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Sacraments: Signs of God's presence

Art at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, Coral Springs, conveys them as symbolic art

CORAL SPRINGS | As manifestations of God's love and power, sacraments both show his grace and impart it in the souls of believers.

Some archdiocesan parishes, such as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, convey the sacraments as symbolic art as well as liturgical rites.

"A sacrament is a sacred and visible sign that is instituted by Jesus to give us grace, an undeserved gift from God," Father Richard Vigoa, director of the Office of Worship for the archdiocese, said in an interview. "Sacraments are God's manifestation of tangible signs of God's grace in our lives."

Symbol-laden windows at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church illustrate the seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, reconciliation, the Eucharist, holy orders, matrimony, and anointing of the sick. A dove represents the Holy Spirit; a chalice stands for the Eucharist; the Chi-Rho monogram is drawn from the first two Greek letters of Christos. All are part of a rich vocabulary of Church art.

Other art at the church, including a statue, a mural and a rose window, honor the patron saint of the parish.

Elizabeth Bayley led a rags-to-riches-to-ministry story. Born into an Episcopal family in 1774, she grew up in upper-class New York society. She was taught by her father, a professor at Columbia College. She developed a thirst for reading, especially religious and historical books. She loved the Bible, with the 23rd Psalm a favorite section.

Elizabeth married William Seton, a wealthy businessman, and they had seven children. But their happy family life was cut short when William's business failed and his health faltered. They visited business friends in Italy, hoping his health would recover, but he died there of tuberculosis in 1803.

Despite the tragedy, Elizabeth impressed their friends in Italy with her kindness and patience. She also learned about Catholicism and, after returning to America in 1804, she joined the Church.

Four years later, she moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland, and founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph's, the first female religious community launched in the United States. She also began a free Catholic school in Baltimore. She pronounced her religious vows in 1809.

Her newborn order worked quickly: Within three years, they had launched another school and two orphanages. They were invited to found or take over institutions in New York and Philadelphia.

Mother Seton — her preferred title — died in 1821 at the age of 46. She left behind many diaries and letters, as well as the translation of French works such as those of St. Vincent de Paul. She was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1975, the first American-born person to be declared a saint.

Besides the sacrament windows and pictures of Mother Seton, the Coral Springs church has 12 windows on events from the life of Christ. They include not only familiar scenes such as the Crucifixion and the Ascension, but less-common ones such as the calling of Zacchaeus and the raising of Lazarus. The church also has a striking crucifix made of blue glass, as well as a mural of Jesus amid palm fronds.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish was born in September 1985, on the 10th anniversary of her canonization. Its 300 initial members quickly launched several ministries and an ambitious building program. In four years, the congregation had a parish center with 2,200 families and a religious school with 1,400 students. Its 1,200-seat church building was dedicated in 2001.

The church now counts 1,800 member families and runs a range of activities. In non-pandemic times, the members have held an annual golf tournament, a craft show, and meetings of Respect Life and Women's Emmaus groups.

The parish still sponsors blood drives and Zoom-assisted Bible studies, plus meetings of men and youth groups, as well as the St. Vincent de Paul Society and an outreach to the bereaved. And in 2018, after the shootings at nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the church held a prayer service to console victims and their families.

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