Letter from 1829 seeking help in Diocese of Wilmington uncovered at Shrine of Elizabeth Ann Seton

By Mike Lang, Dialog Reporter

August 16, 2021 – Wilmington, DE – A piece of Diocese of Wilmington history has been sitting in Emmitsburg, Md., for nearly two centuries. Recently, two representatives from Catholic Charities had the opportunity to take a trip to see it.

An unidentified person came across a publication from 1930 marking the centennial anniversary of St. Peter’s Asylum in Wilmington. It included a passage about a letter sent in 1829 from a Father George Carrell to the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg asking if they’d consider opening an orphanage in Wilmington. Specifically, it would be for orphans created by accidents at the powder mill along the Brandywine River in Wilmington.

“Somehow, it was determined that the original letter was still in the hands of the Sisters of Charity at the Shrine of Elizabeth Ann Seton,” said Fritz Jones, executive director of Catholic Charities.

So during the last week of July, Jones and Charities board chairman Xavier DeCaire made a road trip to see the letter, “which, frankly, was pretty amazing. Here you are holding the original letter that was sent to the mother superior,” Jones said.

The entreaty was successful. The Sisters of Charity sent three nuns to Wilmington the following year. The asylum was originally located at the corner of Third and West streets, then moved three blocks to Sixth and West, followed by various locations in the diocese. It has since closed, but Catholic Charities, which grew out of that asylum, is going strong.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton had died a few years prior to the writing of the letter, but her spirit fills the shrine, Jones said.

“Here we were in this shrine to her reading this letter that led to what we know today as Catholic Charities,” he said. “It’s hard to describe being able to handle that kind of history, especially when you are part of that history.

“Xavi was very excited to participate in this, not just as the board chair but as someone who went to school at Mount St. Mary’s as well.”

The letter will be part of a film about Catholic Charities that Jones believes will be ready for viewing at the agency’s annual tribute dinner, which will be held on Oct. 6 at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington. Jones, who has worked for the diocese with 43 years and was named executive director in April, said Charities identified people who could speak about the historical aspects of the programs offered. It includes not only what is offered today, but where Catholic Charities came from and how it got here.

The film will include one of the original program directors at Casa San Francisco in Milton, a young woman who benefited from the services offered at Bayard House, and Father Richard Jasper, who volunteered at Seton Center when he was a seminarian.

Bishop Malooly and Michael Hare, an executive with Buccini-Pollin Group, will be honored at the dinner. Hare was the 2020 recipient of the Msgr. Thomas J. Reese Award, but the dinner was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. The award, created in 1989 in memory of Msgr. Thomas J. Reese, community activist and longtime director of Catholic Social Services, the forerunner of Catholic Charities, recognizes exemplary individuals who have demonstrated a deep commitment to promoting and restoring the well-being of people.

The dinner will be available for viewing remotely, Jones said, as some people might not be comfortable attending in person. Tickets can be purchased for in-person or virtual attendance.

“I love the idea,” Jones said. “I hope it takes off. Sometimes, it’s hard for our folks to come up from the southern region. We’re very excited to see how this works out.”

More information about Catholic Charities, the honorees and the dinner, including how to purchase tickets, is available at www.ccwilm.org/events/cc-dinner.

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