Sr. Maria Elizabeth Hesselblad, a Swedish religious sister, will be canonized by Pope Francis on Sunday
Piero Piperno, 87, owes his life to this Swedish woman who, after having been a nurse in New York, embraced Catholicism and joined the Order of the Brigittine Sisters.
Piperno, who was 15 years old when Mother Elizabeth took in his family, declares that the nun not only saved his life, but actually did much more, respecting and caring for his dignity as a person and as a Jew.
In December of 1943, in Rome as in the rest of Europe, the Jews were being persecuted by the Nazis. Two months before, on October 16, the SS had invaded the streets of the Roman Jewish ghetto, capturing 1,024 people, including more than 200 children.
At the end of the war, only 15 men and one woman of this group returned from Auschwitz. None of the children did.
For the 12 members of the Piperno and Sed families, salvation came through a little wooden door, attached to the church of St. Brigid in Rome’s Plaza Farnese. And it came because of the courage of Mother Elizabeth.
“When she welcomed us in this house,” Piperno told Aleteia in a recent interview, “Blessed Mother Elizabeth told us that we should follow our religious traditions. It was uncommon in that time for a representative of the Church to say that.”
Mother Elizabeth knew that her life and the lives of the sisters were at risk if the German SS discovered that they were protecting Jews.
“Prophets always come forth, and Mother Elizabeth was one of them, anticipating the future,” Piperno said, visibly moved. “She saved our lives, but above all, in those dark times, she recognized the dignity of our religion.”
Mother Elizabeth died April 24, 1957, in Rome, of natural causes. She was beatified April 9, 2000, by Pope John Paul II.
The mother superior of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour of Saint Bridget was recognized in 2004 by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.
On January 15, 2015, the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation declared the convent where she was superior a “House of Life.”
[Editor’s Note: Read the pope’s remarks as he canonized St. Maria Elizabeth here]
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