Not many girls are raised by their future mother-in-law, but in the case of St. Elizabeth of Hungary this proved to be a happy occurrence.
Born to royal parents in 1207, Elizabeth was engaged at age four to the 11-year-old Louis of Thuringia. She was subsequently taken to the court at Thuringia, where Louis’ mother Countess Sophia instilled in Elizabeth religious values and deep personal piety. At age 14 she and Louis were married.
The marriage was an exceptionally happy union that produced three children. One biographer wrote that Elizabeth “was an extremely warm, affectionate person…From a very early date there was between them a love more intimate than that experienced by many couples who have been married for a long time.”
Louis understood his wife’s piety and placed no obstacles in her way. The two spouses, says the biographer, “were in agreement with respect to the most profound things that can unite human beings, that is, the things of God.” Elizabeth’s acts of charity were already well-known, as she distributed alms throughout the territory and established a hospital near the castle.
After six years of marriage, Elizabeth’s world was shattered when Louis died of the plague en route to the Sixth Crusade. On hearing the news, Elizabeth was reported to have said, “It is to me as if the whole world died today.”
During her brief widowhood, Elizabeth came under the influence of the Franciscans and learned to love voluntary poverty. St. Francis of Assisi sent her a personal message shortly before his death. In his spirit, Elizabeth gave her dowry proceeds to the poor and ministered with the sick and needy. She died in 1231 at the age of 24. She was canonized in 1235.
Achieving balance in one’s life is an ongoing challenge. Elizabeth showed that it’s possible to love God, family, and neighbor, and to show that love in concrete actions.