ELIZABETH, SAINT, SISTERS OF: 1. A name given to the nuns of the third order of St. Francis. Their origin is uncertain, but was not due to St. Elizabeth of Thuringia (q.v.). Angelina di Corbara, Countess of Civitella (d. 1435), founded a community of Franciscan tertiaries at Foligno (in Umbria, 20 m. e.s.e. of Perugia) in 1395, which in 1428 became a congregation with several houses, and was confirmed by Pope Eugenius IV. in 1436; they bore the name of St. Elizabeth, however, can not be confidently asserted. Toward the endof the fifteenth century there was a considerable number of Elizabeth-houses in Italy, Germany, and France, partly subject to the Franciscan Observants, and in part to the diocesan bishops. The latter were given the rule of the third order of St. Francis by Leo X. in 1521, while the former received the revised constitution of the Poor Clares. They wore a gray dress (gray scapulary, five-knotted girdle, and black veil), whence the popular name "gray sisters." There were also "brown sisters"; sœurs de la taille (who wore cloaks and gathered alms); "cell-sisters," who went out as nurses; hospital nurses, etc. At the middle of the sixteenth century the order had 4,000 members and 135 convents; in 1900 there were one house in France, one in Belgium, three houses in Bavaria, four in Prussia, and eleven in Austria.
2. Distinct from the above is the St. Elizabeth Society or Gray Sisters of St. Elizabeth, founded at Neisse in Upper Silesia in 1842 by Maria Merkert (d. 1872), with the help of her sister, Mathilde, and two other young women of the Roman Catholic Church. They take simple vows for three years and devote themselves to the work of nursing the sick, helping the poor, caring for children, and the like. Pius IX. in 1871 accorded them the status of a religious society. In 1892 they had about 140 establishments with more than 800 members.
(O. ZÖCKLER †.)
Bibliography: Helyot, Ordres monastiques, vii. 301 312; Heimbucher, Orden und Kongregationen, ii. 504-505, 526, iii. 389 sqq.; Currier, Religious Orders, p. 253; R. Bunge, Deutsche Samariterinnen, Leipsic, 1883 (with life of Maria Merkert); J. Jungnitz, Die Kongregationen der grauen Schwestern von der heiligen Elisabeth, Breslau, 1892; Currier, Religious Orders, p. 550.