Elizabeth Catez was born 18 July 1880 and died 9 November 1906. We look back on her life as an early Addison’s patient and her struggles ahead of her death following multiple adrenal crises as there was no treatment available. She was canonized as a saint on 16 October 2016.

Author: Fr. Tom Dowd

"I had almost died from advanced adrenal crisis in January 1991 but was saved at the bell by an alert endocrinologist. Thus, my attention was caught by the news in late 2016 that Pope Francis was going to canonise a saint who had indeed died from Addison’s, Elizabeth of the Trinity."

A premature death and a posthumous saint

Elizabeth of the Trinity died on 9 November 1906, well over a half century after the discovery of Addison’s by Dr Thomas Addison. I think it is both interesting and sobering for those of us who have Addison’s to know a little more about the life of Elizabeth of the Trinity and her premature death. Reading about her, I was firstly surprised to discover how lively and normal a child she was.

The Little Captain

Elizabeth Catez was born at her father's military post in France on 18 July 1880. Her father, aged 48, was an army captain. Her mother, Marie, was 34 and the daughter of a French military officer. During her infancy Elizabeth was an incessant chatterbox with a strong will. She knew what she wanted and went after it. Her only sibling, born in 1883 was her sister Margaret, nicknamed Guite. Elizabeth was fondly called Sabeth. The sisters were as different as day and night. Guite was gentle, Sabeth went easily into rages. One affectionate commentator on her life says that today she would be called a brat. At that time she was called the little captain.

Two years later Elizabeth's father, Joseph, was diagnosed with heart trouble. He retired in 1885 and died suddenly in 1887. We do not know what Elizabeth felt concerning her father's death. We do know however that mother and daughters bonded well together with a deep respect for the fragility of life. After her husband's death, Marie moved her family to the second floor of a house that overlooked the Dijon Carmel. There, the 'three' as mother and daughters came to be known, grew closer together. A few months after the move, Elizabeth was enrolled in the Conservatory of Dijon. Her primary subject was music, at which she excelled. She still maintained a strong will as well as her rages. This caused her mother to threaten to send her away to a house of correction. Mother and sister even packed her suitcases! However, Elizabeth was always contrite. She was an upright girl with a loveable nature and generous heart and from the time of her first Holy Communion in 1891 she began to fight to curb the outbursts which had increased after her Father’s death. In the Eucharist she found great strength for this struggle.

Elizabeth of the Big Feet

When she was fourteen, her teacher asked the class to write a composition describing a self-portrait. Elizabeth wrote:

"Without pride I think I can say that my overall appearance is not displeasing. I am a brunette and, they say, rather tall for my age. I have sparkling black eyes and my thick eyebrows give me a severe look. The rest of my person is insignificant. My ‘dainty’ feet could win for me the nickname of Elizabeth of the Big Feet, like Queen Bertha!"

"As for my moral portrait, I would say that I have a rather good character. I am cheerful and I must confess, somewhat scatter-brained. I have a good heart. I am by nature a coquette. I am not lazy; I know 'work makes us happy.' Without being a model of patience, I usually know how to control myself. I do not hold grudges. I have my defects and, alas, few good qualities.”

In her portrait she did not mention her musical ability and that she had already won first prize at piano at the Conservatory the previous year. The newspaper reviews said she received thunderous applause and performed as a distinguished pianist, with an excellent touch and beautiful tone. Also in her self-portrait she made no mention of her spiritual life. However, this aspect of her life was expressed in her personal notes and poetry written during this time.

Her Carmelite Vocation

During Elizabeth's late adolescence, her spirituality deepened. She wrote to a friend,

‘I am going to give you my “secret”: think about this God who dwells within you, whose temple you are; St. Paul speaks in this way, and we can believe it.’

Although she wanted to be a Carmelite, she accepted her mother's wishes to wait until she was twenty-one. Because she was charming and loveable, she had several suitors during this time who hoped for her hand in marriage. Her mother even found the "perfect" husband for her daughter. These young men did not change Elizabeth's mind. Underneath the glitter was a steely, serious-minded young woman. At nineteen she talked with the chaplain at the Carmel Convent in Dijon. He had a rather loquacious manner, but endorsed the Trinitarian presence in her soul. Later, she said that she wished the poor man would have stopped talking. All she wanted was a simple affirmation that she was on the right road.

Elizabeth entered Carmel in Dijon on 8 December 1901, taking her final vows in 1903. Although she wished to take 'of Jesus' for her title, the prioress gave her 'of the Trinity'. Thereafter, she reflected on the depths of the Triune mystery as she led an exemplary Carmelite life.

Her Suffering and Death

About six months after her vows, the first signs of illness manifested themselves. Exhaustion, stomach cramps, strong migraines and weight loss were her symptoms.

She tried to hide her sickness and to continue living the timetable of the convent – but going back to her cell in the evening after communal prayer at eleven, she was so exhausted that she would crawl up the stairs.

