The infancy narrative of the Babe born in Bethlehem inspires our hearts to renewed graces of hope and gratitude every year. It is good also to recall that our legacy of gratitude includes the memory of many in Christian history who have made known Christ’s presence to us in this world by their heroic way of living the Gospel. One among these is St. Elizabeth of Hungary, patroness of nursing services, who lived a short and fruitful life of 24 years.
St. Elizabeth was born into royalty in the year 1207, the daughter of King Alexander II of Hungary. At the age of 4 she was betrothed to Louis, the infant son of the Landgrave of Thuringia. They were wed when she was 14. From her youth, Elizabeth chose a life of penance and asceticism when a life of leisure and luxury could easily have been hers.
In 1221, she married Louis of Thuringia and in spite of her position at court began to lead an austerely simple life, practiced penance and devoted herself to works of charity. Though she was royalty, Elizabeth spent years of her life feeding the poor and caring for the sick in a hospital which she built in 1228 at the base of a mountain near Marburg, Germany, in honor of St. Francis.
Her husband Louis was killed while fighting with the Crusaders. After his death, Elizabeth left the court, made arrangements for the care of her children and, in 1228, renounced the world, becoming a tertiary of St. Francis. She built a hospital with the money from her dowry and devoted herself to the care of the sick until her death. In 1231, she died in Marburg at the age of 24.
St. Elizabeth was a model of the Franciscan values of reverence, integrity, compassion and excellence. Her life proclaimed the dignity of every person. Her living of the Gospel values of poverty, humility and mercy witnessed her integrity and the credibility of her works.
Elizabeth saw and felt the discouragement and loss of faith and hope that were so prevalent in her society. She lived a constant and powerful example of hope and compassion – offering genuine love and acceptance to all.
Elizabeth‘s fervent lifestyle, her prayer, her gentleness and humility brought many people to renewed hope. She lived the virtues of faith, hope and charity with unfailing excellence.
Her life is truly witness to the Advent/Christmas proclamation of “Emmanuel – God among Us.” Her legacy of witnessing hope and healing to the community is 800 years old now.
St. Elizabeth Hospital opened in February 2011. It continues the presence of Enumclaw Regional Hospital as the community’s acute-care facility. This Christmas season, it is appropriate to remember the lessons of gratitude found in the legacy of St. Elizabeth and that of the healthcare workers among us today in Enumclaw.
Emmanuel – Christ among us!