(Official Catholic Directory #0280); the Order of the Most Holy Saviour (OSsS), commonly called the Brigittine Sisters, is an order of semicloistered nuns founded by the medieval mystic (St.) bridget of sweden and first approved by Urban V in 1370. They follow the Augustinian Rule (see augustine, rule of st.).
Bridget felt that she had been commanded by Christ to found a new religious congregation for the reform of monastic life. In order to fulfill this divine summons, she left Sweden for Rome. She was compelled to remain there for 25 years while urging the return of the Popes from Avignon and, while awaiting the full approval of her order, she died in Rome in 1373 before her mission was fully realized. Her religious foundation, however, continued to grow. Shortly after her death, her daughter (St.) catherine of sweden became the first abbess of the original monastery in Vadstena, Sweden, begun by Bridget about 1346. Other monasteries followed, none numbering more than 60 nuns. Attached to each of them was a monastery for monks who shared the same liturgical life under the government of the abbess. The discipline of the new order stressed humility and simplicity in contrast to the pride and pomp of many clerics of the period. The Brigittine Sisters contributed greatly to the culture of Scandinavia. One of the first printing presses was established in Vadstena Abbey.
Prior to the Reformation the order numbered about 80 houses, located throughout Europe. In 1595, however, the motherhouse at Vadstena was confiscated and the order was officially banished from Sweden. From the 16th century onward, the European houses were further reduced by suppression and confiscation. In modern times, there still exist four autonomous houses of nuns: Syon Abbey in Devonshire, England; Weert and Uden in Holland; and Altomünster in Bavaria. These houses follow the original rule.
In 1911, Blessed Elisabeth Hesselblad, a Swedish convert, founded a new branch of the old order. With only two postulants, she began her work of renewal in a small apartment in St. Bridget's former house in Rome, whose possession the order did not regain till 1931. In 1923 she led the Brigittine Sisters back to Sweden, after more than 300 years of exile. During her lifetime (1870 to 1957) she established houses in Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, India, England, and the United States. The first house in the United States, in Darien, Connecticut. (1957).
The order is essentially contemplative, and aims at the fullness of liturgical worship. Its members offer themselves to God in prayer and reparation, working thus for the reunion of all Christians, and in particular for the return of Scandinavia to the Catholic Church. Each Brigittine monastery maintains a guest house to which members of all faiths are welcomed. Though ancient in its history, the order is modern both in its role in the monastic revival and in its ecumenical concern.
Bibliography: h. jÄgerstad, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 2:486–87. p. debongnie, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912–) 10:728–31, especially bibliography. b. williamson, The Bridget-tine Order (London 1921). o. eklund, A Faith Stronger than Death: The Life of Mother M. Elisabeth Hesselblad (Rome 1962).
[a. j. ennis/eds.]