She carried on like this for two years, hiding her symptoms in silence. Early in 1906 it was noticed that Elizabeth had become very weak. So much so that she made a retreat to prepare for the ‘Eternal Retreat’.

For the final nine months of her life, Elizabeth Catez was too weak to leave her bed and experienced a series of violent adrenal crises with gastric pain, nausea, vomiting, dehydration and emaciation.

Thus, she experienced more adrenal crises than most contemporary patients and probably survived longer in advanced disease than many untreated patients, being less exposed to infectious illness in the convent environment.

In a letter to her mother from her sickbed, Elizabeth described her illness as one of intense physical suffering. She wrote

“The Father has predestined me to be conformed to His crucified Son. My Bridegroom wishes me to be an added humanity in which He can still suffer for the glory of the Father and to help the Church”.

During the last week of her life, Elizabeth’s made frequent and lengthy visits to the Chapel to the Blessed Sacrament, even though her stomach was painfully ulcerated. On 31 October, she received the last rites. On 1 November, she made her confession and received Holy Communion for the last time. She was 26 years old. Elizabeth’s last audible words before her death were:

"I am going to Light, to Love, to Life"

Elizabeth’s faith gave her great comfort. In spite of her suffering she faithfully lived the prayer she is famous for:

“It seems to me that I have found my heaven on earth since Heaven is God and God is [in] my soul. The day I understood that, everything became clear to me. I would like to whisper this secret to those I love so they too might always cling to God through everything”

Her Struggles Recognised by the Church

At her beatification in November 1984, Pope John Paul II described Elizabeth of the Trinity as one who “proclaims to us with St Paul the great dignity of the Christian Vocation: the call to be conformed to Christ - crucified, risen, and present in the Eucharist - all to the praise of the Father's glory”.

At her Canonisation as a Saint on 16 October 2016, Pope Francis reflected that“The saints are men and women who enter fully into the mystery of prayer…who struggle with prayer... They struggle to the very end, with all their strength, and they triumph, but not by their own efforts: the Lord triumphs in them and with them”.

Addison's Today

I know that many with Addison’s will not share the beliefs of Elizabeth of the Trinity. However, her life and the strength she found through faith is an interesting window on the lives of people who suffered and died from Addison’s before medical treatment was possible, or when treatment was far from being as effective as it is today. It certainly has helped me to be grateful for the medical assistance I received in 1991 when my Addison’s disease was diagnosed at the last moment. 

Within 36 hours I went from being gravely ill to being well on the mend, thanks to the intravenous administration of cortisone and fluids. Since then the occasional crisis has usually been manageable with a self-administered emergency injection. How far we have moved from 1906 – little more than a century ago – and the mortal challenge that was so bravely faced by the new saint Elizabeth of the Trinity.

Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity (Elizabeth Catez), born 18 July 1880, died 9 November 1906.

Author: Fr. Tom Dowd



  • Della Croce G, Elizabeth of the Trinity, A life of Praise to God, 2016; John Murray PP, The Messenger, (February 2007), a publication of the Irish Jesuits;
  • White K, 2010, http://bit.ly/2lv28P6
  • With special thanks to Carolyn Humphries for her article on the Carmelite website http://ocarm.org

Published in the Summer 2021 & March 2017 editions of the ADSHG magazine.

Read more Famous Lives stories

Ami Elisabeth Catez Institute (AECI)

Simon Monaghan from the AECI, got in touch with the ADSHG to share more with us about Elisabeth Catez.

"Hello to all at the ‘Addison’s Disease Self-Help Group’ from the ‘Ami Elisabeth Catez Institute’. Named after the Roman Catholic Carmelite nun, Elisabeth Catez (1880-1906), the Institute (or AECI for short!) is a forum for research and reflection around ‘spirituality in the modern world’ and to explore key themes in the brief life of Elisabeth around belonging, holistic health, stillness and dwelling.

Elizabeth died at the tender age of 26 of Addison's disease. Wrongly diagnosed at the time, it is hard to imagine how she must have felt when she was so unwell and no treatment available. Her courage and her self-awareness are very much at the heart of what we try to do at the AECI.

Elisabeth Catez recognized that positive sense of spiritual belonging; ‘the radiance’ of being and of longing to discover and to grow as a whole person in direct relationship with the Trinity.

Our thanks go to all at the ADSHG for the opportunity to offer an insight into the life of Elisabeth.

Please visit our website www.aecinstitute.org or Facebook page if you would like to share any thoughts or for request further information. We wish you well for the future! And thank you for reading!"

Ami Elisabeth Catez Institute

Whether you're newly diagnosed or have lived with the condition for years - please join our community and support our cause! You'll receive the latest expert advice, guidance and ADSHG news, whilst being part of our inspiring and supportive community. Become a member today! 

Join the ADSHG 

Say hello! Follow us on TwitterFacebookInstagramLinkedIn and YouTube.