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Bridgettine sisters in Estonia

The first Bridgettine sisters arrived to Estonia already in 1412. Today, nearly 600 years later, the Bridgettine sisters live and work in a new convent, called Pirita klooster in Estonian and located at Pirita area. The new Bridgettine convent was opened in 2001 and was built next to the majestic walls and ruins of the Bridgettine old convent that dates back to XV century.

The chance to reopen the Bridgettine convent in Tallinn arrived after Estonia as well as the other two Baltic States - Latvia and Lithuania - regained their independence from Soviet Union in late summer 1991. Already year before – in 1990, group of Bridgettine sisters led by Mother Teresa Perciaccante had visited Estonia to attend the memorial mass for bishop Eduard. Next year, on June 30, 1991, Mother Teresa (that time the head of the Bridgettine convent in Turku, Finland) and six sisters were back in Tallinn to attend the celebration of the 550-year anniversary of the Bridgettine convent in Tallinn.

Soon after Estonia regained its independence later that summer, Mother Tekla Famiglietti, Abbess General of the Bridgettine Order, had sent a letter from Rome to Estonian government, in order to find out to whom the convent facilities belong and in what conditions its medieval ruins have been left. The step was a sign of interests, pointing also that Bridgettine sisters have been keenly following political developments in the world.

The idea to restore the convent in Tallinn got lot of support from Mother Tekla and in autumn 1993 Mother Tekla made her visit to Estonia. Estonia as well as the historic ruins of the old convent in Tallinn let her deep impression. It was during the visit when the decision to return to Estonia and reopen the convent of Bridgettine sisters in Estonia was made.

But it still took some more time to launch the return of sisters and to build a new convent. On April 16, 1994, four Bridgettine sisters – Mother Teresa and Sisters Riccarda, Patrizia and Hedvig arrived to Tallinn. As the convent was in ruins, sisters had to use temporary lodging, staying in old town and elsewhere.

The official opening ceremony of the construction work of the new convent was held in autumn 2000 and on September 15, 2001 the new holy site was blessed and opened. In 2001-2004 Mother Patrizia led the convent. Since 2004 the Convent is led by Mother Riccarda Ornelas who had visited Estonia several times and was in Tallinn already together with Mother Teresa during first visit of Bridgettine sisters to Estonia in 1990.

Before moving to Estonia Mother Riccarda who was born and grow up in Mexico lived 14 years in Finland, six years in capital Helsinki and eight years in Turku that has been the capital of Finland in old times and has also a Bridgettine convent.

There are eight nuns currently in Bridgettine convent in Tallinn, all born in Mexico and India. All nuns have learned Estonian and some can almost speak it fluently. Nuns use local language often also during masses when they sing in Estonian.

The day in the convent starts when most of the people still sleep – during the weekdays wake up is at 5.45 and first prayer in chapel starts at 6.10. Sisters gather at church four times every day. The chaplain at the convent is Father Vello Salo.

One of the daily tasks of the sisters is the everyday work at the guesthouse. The income earned from the guesthouse is partly used for charity and various social projects carried out by the convent.

The convent is assisting the social work carried out by Caritas, Catholic charity organization. Sisters are also responsible for the cleaning work at the old convent’'s territory. The Creative School of Caritas has worked in the convent and the Crime Prevention Foundation that first used to be also part of the Caritas launched its work inside the convent facilities. The convent is opened to all good ideas to promote social goals.

Every year on August 15, Bridgettine convent day is celebrated in Tallinn. The Bridgettine church in Tallinn was consecrated on August 15, 1436. The day includes concerts, performances and is organised by convent. For years Bridgettine convent in Tallinn has also organised Indian dance lessons for young girls, the course has been led by Sister Creszenzia who has worked as a professional dance trainer in India before joining the convent.

Over the years the return of Bridgettines to Estonia and the life in the new convent has been covered also in international media. The article by worldwide news agency Agence France Presse in autumn 2005 was published or quoted in tens of newspapers and news sites in India, other Asian countries, Arabic States, Mexico and elsewhere.

The number of Catholics in Estonia is around 6000. The Catholic Church in Estonia is led by Bishop Philippe Jourdan, the last bishop appointed by Pope John Paul II. The visit of the Pope John Paul II to Estonia in 1993 had got a very warm welcome by the tiny Nordic country with the population of just 1.3 million.
Since the plan to restore the Bridgettine convent in Tallinn was announced soon after Estonia regained its independence in 1991, the idea has been close to the hearts of many Estonians, even for those who are not Catholics and for those not religious at all.

Bridgettine sisters are known for their respectful attitude to all people despite anyone’s religious or national background. The work of St. Bridget and the Catholic St. Bridget order to unit European Christians has been highly appreciated by Catholics and Lutherans alike.

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