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Seton, Robert


Archbishop, author; b. Pisa, Italy, Aug. 28, 1839; d. Convent Station, N.J., March 22, 1927. He was the fourth of William and Emily (Prime) Seton's seven children, the grandson of St. Elizabeth Bayley seton, and cousin of Abp. James Roosevelt bayley. He spent his childhood at Cragdon, the family estate in Westchester County, N.Y. In 1850 he entered Mt. St. Mary's, Emmitsburg, Md., but two years later accompanied his parents to Pau in southern France where he continued his schooling. After his mother died there in 1854, Seton traveled on the Continent and studied in Spain and Germany. In 1857 he went to Rome and entered the Urban College of the Propaganda to study for the priesthood, transferring in 1859 to the North American College as its first student. In 1861 he was enrolled in the Pontifical College of Noble Ecclesiastics and was ordained under the title of patrimony on April 15, 1865. Seton was named a papal chamberlain by Pius IX in 1886 and a prothonotary apostolic in 1867, the first American to be given these honors. In 1867, after receiving his D.D. degree, he returned to the U.S.

Seton became an assistant at the cathedral in Newark, N.J., for a short time and then, because of his health, was given the chaplaincy of St. Elizabeth's, Convent Station, N.J. He was inordinately proud of his name and his distinguished American and Scottish ancestry and considered his role as chief notary at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore inadequate American recognition of his merits, although he was also chosen to deliver a paper at the Parliament of Religions in 1893. Seton always upheld the authority of Bp. Winand wigger, even though he had little personal sympathy with Wigger, whom he considered too German. Although fond of Europe and traveling, he considered himself thoroughly American and thought the church in the U.S. should, wherever possible, accommodate the customs and educational system of the country. He wanted immigrants to learn English and to be thoroughly Americanized.

Seton's belief that there were deliberate efforts to overlook him in the U.S. led him in 1901 to resign his parish of St. Joseph, Jersey City, where he had been since 1876, and go to Rome. The next year he asked Cardinal James Gibbons, whose seal he had designed, to recommend him for a titular archbishopric. On July 5, 1903, he was consecrated titular archbishop of Heliopolis. Archbishop Seton was active in Roman society, but financial reverses reduced his patrimony, forcing him to leave Rome in 1914 because he could no longer live there in the manner to which he was accustomed and which he thought proper to his name and rank. The next years were spent mainly in Europe until 1921, when he returned to St. Elizabeth's Convent where he had been chaplain.

His published works include Essays on Various Subjects Chiefly Roman (1862); Memoir, Letters and Journal of Elizabeth Seton (1869); An Old Family, or the Setons of Scotland and America (1899); Memories of Many Years, 18391922 (1923). In Rome he acted as correspondent for the New York Times under the pen name of Fyvie.

Bibliography: j. b. code, Dictionary of American Biography, ed. a. johnson and d. malone, 20 v. (New York 192836; index 1937; 1st suppl. 1944; 2d suppl. 1958), 16:597598.

[c. d. hinrichsen]

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