November 17th, 2006
School of Nursing
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Today is the Memorial Day for St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Rather
than write on the Scripture Readings of today, I’m going to
take the personal privilege of reflecting on St. Elizabeth for three
reasons – 1) I share her name, 2) I learned some about her
when I was in Hungary last Spring, and, 3) I share her interest
in health care and decreasing poverty.
For the short 25 years that St. Elizabeth lived, she left an important
legacy in Hungary because of her behaviors of helping others. She
was born in 1207 and died in 1231. She was the daughter of King
Andrew of Hungary and the wife of Prince Louis of Thuringa. She
had great concern for poor and vulnerable populations. She built
two hospitals and was very generous with the poor – eventually,
giving up all her possessions. She was canonized four years after
As I have read articles about her, I am struck by how she was “living
out” Catholic Social Teaching - long before that modern-day
language became common. In changing the health care system of that
day in her geographic area (by building two hospitals and initiating
access to health care), I can only marvel at what one woman did.
Fast forward to 2006 – we do have the global financial health
initiatives of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. But, I can not think
of any other individual woman or man with the financial means who
has made such a personal financial sacrifice as she did. In our
time, what individual woman or man has built a hospital with one’s
own wealth? All the literature I read reflect how generous she was
with her possessions to help the poor. In this, the 21st century,
when so many individuals do not have access to health care –
what a lesson she provides for us!
The majority of us do not have that kind of personal wealth to distribute.
So what do we do? I value the importance of helping the poor by
what is referred to as “the two-foot model.” “One
foot” is service or charity on our part and “one foot”
is being involved in some type of system change that ensures justice.
Charity can be donating our time, money, and energy in a multitude
of ways that helps the poor directly. Working for system changes
that move us toward a more just world can also take a variety of
forms. The answer to this question – “what do we do?
– varies with each of us – depending on our individual
What will you do to be more like St. Elizabeth?
to the writer of this reflection.
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