Hesselblad, Elisabeth, Bl.
HESSELBLAD, ELISABETH, BL.
Also known as Maria Hesselblad, apostle of ecumenism, nurse, founder of the Order of the Most Holy Savior of Saint Brigit; b. June 4, 1870, Fåglavik (near Hundene), Alvsborg, Sweden; d. April 24, 1957, Rome, Italy.
Elisabeth was the fifth of the 13 children born to Swedish Lutherans, Augusto Roberto Hesselblad and Cajsa Pettesdotter Dag. She immigrated to the U.S. (1888) to help support her family. She earned a nursing diploma at Roosevelt Hospital, N.Y., where she tended the sick, caring not only for their physical needs but their spiritual needs as well. Here she came in contact with Catholics for the first time. After experiencing a call during a Eucharistic procession in Brussels, she was later received into the Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., in 1902. She noted in her memoirs how significant her devotion to the Eucharist was. Two days later she left for Rome, where she discerned a vocation to promote Christian unity, but then returned to the U.S., where her health deteriorated. Now gravely ill, she went to Rome to the the Casa di S. Brigida to die. However, her health improved, and she joined the carmelites (March 25, 1904), who were established in that very house of St. bridget, whose writings Maria Elisabeth long admired.
In 1906, Pope pius x gave Hesselblad special permission to take the habit of the brigittine sisters. She
was unsuccessful in reestablishing a Bridgettine community in Rome with members of existing communities in Europe. On Sept. 9, 1911, she began a new branch of the Brigettines with three English postulants, using the original order's Augustinian Rule. The order received canonical approval in 1920. She exhorted her sisters to work tirelessly for Christian unity throughout the world.
During World War I and especially World War II, Mother Elisabeth worked tirelessly to aid those who needed assistance. She cared for the poor and offered hospitality and a hiding place to Jews and others persecuted by racist laws. In 1947 Mother Elisabeth's longing to build bridges to those of other faiths became reality when she became an enthusiastic collaborator with Fr. Boyer, a worker in the ecumenical field.
At a Vatican ceremony (Nov. 13, 1999) shortly after the signing of a joint Catholic–Lutheran declaration (Augsburg, Oct. 31, 1999), the pope dedicated a statue of St. Bridget, Europe's co–patron, in the presence of the highest Lutheran representatives of Sweden and Finland, as well as the Swedish king and queen. John Paul II recalled that Bridget's "passion for Christian unity sustained her entire life. And, thanks to her witness and the witness of Mother Elisabeth Hesselblad, this commitment has come down to us through the mysterious stream of grace which overflows the bounds of time and space." At Hesselblad's beatification (April 9, 2000) he reiterated: "By constantly meditating on God's word, Sister Elisabeth was confirmed in her resolve to work and pray that all Christians would be one."
Feast: July 4.
Bibliography: L'Osservatore Romano, Eng. ed., no. 15 (2000): 2. j. hogg, The Carthusian General Chapter and the Spanish Charterhouses, Analecta Cartusians, v. 164, which includes u.s. olsen, "The Revival of the Birgittine Monks in the Twentieth Century," (Salzburg, Austria 2000). m. tjader, Mother Elisabeth: The Resurgence of the Order of Saint Birgitta (New York 1972).
[k. i. rabenstein]