The Swedish Sisters

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In Assisi we have many convents in a very small area. Only a few of them are owned by monks and nuns not belonging to the Franciscan Family of Orders. One of these is the convent belonging to "Suore di Santa Brigida di Svezia", or the Swedish Sisters, as the dear sisters are called in Assisi.

Suore Brigidine, the Swedish Sisters or the Bridget Sisters, were founded by the Swedish Bridget of Vadstena, who lived 1303-1373. She was one of the most remarkable female pioneers in the Middle Ages. As a young woman she was married to a rich landowner, and the happy marriage, which was characterized by a deep religious life, great charity, cultural interest and studies, gave them 8 children. After the family's pilgrimages to Europe both spouses had the idea of entering the religious life, and when Bridget's husband died in 1344, it marked a decisive turning point for her. She distributed all her possessions to her children, poor people and some churches, and kept for herself only the most necessary belongings, giving herself up to a life of prayer and penance. Now Bridget started to have the many revelations and mystical experiences which were to make her so well-known both during her lifetime and later. Many people, among them even the Swedish king and queens, consulted Bridget because of her prophetic gifts. In 1349 she left Sweden for Rome to obtain the Pope's assent to the monastic rule which would be revealed to her according to a divine promise in the Eternal City. Pope Urban V finally returned to Rome from Avignon in 1367, and in 1370 Bridget obtained his approval for her Order. Bridget died in 1373 in Piazza Farnese, or as it is also called "Casa di Santa Brigida" in the heart of Rome. Her body was carried from Rome to Vadstena in Sweden. Bridget was canonized in 1391, and her importance for the Church is recognized by the fact that in 1999 Pope John Paul II appointed St. Bridget to be patron saint for Europe together with St. Benedict, St. Teresa of the Cross (Edith Stein) and St. Catharina of Siena.

In the succeeding centuries the Order experienced some of the same difficulties which have characterized other monastic movements such as different interpretations of the rules and consequent divisions. In the last century a Swedish woman, Mary Elisabeth Hesselblad, after her conversion to Catholicism felt a call to re-establish the old Order and to "unite what was divided". Her preoccupation with ecumenism, unity between the Christian Churches, was so much a heart commitment that she was called "the pilgrim of unity". Elisabeth Hesselblad died in 1957 and was beatified in 2000.

During the time of Elisabeth Hesselblad and her successors the Order has spread so that today it has about 36 convents in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Poland, Estonia, England, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Italy, India, the Philippines, Mexico, USA, Cuba and in Bethlehem in Palestine. "Casa di Santa Brigida" in the heart of Rome is still the mother house of Elisabeth Hesselblad's branch of the Order, and it contains one of the Order's many guest houses.

The Order is involved in social projects in the countries in which there are convents, and the sisters run many guest houses, to which all people irrespective of sex, race and religion are welcomed.

It is obvious that the sisters in Assisi, who at present number 11 from different countries, most from India, live a life in joy as a synthesis between an active and a contemplative life, the latter always predominant. They celebrate their masses and pray their hours in the beautiful chapel of the convent alternating with practical work in the convent, which comprises one of the best situated guest house in peaceful surroundings just outside the medieval walls. Here they receive pilgrims and guests with the same joy, warmth, and hospitality characterized by the Franciscan sisters and brothers in Assisi.

Link for the Swedish Sisters:

Suore di Santa Brigida di Svezia, in Assisi called the Swedish Sisters.

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