4 June 1870|
Fåglavik, Västra Götaland County, Sweden
|Died||24 April 1957
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
|Beatified||9 April 2000, Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City by Pope John Paul II|
|Canonized||5 June 2016, Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City by Pope Francis|
Saint Maria Elizabeth Hesselblad (4 June 1870 – 24 April 1957), was a Swedish nurse who was a convert to the Roman Catholic Church and founded a new form of life of the Bridgettines known as the Bridgettine Sisters. She was a professed member of the Bridgettine order.
Pope John Paul II beatified her on 9 April 2000 and Pope Francis approved her canonization in late 2015; the canonization date was determined on 15 March 2016 and was celebrated on 5 June 2016 in Saint Peter's Square. Hesselblad is also recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations due to her efforts in World War II saving the lives of Jewish people during the genocide of the Holocaust.
Early life and conversion
Maria Elizabeth Hesselblad born on 4 June 1870 as the fifth of thirteen children born to August Robert Hesselblad and Cajsa Petersdotter Dag – Lutheran parents from Fåglavik in Västra Götaland County; she had a brother: Thur. She was baptized the following month and received into the Lutheran Church of Sweden in her parish of Hundene.
By 1886, she had to work to help them make ends meet. At first she looked for work in Sweden, but eventually emigrated to the United States of America in 1888, where she studied nursing at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. While there, she did home nursing, which brought her into contact with the Roman Catholic faith of many of the poor for whom she cared. She developed an interest in that faith while deep prayer and personal study led her down the path of conversion, and on 15 August 1902 – the Feast of the Assumption – she received conditional baptism from a Jesuit priest, Johann Georg Hagen, in the chapel of the Georgetown Visitation Monastery in Washington, D.C. Hagen also became her spiritual director. As she reflected on that moment, she wrote: "In an instant the love of God was poured over me. I understood that I could respond to that love only through sacrifice and a love prepared to suffer for His glory and for the Church. Without hesitation I offered Him my life, and my will to follow Him on the Way of the Cross". Two days later, she received her First Communion and would depart for Europe.
Hesselblad approached Hagen and asked that she be received into the Church at once to which Hagen said: "My dear daughter, how could I do that? I have just met you". She said: "My father, forgive me, but I have fought in darkness for twenty years; for many years I have studied the Catholic faith and have prayed for a strong faith ... I now possess this faith, and I am ready to submit to an examination on all the points of doctrine". Hagen questioned this, and after great consideration told her: "I see no reason not to receive you unto the Church. Today is August 12, and the 15th will be the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That day, I will receive you into the Catholic Church; the following Sunday, the 17th, you will be able to receive Holy Communion. Spend these few days in retreat and come to see me twice a day for lessons". It was in that same year that her brother, Thur, converted to Roman Catholicism.
As a religious
Hesselblad then made a pilgrimage to Rome, where she received the sacrament of Confirmation. She also visited the House of Saint Bridget of Sweden there, where the medieval saint had spent the last half of her life, which made a deep impression upon her. At that point she felt called to dedicate her life to the work of Christian unity. She returned to New York City briefly, only to go back to Rome, where, on 25 March 1904, she was welcomed as a guest by the nuns of the Carmelite monastery housed there; Mother Hedwig – the prioress – welcomed her after hesitating to accept her due to her weak health. However, she allowed her on the condition of a period of probation. Yet it was at this point she fell gravely ill and even had to receive the Extreme Unction. She slowly recovered and held out against her family's pleas to return to Sweden.
She petitioned the Holy See to be able to make religious vows under the Rule of the Order which Brigid had founded, and had been a prominent presence in the Church in Sweden before the Protestant Reformation had taken hold there. She received special permission for this from Pope Pius X in 1906, at which time she assumed the Bridgettine religious habit, including its distinctive element of a silver crown. She professed into the hands of Hagen on 22 June 1906, the Feast of the Sacred Heart.
Hesselblad attempted to revive interest in the order and its founder in both Sweden and Rome. Her proposal to establish a monastery of the order on the site where Bridget had lived received no volunteers from the few monasteries of the order still in existence. Giving up on the intention of following the established way of life in the order, she proposed one which included the care of the sick. To this end she was joined by three young women from England, whom she received on 9 November 1911, with which the new congregation was established. Their particular mission was to pray and work, especially for the unity of Scandinavian Christians with the Roman Catholic Church.
