Earlier this month, Pope Francis canonized two founders of religious congregations: Bl. Maria Elizabeth Hesselblad (1870-1957) of Sweden and Bl. Stanislaus Papczynski (1631-1701) of Poland. If the names are unfamiliar, the communities probably aren’t because they are the founders of the Order of St. Bridget and the Marians of the Immaculate Conception respectively.
Bl. Elizabeth was born a Lutheran in Sweden but converted to Catholicism in 1902 in New York. Like her mother in spirit St. Bridget of Sweden, Elizabeth desired that all may be one in Christ (Ut omnes unum sint). After her conversion, Elizabeth was permitted to live in the convent in Rome once inhabited by St. Bridget herself. She re-founded the Bridgettines in 1911, which, after being founded by St. Bridget of Sweden in 1344, had been virtually extinguished by the Protestant Reformation. She was also able to re-found monasteries in Sweden: Djursholm in 1923 and Vadstena in 1935, the city where St. Bridget remains reside. In the U.S., they have a monastery in Darien, CT, where the sisters have a special mission in furthering ecumenical work.
The Bridgettine sisters wear a distinctive Crown signifying the Five Holy Wounds for their order was founded to have a specific devotion to the Passion of Christ. By their Crown with its 5 red stones, they remember Christ’s suffering on the Cross and keep that awareness alive in our cold world. Because of Elizabeth’s own works of charity during World War II, she was cited among the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust center in Israel.
Bl. Stanislaus (John) Papczyński (1631-1701) was born in 1631 in Poland. He was ordained a Piarist Father but received the calling to found the Marians of the Immaculate Conception in 1670. Their mission is threefold: devotion to Mary Immaculate; offering prayers and sacrifices for the dead, especially those who were not prepared to die; and active service to the Church. In America, they are best known for their work promoting the message of Divine Mercy from Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
Like the Bridgettines, the MIC’s were almost wiped out. However, their “Renovator,” Lithuanian-born Bl. George Matulaitis, re-founded the MICs in 1910 which had been reduced to one member thanks to persecution by Russian authorities. Blessed George rewrote the Constitutions, attracted new members, and “unleashed the renovated Marian Congregation as a zealous army for Christ and the Church in the modern world” as it says on the MIC website!
The IRL was blessed to honor Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, with its’ 2016 Pro Fidelitate et Virtute Award for his tireless work in spreading the message of and devotion to Divine Mercy as revealed to the world by Sr. Faustina. You can get a copy of his two talks by visiting the IRL website.