Elizabeth Seton was rich, poor, an aristocrat, an outcast, a wife, a mother (a working mother), a widow, a teacher, a nurse, a social worker. She was a Protestant most of her life, then a Catholic, an almost-accidental nun, and the first American-born saint in the Catholic Church. When she was born in New York in 1774, on the edge of revolution, she was a British subject. By the age of two she was an original American whose life is a paradigm of spiritual growth, sometimes in a context of organized religion, sometimes outside it, sometimes in spite of it. The Seton family motto, from its 12th century coat-of-arms, was At Whatever Risk, Yet Go Forward. So she did.
Joan Barthel is the award-winning author of five nonfiction books and a contributor to many national publications, including The Washington Post Magazine and The New York Times Magazine. Her cover story on Elizabeth Seton in the Times Magazine inspired her to bring the singular life of this first American-born saint into contemporary focus and ultimately led to her most recent book, American Saint.
With her first book, A Death in Canaan, Barthel uncovered the miscarriage of justice in the case of a Connecticut teenager accused of murdering his mother. Her work brought the case to the attention of celebrities such as Arthur Miller, William Styron, and Mike Nichols, who championed his cause. Barthel won the American Bar Association Gavel Award for A Death in Canaan, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and was made into a CBS-TV film that was nominated for an Emmy Award.
Following A Death in Canaan, Barthel wrote A Death in California, the story of a Beverly Hills socialite caught in the thrall of the man who had murdered her fiancé, which was a Book-of-the-Month Club Featured Alternate and became a four-hour miniseries on ABC-TV. Her next book, Love or Honor, told the story of a New York City undercover cop who infiltrated the Greek mafia and fell in love with the capo’s daughter. After Love or Honor, Barthel collaborated with Rosemary Clooney to write the legendary vocalist’s critically acclaimed autobiography, Girl Singer. With her daughter, Anne Barthel, she has written a screenplay, The Truth About Home, based on a two-part article she wrote in New Choices magazine
Barthel was a staff writer at the weekly Life magazine, contributing editor at New Times, and instructor in feature writing at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Her many magazine pieces include cover stories in The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, and Notre Dame Magazine. She has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and articles and profiles on a wide range of people and issues: Ingrid Bergman, Bob Hope, New York governor Mario Cuomo, Sidney Poitier, Dan Rather, Nancy Reagan, Beverly Sills, Gloria Steinem, Oprah Winfrey; women and guns, medical ethics, the foster-care system, homeless families.
A graduate of the Writer’s Institute at Saint Louis University, Barthel holds an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York. Her other honors include the Outstanding Article Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Distinguished Service Award from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. She lives in St. Louis.