Swedish Nun Who Saved Jews during WWII Canonized by Pope Francis

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Pope canonized Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad who saved the lives of 12 Jewish people.

Last Sunday, Pope Francis canonized two new saints, Swedish-born Maria Elizabeth Hesselblad, and Polish-born Stanislaus Papczynski. During the canonization ceremony in St. Peter’s Square, the Holy Father called both of them as exemplary witnesses to the mystery of resurrection.

Swedish Nun Who Saved Jews during WWII Canonized by Pope Francis[/tweetthis]

Maria Elizabeth Hesselblad was born on June 4, 1870. The fifth child of Cajsa Petersdotter Dag and August Robert Hesselblad, she was baptized and received into the Lutheran Church of Sweden, in her parish of Hundene, in the same year itself. She emigrated to the United States in 1888 and started working as a nurse in the New York City. Most of her patients were poor, and they were Catholic. Close contact with them piqued her interest in the Roman Catholic faith. Years of study and prayer led her down the path of conversion. Hesselblad received the sacrament of Confirmation during her pilgrimage to Rome. While in Rome, she also visited the House of Saint Bridget of Sweden. The deep impression that the life of the medieval saint made on her prompted her to return to Rome after going back to New York. She was welcomed by the Carmelite nuns of Rome as a guest.

During her time in Rome, sister Hesselblad founded a new religious order for women dedicated to serving the sick. In 1906, with special permission from Pope Pius X, Hesselblad donned the Bridgettine religious habit. In 1940, the order received canonical approval. The first house of the order was opened in her homeland, Sweden, then in England, Italy, and India.

During World War II, she used those houses to hide Jews from the Nazis. History has it that she saved the lives of at least 12 Jewish people by hiding them in her convent, during the war.

According to Piero Piperno, a Jew whose life sister Hesselblad saved, and who is still alive today, sister Hesselblad never tried to convert them. In fact, she insisted that they fulfill their religious obligations by saying their Hebrew prayers. During those dark times, she not only saved their lives but above all, recognized the dignity of their religion.

Sister Hesselblad was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2000. Pope Francis approved her canonization in late 2015.

In 2004, Sister Hesselblad was honored with the title of “Righteous Among the Nations,” for her efforts in saving lives during World War II, by Israel’s Yad Vashem.


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