A portrait of Blessed Mary Elisabeth Hesselblad
Reaching out to the marginalized was and is
one of the great charisms of the Bridgettine Order, as evidenced by an event at
Rome’s Casa di Santa Brigida on
November 14, 2013, when the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Institute
gave two medals to the present abbess general of the order, Mother Tekla Famiglietti, in memory of Blessed Mother M. Elisabeth Hesselblad and Servant of God
Mother M. Ricarda Beauchamp Hambrough. The medals were in recognition of what
the two sisters did for two Jewish families during World War II. Cardinal Kurt
Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and
Dr. Piero Piperno, representing the families, were also in attendance.
During the Nazi occupation, the nuns hid 12
members of two Jewish families in their convent in Rome for many months. In
addition to their profound humanity and courage, it was noted that the nuns
never exerted any pressure on their Jewish guests to convert, allowing them to
live their Jewish faith without any difficulty.
presenting the two medals closed a circle of sorts which began in 2005 with the
inscription of the name of Mother Hesselblad in the register of the Righteous
Among the Nations and which continued this summer with a gala event in Los
Angeles honoring the sisters’ heroism.
“Beyond social and religious affiliations,
this honorable recognition reflects awareness for the centrality of the person,
the high and inescapable value of every human being and his life as a right and
duty to defend, promote, and develop,” Abbess Tekla Famiglietti said as she
accepted the medals on behalf of the two nuns.
Blessed Mary Elisabeth Hesselblad, a Swede
who converted to Catholicism from Lutheranism, is credited with the
revitalization of the Order of the Most Holy Savior of Saint Bridget in 1911.
Today the order is present on three continents. In April 2000 she was
beatified. During the German occupation of Italy, she was abbess of the
religious community she founded at Casa
di Santa Brigida in Piazza
Farnese in Rome. Mother Ricarda, her assistant, was born in London and
in 1914 joined the newly re-established Bridgettine Order. The Pipernos and Seds,
Jewish families from Rome, wandered from one place to another to evade the Nazis,
finally returning to Rome, where they found refuge in the Convent of St.
family was fortunate to find many people who had helped, but none like Blessed
Mother Elizabeth and [Mother] Ricarda, who have saved our lives and restored
our dignity,” Piero Piperno was quoted as saying in the Italian bishops
conference daily Avvenire
in September. “For the first time since
the promulgation of the racist laws in 1938, we could again feel as human