Blessed Mary Elizabeth saved the lives of more than 60 people
A Swedish Sister who hid Jews from the Nazis during the Second World is to be canonised next year.
Blessed Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad, who refounded the Bridgettines and worked to restore the order in Italy and Sweden, saved the lives of over 60 people by hiding them at the motherhouse in Rome.
Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to her intercession earlier this week, paving the way for her to be proclaimed a saint.
The Swede, a convert from Lutheranism, was mother superior at the motherhouse in Piazza Farnese during the Second World War.
The hiding of dozens of people at the motherhouse was recounted by an Italian Jew, Piero Piperno, as part of his testimony on behalf of another Bridgettine, Brighton-born Mother Mary Richard Beauchamp Hambrough, whose Cause was opened five years ago.
Mr Piperno told the Times newspaper: “We were three families, 13 in all. We stayed in three rooms, all the men in one, except an uncle who slept in a dark, small room with no windows, and another two for the women. In the beginning we all ate in one room by ourselves.”
For six months –until the Allies liberated Rome – the Piperno family hid in the convent, at every moment fearing potential arrest.
The nuns did not discriminate between the people they helped, he said, and took in Fascist refugees as well as Jews.
He said: “Something which bothered me back then, but which I now understand, was that the nuns that helped us also helped Fascist families. There was great solidarity because everybody was suffering and everybody finally realised we were all in the same boat. “
Blessed Mary Elizabeth, who Yad Vashem has named as a Righteous among the Nations, was beatified by St John Paul II in 2000.
She was born Sweden in 1870 and baptised into the Reform Church. In 1886 she migrated to the United States to earn money for her family back home.
After working as a nurse, she converted to Catholicism in 1902.
Moving to Rome, she dedicated her life and her religious order to prayer and work for the attainment of Christian unity.
She refounded the Order of the Most Holy Saviour of St Bridget, better known as the Bridgettines.
Mother Riccarda later succeeded her as mother superior at the order’s Rome motherhouse.