Sisters of Saint Elizabeth

Sisters of Saint Elizabeth - a Roman Catholic religious institute. Generally styled "Grey Nuns" (to be distinguished from the Grey Nuns of Montreal).


The Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Elizabeth (CSSE) was founded by an association of young ladies established by Dorothea Klara Wolff, in connection with the sisters, Mathilde and Maria Merkert, and Franziska Werner, in Neisse (Prussian Silesia), to tend in their own homes, without compensation, helpless sick persons who could not or would not be received into the hospitals.[1]

In the early 19th century epidemics of cholera and typhus swept the Prussian Province of Silesia. Most victims were poor and neglected and died in the streets and poor houses. Maria Merket, her sister Matilda, Clara Wolf and Franciscka Verner determined to provide assistance.[2]

On November 19, 1850 Merkert started in Nysa the Association of St. Elizabeth to care for abandoned patients in their own homes. St. Elizabeth of Hungary was chosen as Patroness because she was well known for her kindness to the poor.

Without adopting any definite rule, they led a community life and wore a common dress, a brown woollen habit with a grey bonnet. For this reason they were soon called by the people the "Grey Nuns". As their work was soon recognized and praised everywhere, and as new members continually applied for admission, their spiritual advisers sought to give the association some sort of religious organization. They endeavoured, wherever possible, to affiliate it with already established confraternities having similar purposes. But their foremost desire was to educate the members for the care of the sick in hospitals. Great difficulties arose, and the attempt failed, principally through the resistance of the foundresses, who did not wish to abandon their original plan of itinerant nursing. Some of the newly admitted members then joined the Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo.[1]

On September 4, 1859 Bishop of Wrocław Heinrich Förster gave diocesan approval for the association and recognized it as a congregation of the Church. A month later he approved its statutes. On May 5, 1860 the members of the congregation took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, plus the additional vow to minister to the sick and the most needy. The congregation has a particular devotion to the Sacred Heart.[2] Maria Merkert was elected the first superior general of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth, a position she held for thirteen years, until her death.[3]

They speedily gained the sympathy of the sick of all classes and creeds, and also that of the physicians. New candidates applied for admission, and the sisters were soon able to extend the sphere of their activity beyond Neisse. Of especial importance was the foundation made at Breslau, where the work of the sisters came under the direct observation of the episcopal authorities. Soon after, on 4 September 1859, Prince-Bishop Heinrich Furster was prevailed upon by the favourable reports and testimonials to grant the association ecclesiastical approbation. As such a recognition presupposed a solid religious organization, a novitiate was established according to the statutes submitted. In the following year the twenty-four eldest sisters made the three religious vows. State recognition, with the grant of a corporate charter, was obtained by the confraternity on 25 May 1864, under the title, "Catholic Charitable Institute of St. Elizabeth", through the mediation of the Prussian Crown Prince Frederick William, subsequent Emperor of Germany, who had observed the beneficent activity of the sisters on the battlefields of Denmark.[1]

The approbation of the Holy See was granted for the Congregation of Sisters of St. Elizabeth on 26 January 1887, and for its constitutions on 26 April 1898. The congregation has spread to Norway, Sweden, and Italy. After World War I Zofija Smetoniene, wife of President A.Smetona, invited the Sisters of St. Elizabeth to Lithuania. Three sisters from Germany arrived in Kaunas in 1925. They stayed with the at sisters Benedictine sisters and began to care for patients at home. Over time Lithuanian girls started to enter the Congregation. Although the number of sisters was just 15 but two subsidiary foundations were established; one in Jurbarkas where sisters had an orphanage; the other was in Sveksna, where they started a hospital. Sisters also worked in St. Luke hospital in Kaunas. [2]

The Generalate is in Rome.


  1. ^ a b c Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Sisters of Saint Elizabeth" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  2. ^ a b c Congregation of Sisters of St. Elizabeth
  3. ^ "Blessed Maria Luiza Merkert", Polish Bishops Conference

External linksEdit

  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Sisters of Saint Elizabeth". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.