SAINT ELIZABETH of HUNGARY (1207-1231), holy woman – Patron saint of the homeless, beggars, nursing homes, Catholic Charities, the Secular Franciscan Order and widows
Today, the universal Church honors Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, who, in her short life, manifested such great love for the poor and suffering that she became known, after her death, as the “greatest woman of the German Middle Ages”.
Elizabeth, the daughter of the king of Hungary, was born in 1207 in Presburg, Hungary. From an early age, she chose a life of penance and asceticism, when a life of leisure and luxury could easily have been hers. This choice endeared her in the hearts of the common people throughout Europe. In the year 1221, Elizabeth married a German nobleman when she was only fourteen years old, and she bore three children.
In addition to her duties as wife and mother, and under the spiritual direction of a Franciscan friar, she led a life of prayer, sacrifice and service to the poor and sick. Seeking to become one with the poor, she wore simple clothing. Daily, she would take bread to hundreds of the poorest in the land who came to her gate. After six years of marriage, her husband died from illness while traveling to Jerusalem, assisting the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in the Sixth Crusade.
Vowing never to remarry, Elizabeth joined the Secular Franciscan Order in 1228, spending the remaining few years of her life caring for the poor in a hospital which she founded in Marburg, Germany, in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi. Elizabeth’s health soon declined, and she died before her twenty-fourth birthday in 1231 in Marburg on November 17.
Elizabeth understood well the lesson Jesus taught when He washed the feet of His disciples at the Last Supper – that a true Christian must be one who serves the humblest needs of others, even if one serves from an exalted position. Being of royal blood, Elizabeth could have “lorded-it-over” her subjects. Yet, she served them with such a loving heart that her brief life won for her a special place in the hearts of many.
Renowned for her great sanctity and considerable works of charity among the poor and disadvantaged, and for numerous healings credited to her intercession before the Throne of God after her death, the solemn ceremony of canonization was celebrated by Pope Gregory IX on May 28, 1235. Her remains are interred in the Convent of Saint Elizabeth in Vienna, Austria.
During a general audience before 40,000 people in Saint Peter’s Square in the year 2010, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in praising the qualities of humble service to the poor to be found in the life of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, stated –
“For those in leadership, the exercise of authority must be lived at every level as a service to justice and charity, in the constant search for the common good…Saint Elizabeth invites us to find Christ, love Christ, have faith and so find true justice, love and joy that one day we will be immersed in God’s Love.”
We commemorate her feastday on November 17.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org, catholic.org/saints and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Elizabeth of Hungary)
“Father, You helped Elizabeth of Hungary to recognize and honor Christ in the poor of this world. Let her prayers help us to serve our brothers and sisters in time of trouble and need.
“We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”