By the time Mother Seton died of tuberculosis at age 47, the Sisters had opened 20 houses and had founded numerous schools, hospitals and orphanages, some of which are thriving to this day. Canonized in 1975, Mother Seton is the first native-born American saint.

The neighborhood

Located at the southernmost tip of Manhattan near Battery Park and across from the Staten Island ferry terminal, this is the financial district, where land is gold and time is money. Which possibly explains the length of time mass took.

The cast

The celebrant's name was not given and he didn't take the time to introduce himself, but it may have been the Revd Peter K. Meehan, pastor.

What was the name of the service?

Mass, Wednesday of the 15th week in Ordinary Time.

How full was the building?

Practically empty – about 25 people in a church that seats 150 or so downstairs, plus more upstairs in the mezzanine.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No. I was early, and had already settled in by the time other people started to arrive.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew was a standard wooden one, but the kneeler was made of some incredibly hard rubber material. Also, the pews were very close together, so despite being personally on the short side, I found it very difficult to kneel without ending up sitting on the pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very quiet, apart from the noise of construction going on outside. The Battery Park area is in the midst of a construction boom, it seems.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

I'm not sure – they were uttered by someone in the front of the congregation, speaking without benefit of microphone, so I didn't catch them. From what was to happen later, clearly they did not include the phrase "Please turn off your mobile phones." The first words I actually heard were: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

None that I could see.

What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

Mobile phones. They rang at least three times, and on one occasion the owner actually answered it.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Fast. I've heard stories of priests who can do mass in 20 minutes including sermon, but never quite believed them until now.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

5 minutes, including pause for reflection.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

4 – It could have been a good sermon, but five minutes is not really long enough to unpack the issues within the gospel for the day.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

How "becoming little children" doesn't mean "behaving like a child". We are all children of God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Not very much.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Twenty minutes for mass, including sermon and distribution of communion, is ridiculous. I appreciate this is the financial district, where an hour-long lunch break is not going to happen for most people, but the service was rushed and I had very little sense of the numinous. And those mobile phones! It's a church, the eternal sacrifice of the mass is being re-created before your very eyes, turn your horrible electronic gadget off! I mean, if you go to this service, it's not like you'll be out of reach for long.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Not a lot. However, as I held the door open for a lady, I commented that it was a lovely building, and we had a brief friendly chat. And she gave me directions to the subway, which was handy.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There wasn't any.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

3 – I'm not in that much of a hurry, thank you.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Not especially.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The speed of it all.

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