Arcangelo Palmentieri was born near Naples, Italy on March 11, 1814. He was an appearance cabinet maker as a young man. On July 1, 1832, he became a novitiate of the Order of Friars Minor, taking the name Ludovico. Five years later he was ordained and appointed to teach philosophy, mathematics, and chemistry to the younger members of the Order at the Franciscan priory of Saint Peter in Naples.
Ludovico reported having a mystical experience in 1847. He then spent the rest of his life working to care for the poor and needy. He founded pharmacies and orphanages. In 1852, he opened a school for the education of African boys and girls saved from slavery. He also founded institutions for the deaf and the mute. He also worked to provide care for the elderly members of his own Order. In addition to an infirmary for friars of his province, he began charitable institutes in Naples, Florence, and Assisi.
In 1859, on the advice of his superiors, he began a community of men as a religious congregation of the Franciscan Third Order Regular. The group included men who had been Secular Franciscans. They became known as the Gray Friars of Charity because of the gray color of the Franciscan religious habit. Three years later, he began a congregation of religious women, the Franciscan Sisters of Saint Elizabeth. He placed the congregation under the protection of Elizabeth of Hungary. She had been one of the first members of the Third Order of Saint Francis and its patron saint.
The work of the friars came to the United States. They served the Italian American community in New Jersey. The Pope formally approved the friars in 1877. Due to the small number of members still in the congregation, the Pope disbanded the friars in 1971. A new group of men and women, dedicated to his vision, however, currently exists in the process of forming. The Franciscan Sisters of Saint Elizabeth currently serve in Italy, the United States of America, Ethiopia, India, Panama, and the Philippines.
Ludovico became sick with a serious and painful illness in 1876. He never completely recovered and died nine years later, on March 30, 1885. Within months of his death, the cause for his canonization was introduced in Rome. Pope John Paul II beatified him on April 18, 1993, and Pope Francis canonized him on 23 November 23, 2014.