Hesselblad returned to her homeland of Sweden in 1923, where she was able to establish a community in Djursholm, while she worked nursing the sick poor. The new congregation was established in England in 1931 after receiving the approval of the Holy See. That same year, Hesselblad obtained the House of Saint Bridget in Rome for her new congregation. A foundation was made in India in 1937 which drew many new members. Her order received canonical approval on 7 July 1940.
Hesselblad also worked at efforts at inter-religious dialogue and against racism, and became known as "the second Bridget". During World War II – and after – she performed many charitable works on the behalf of the poor and those that suffered due to racial laws and also promoted a movement for peace that involved Christians and non-Christians, and she became part of their journey to faith and to the Church. The war also saw her save the lives of Jewish people who would have otherwise have perished in the Holocaust had it not been for her direct intervention.
Her apostolic zeal contributed to the conversion of the Baptist Minister Piero Chuminelli – author of a biographical account of Saint Bridget of Sweden – and she also had close ties to the former Chief Rabbi of Rome Israel Zolli (Eugenio) who converted to the faith in 1946.
Her health declined around the time when officials prepared the canonical visit of her order. On 23 April 1957 she gave her blessing to the sisters and held her raised hands in a solemn gesture in which she murmured: "Go to Heaven with hands full of love and virtues". She received the sacraments thereafter.
Hesselblad died in Rome on 24 April 1957 in the first hours of the morning – it was Easter Wednesday.
Process and beatification
The sainthood process commenced in Rome in 1987 and concluded its work in 1990. During this period the Congregation for the Causes of Saints approved the cause and her being granted the title of Servant of God on 4 February 1988 – the first official stage in the process. The diocesan process was ratified on 21 June 1991 which allowed for the submission of the Positio to Rome for further investigation. Theologians granted the cause their approval on 10 November 1998 while the C.C.S. approved it also on 16 March 1999.
Pope John Paul II proclaimed her to be Venerable on 26 March 1999 after he recognized that she had lived a model Christian life of heroic virtue. The miracle requested for her beatification was investigated in 1996 and received ratification in Rome on 17 October 1998. The pope approved it at the beginning of 2000 allowing for her beatification on the following 9 April 2000.
Pope Francis approved the second miracle attributed to her on 14 December 2015 which would allow for her future canonization; the date was decided at an ordinary consistory of cardinals on 15 March 2016 and was celebrated in Saint Peter's Square on 5 June 2016.
The miracle was investigated in the diocese of its origin in Cuba in February 2014 – the miracle in question occurred in the late 2000s – and was validated in Rome on 20 June 2014. A medical board approved the miracle in April 2015.
- Israel: Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem (2004), due to her work in assisting Jews during World War II
- Sovereign Military Order of Malta: Order pro merito Melitensi
- Agneta af Jochnick Östborn: For Sweden, I have given God my life! Elisabeth Hesselblads calling and Birgittine mission in Sweden, Artos, Skellefteå 1999.
- Called to Holiness: Blessed Elizabeth Hasselblad, Catholica, Vejbystrand 2000.
- Lars Cavallin: "Mother Mary Elisabeth Hesselblad OSsS from Fåglavik – pioneer of modern monastic life in Sweden" in Johnny Hagberg (editor): Monasteries and Monastic Life in the Medieval Diocese of Skara, Skara County Historical Society 2007.
- Marguerite Tjäder: Mutter Elisabeth – Die neue Blüte des Ordens saints Birgitta . EOS-Verlag, Sankt Ottilien 2002, ISBN 3-8306-7116-4.
- J. Berdonces, Hesselblad, Maria Elisabeth, in Dictionary of the institutes of perfection, vol. IV, Pauline Editions, Milan, 1977, coll. From 1530 to 1531.
- Mark Greaves, Swedish Sister who hid Jews from the Nazis is to be canonised, Catholic Herald, 18 December 2015. Accessed 19 December 2015.
- "Bl. Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad". Catholic Online. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
- "Homily by Pope John Paul II at the beatification of Maria Elisabetta Hesselblad". Vatican News Service.
- "Blessed Mary Elisabeth Hesselblad". Abbey of Saint-Joseph de Clairval. 23 July 2001. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
- "Blessed Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad". Saints.SPQN.com.
- The Bridgettine Order – UK History. Accessed 19 December 2015.
- "Righteous Among the Nations Honored by Yad Vashem" (PDF). Yad Vashem.