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Blessed Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad

A pioneer for ecumenism

Blessed Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad

Born: June 4, 1870

Died: April 24, 1957

Memorial: June 4

Claim to fame: Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad, a Swedish convert to Catholicism, is credited with restoring the Catholic religious order of the Brigittines to Sweden. The order had been banished during the Protestant Reformation. She is also considered a pioneer in the ecumenical movement.

Little-known fact: Mary Elizabeth came to America in the late 1800s, training as a nurse in New York City. She first came in contact with Catholics while caring for workers injured on the building site of the future St. Patrick’s Cathedral. When she was assigned to care for a nun in a convent, she became even more interested in Catholicism. After a powerful experience of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, she was received into the church on Aug. 15, 1902.

What made her blessed: Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad worked throughout her life to bring others to Christ through the Catholic Church and through the Brigittine order, which had been established by Sweden’s St. Bridget centuries before. Pope Pius X permitted her to take Brigittine vows in 1906 and re-establish the Brigittine order in Rome, where St. Bridget had established her motherhouse. It was not until 1923 that she was able to open two convents in Sweden. All of her sisters worked and prayed “that all would be one.” During World War II, she sheltered Jews and anti-Fascist politicians in her convent in Rome.

Lowest moment: Mary Elizabeth hoped to bring Catholicism back to Sweden, but first she had to convince her family. When she visited her home after her conversion, her parents were distressed by the announcement that she was now a Catholic. Her distraught mother begged her to tell no one about her shameful news.

Best quote: “We must nourish a great love for God and our neighbors; a strong love, an ardent love, a love that burns away imperfections, a love that gently bears an act of impatience, or a bitter word; a love that lets an inadvertence or act of neglect pass without comment, a love that lends itself readily to an act of charity.”

How she died: Blessed Mary Elizabeth was 86 years old when she died in 1957.

Prayer: Dear Lord, I do not ask to see the path. In darkness, in anguish and in fear, I will hang on tightly to your hand, and I will close my eyes, so that you know how much trust I place in you, spouse of my soul.