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Kathryn Jean Lopez / June 25, 2017

Peace, Retreat and Inspiration

There are six sisters of the Order of the Most Holy Savior in the United States, and not one of them was born in this country. Also known as the Sisters of St. Bridget, or the Bridgettines, here they hail from India and Mexico, with some time spent in the motherhouse in Rome. The order, founded by Saint Bridget of Sweden, was almost lost to history during the Reformation.

There are six sisters of the Order of the Most Holy Savior in the United States, and not one of them was born in this country. Also known as the Sisters of St. Bridget, or the Bridgettines, here they hail from India and Mexico, with some time spent in the motherhouse in Rome. The order, founded by Saint Bridget of Sweden, was almost lost to history during the Reformation. In 1911, Maria Elizabeth Hesselblad, recently recognized as a saint by Pope Francis, re-established the order, whose most obvious distinguishing characteristic is the crown that tops the veils of these brides of Christ, marked by five red dots for the wounds of Jesus on the cross.

Hospitality is a big part of the Bridgettine life, with over 50 guesthouses in several countries. Their semi-cloistered lives (some communities are more active, teaching and doing other work that takes them beyond the convent grounds) are centered around prayer, reparation and hospitality. More than cheap overnight stays, their homes are invitations to peace and quiet, to silence and prayer, to a participation in the discipline towhich they have dedicated their lives.

I first encountered the Bridgettines not here in Darien, an hour’s Metro North ride from Grand Central Station in Manhattan, but in Assisi. There, I was struck by the tranquil, peaceful nature of the order’s mother superior, Sister Marcellina.

“When the people come (to the order’s guesthouses), I want them to sense the presence of God in the life of prayer and sacrifice,” she told me. I could see in her bones, as it were, a peace that surpasses all understanding.

In Darien, I’m struck, too, by the hospitality, the welcome. It’s almost as if these walls have absorbed the burdened clamor of life outside and transformed it. The world is seen in a different light, because it can be seen in a long-term — maybe eternal — perspective. You can listen here, whether to the bird providing background music as I type this column or the voice of God in the silence between morning, midday and evening prayer.

On a recent day, a group of home-schooled girls were visiting, asking the sisters questions about their lives. Before eating cupcakes, one girl asked how the nuns knew they wanted this life for themselves. Everyone had a different story about their first encounter of the call to religious life. One of the sisters, from Mexico, said that when she realized that Jesus had died for her, she felt a deep desire to give her life back to Him.

As we approach Independence Day, I couldn’t think of a better, albeit unconventional, snapshot of freedom. The Mexican nun saw a great wonder and felt compelled to respond, of her own free will, with total love. It’s the ultimate exercise of liberty — free will — and in a way, it’s so perfectly American. The houses of the Bridgettines are open to anyone, regardless of creed, color or social class. That gives me hope for peace and solicitude, even in these times.

The Church is a place that provides all kinds of services. At these Bridgettine houses, there’s no mistaking the impetus behind the sisters’ mission: the all-encompassing love of our divine creator. All are welcome.

As the home-schooled students visit, a newborn baby, sibling to one of the older girls, sleeps peacefully in the arms of his mother. This is one way of capturing some of the welcome here, as people are renewed for the ongoing mission of life, which requires them to be full of love and bold courage, seemingly now more than ever. Or at least, now is the time for each one of us to use our freedom to work for good, in the face of evil, confusion and despair. We need to inspire people to do something better than merely watch the spectacle around us.

COPYRIGHT 2017 United Feature Syndicate

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