St. Bridget and Mother M. Elizabeth Hesselblad
The founderess of the Bridgettine Order is Saint Bridget. Bridgettine Order was approved by Pope Urban V in 1370. Since 1999 Saint Bridget is one of Europe's patron saints. During last century new branch of the order that spread widely in Europe and elsewhere was established by another Swedish woman, Mother Elizabeth Hesselblad.
St. Bridget, also known as St. Birgitta and Birgitta of Vadstena (1303 – July 23, 1373) is the most celebrated saint of Sweden and the northern kingdoms. She was the daughter of one of the richest landowners of the country - Birger Persson, governor and lawspeaker of Uppland. Mother of St. Bridget was a member of the so-called Lawspeaker branch of the Folkunga family.
At the age 13, in 1316 she was married to Ulf Gudmarson of the family of Ulvasa, lord of Närke. The couple had eight children, one of whom was afterwards honoured as St. Catherine of Sweden. Birgitta’s saintly and charitable life soon made her well known. In 1341–1343, the couple went to pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations also nowadays.
In 1344, shortly after their return, Ulf died and Birgitta decided to devote herself to religion. As a child she had already believed herself to have visions that became more frequent after the death of her husband. The Bridgettine order was created upon her revelations, as it was believed it was Lord who had told her to found a new order.
St. Bridget - Europe's patron saint since 1999
About 1350 she went to Rome to obtain from the pope the authorization of the new order. It was not till 1370 that Pope Urban V approved the rule of her order, but meanwhile Birgitta had made herself beloved in Rome by her kindness and dedicated work. She made some more pilgrimages, including to Jerusalem in 1373. She resided in Rome until her death on July 23, 1373. She was canonized in 1391 by Pope Boniface IX, and confirmed by the Council of Constance, 1415.
In 1999, Pope John Paul II chose Birgitta as Europe's co-patron saint. St. Birgitta shares this honour - to be Europe's co-patron saint - with two other women, Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Teresia Benedicta of the Cross. Saint Catherine of Siena (born around 1347, died 29/4 1380, canonised 29/6 1461) was an Italian who was a member of the Dominican third order, contemporary with Saint Birgitta and like her, an ardent champion for the return of the pope to Rome from his exile in Avignon. Saint Teresia Benedicta of the Cross, better known as Edith Stein, (12/10 1891- 9/8 1942, canonised 11/10 1998) a German-Jewess who converted, became a Carmelite nun and died in a concentration camp during the Second World War. St. Birgitta feast is celebrated on July 23.
Bridgettine convents led by women to honour Virgin Mary
The Bridgettine order was open to both men and women. It was a ”double order”, each convent having attached to it a small community of canons to act as chaplains, but under the government of the abbess. The order spread widely in Sweden and Norway, and played a remarkable part in promoting culture and literature in Scandinavia. By 1515, with significant royal patronage, there were twenty-seven houses, thirteen of them in Scandinavia. Bridgettine convents were soon opened also in other countries, reaching by some estimations total of 70.
The nuns were strictly enclosed, emphasising scholarship and study, but the monks were also preachers and itinerant missionaries. The individual monasteries were each subject to the local bishop, and, in honour of the Virgin Mary, they were ruled by abbess.
Mother Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad
During the XX century, another Swedish lady, mother Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad (1870 – 1957) played a remarkable role to promote the survival and expansion of the order.
Elizabeth Hesselblad was born in Sweden and being still a teenager emigrated to New York to seek work in order to get financial support for her family back in homeland. She studied nursing at Manhattan's Roosevelt Hospital where she worked as a nurse and did home care for the sick and aged. Her work took her into the large Catholic population of New York; her interest in the Church grew, and she came to see it as the place closest to Christ. Before returning back to Europe and leaving New York in 1902 she converted to Catholicism.
In March 1904 she settled at the Carmelite House of Saint Bridget of Sweden and in 1906 got permission from Pope Pius X to take the habit of the Bridgettine order (Order of the Most Holy Saviour of St. Bridget).
She worked hard to restore the order in Sweden and Italy, especially in Rome where in 1931 she finally managed to get the back the control of Bridgettine house and church. In addition to Europe she established Bridgettine convents also in India.
Lutheran convert, Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad was born in Sweden June 4, 1870, the first of thirteen children. She restored the order in Rome in 1911, and in Sweden in 1923, with a special concern for Christian unity that she had evidence throughout her life. Although in poor health herself, she carried out a very active service to the poor, and was particularly welcoming towards the persecuted Jews during World War II. She died in Rome on April 24,1957 at the age 87.
Mother Mary Elisabeth Hesselblad revived the old Bridgettine charisma adapting it to the new times. She strongly felt that this was her mission in life.
In April 2000 she was beatified by Pope John Paul II during a Mass celebrated at St. Peter's Square.
Bridgettine order in nowadays
Today St. Bridget order has three branches with several convents throughout the world. The Order of the Most Holy Saviour of Saint Bridget was founded on the 8th September 1911 and fully approved by the Holy See on the 7th July 1940. The Order of the Most Holy Saviour is present in the Scandinavian countries and in Estonia, also in England, Germany, Italy, Holland, Switzerland, Poland, India, Mexico, U.S.A., Palestine and Cuba. The list of St. Bridget convents can be found at www.brigidine.org.
A spirit of trust and cooperation between the various members of the Order and a deep spirit of faith have helped to intensify fraternal charity, contemplation and credence in the growth of the Order. The spreading and consolidation of the Order are the fruits of vocational activity.
The Mother House of the Order is in Piazza Farnese, an old medieval house where Saint Bridget lived when she was in Rome. To this day, it is the heart of all the activities and formation of the Bridgettine sisters in various parts of the world. They intensely live the values of consecrated life, through listening and meditating the Word of God, through contemplation and Adoration of the Eucharist and the solemn celebration of the Office and through an apostolic activity based on the charisma of Saint Bridget and Blessed Elisabeth.
Evangelical simplicity, centrality of the adoration of the Eucharist, deep respect for guests in houses run by the Bridgettines, a marked sense of beauty and of sacredness that distinguishes the convents and the behaviour of the Sisters: these are some signs of the Bridgettine spirituality manifested in the daily giving of self in accordance with the teachings of Saint Bridget and Blessed Elisabeth.
Like a strength-giving idea, the old motto, “Amor meus crucifixus est” accompanies the day of the Bridgettine sister, that goes from the welcoming of guests to moments of study, prayer and work.
Since 1979 the Order is led by Abbess General, Mother Tekla Famiglietti.
One particular reason for gratitude to the Lord comes from the moment of intense ecumenical emotion that I was able to experience among you. Precisely because Catholics are a minority in this country, I have appreciated a lot the fraternal relationship enjoyed here with other Christian confessions.
In the meditation on the word of God and in the prayer offered this morning together with our Lutheran, Orthodox, Babtist and Methodist brothers and sisters, and others as well, I see a seed of the authentic ecumenism which is centred on the worship of God and the search for truth. This is the sure road for attaining the much-desired unity of all Christians.
For the Pope, Tallinn will remain a significant moment on the path of ecumenism and a reason for looking to the future with confident hope.
John Paul II
Quote from the speech of the Pope,
Farewell Ceremony at Tallinn Airport,
September 10, 1993
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