December 21-27, 1980
Gannett Westchester Newspapers
By Steve Reich
Television viewers, weary of holiday variety specials and cartoon shows, have an opportunity tonight to see a show that is truly filled with the Christmas spirit. Titled “A Time for Miracles,” it’s the life-affirming story of Mother Seton, America’s first native-born Catholic saint.
This religious drama, which airs as an “ABC Theater” presentation (9-11 p.m.), stars Kate Mulgrew in the title role as the woman who founded the first free American Catholic day school.
Miss Mulgrew turns in one of the television season’s most luminous performances. Appearing in virtually every scene, she single-handedly transforms a pedestrian script into a moving story of faith and love.
Known chiefly for her portrayal of “Mrs. Columbo” a few seasons ago, Miss Mulgrew showcases her abundant talents in a role that demands a considerable range of emotions and moods.
The story begins in 1802 with Elizabeth Seton, mother of five children, happily married to a wealthy New York City businessman. Pampered all her life, socialite Elizabeth is ill-prepared for the sudden reverse in her fortunes when her husband dies of tuberculosis, leaving her penniless and alone in Italy.
She turns to her husband’s friends, the aristocratic Fillichis, for solace and comfort. It’s at the Filichi home that Elizabeth, a Protestant, begins to believe in Catholicism. Returning to the United States, she opens her own school. Facing the stinging wrath of religious bigots, the school is soon forced to close.
In one terrifying scene, Elizabeth and other congregants are dragged forcibly from a Catholic church and beaten and trampled by a fanatical mob.
Meanwhile, she defies close relatives and her eldest son to become a Catholic. With the help of Bishop Carroll (well played by Lorne Greene), she founds the American Sisters of Charity and fights to form the first free American Catholic day school.
Before her dreams of a free parochial school system and orphanage are fully realized, Elizabeth’s faith is severely tested by continuous tragedy.
Two of her three daughters die torturous deaths after suffering from tuberculosis. Her own children and students suffer through brutal winters, constantly wondering where the next meal will come from. Her drive to enroll needy students is slowed by the fears and prejudices of townspeople and farmers.
Despite these hardships, Elizabeth Seton does succeed in creating a parochial school system based on “discipline with love” and an orphanage “where the children inherit a good education.”
Miss Mulgrew marvelously captures the triumph of this saintly woman’s indomitable will.
“A Time for Miracles” is a sparkling television gift for Christmas. It combines a gem like performance by Kate Mulgrew with a universal message of goodwill and love that symbolizes the meaning of Christmas.