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Vatican to investigate Cause of British nun who hid Jews from Nazis

By on Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Mother Riccarda Beauchamp Hambrough was a member of the Bridgettines, nicknamed 'the hot cross bun nuns'

Mother Riccarda Beauchamp Hambrough was a member of the Bridgettines, nicknamed 'the hot cross bun nuns'

The Vatican has taken up the canonisation Cause of a British nun who helped to hide scores of Jews from the Nazis during the Second World War.

A file on Mother Riccarda Beauchamp Hambrough has been sent to the Vatican to be studied by historians and theologians.

Her Cause for sainthood was opened in July 2010 by the Diocese of Rome along with that of Sister Katherine Flanagan, marking the first phase of the investigations.

In a significant development, the Causes of both women, who have the status of Servants of God, have together been sent to the Holy See’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, marking a quick and early step forward in the long road to becoming saints.

If it is concluded that the pair lived lives of “heroic virtue”, the Pope will declare the London-born nuns to be “Venerable” and the search will begin for two miracles to first declare them Blessed and then as saints.

Both nuns belonged to a revived order of Bridgettine Sisters nicknamed “the hot cross bun nuns” because of the distinctive crosses covering the tops of their wimples.

Mother Riccarda helped to save the lives of about 60 Jews by hiding them from the Nazis in her Rome convent, the Casa di Santa Brigida.

She born in 1887 and was baptised in St Mary Magdalene’s Church, Brighton, at the age of four years after her parents converted to the Catholic faith.

Fr Ray Blake, the parish priest of St Mary’s, has welcomed the progress of her Cause. “I think it is fantastic,” he said.

“We are celebrating our 150th anniversary of the opening of the church this year and we can add that to our celebrations.”

He added: “Here in Brighton we are following her cause with great enthusiasm and see her very much as our local saint.

“When I tell people at Mass that her Cause is going forward I’m sure that they will be overjoyed.”

While Mother Riccarda spent most of her life in Rome, eventually becoming the head of the order, Sister Katherine was at the forefront of efforts to open Bridgettine convents around the world some 400 years after the Reformation nearly wiped out the order.

Judith Whitehead, a niece of Sister Katherine, said she was astonished that the first phase had concluded so quickly.

“I am surprised that it has moved to the next stage in my lifetime,” said Mrs Whitehead, 73, of Shaftesbury, Dorset, who had given evidence to the initial Rome inquiry.

“I thought that the progression of looking into her life would take about 10 years,” she said.

“It is amazing to have someone in your family who was so revered by everybody … the Bridgettines obviously think that she is going to become a saint.”

Fr Simon Henry, the parish priest of St Gregory’s Church, Earlsfield, south London, where Sister Katherine was baptised, said: “To have a possible saint from the parish is wonderful.”

Born Florence Catherine in Clerkenwell in 1892, Sister Katherine trained as a dressmaker before she left the family home for Rome at 19 years with the aim of becoming a nun.

She went on to become the first prioress of new convents in Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire; Lugano, Switzerland; and Vadstena, Sweden – where she died in 1941.

A year after Sister Katherine joined, the future Mother Riccarda – born Madaleina Catherine – also journeyed to Rome.

Because of her ability and intelligence she soon became deputy of the Order, called the Most Holy Saviour of St Bridget, and remained at the mother house in the Italian capital.

When the Nazis took control in Rome in 1943, and began to round up the Jews of Rome for deportation to Auschwitz, Mother Riccarda risked her own life by smuggling fugitives into her convent.

Some Jews who gave evidence to the initial inquiry spoke of Mother Riccarda’s kindness, saying they nicknamed her “Mama”.

She died in Rome in 1966 at the age of 79 years.

  • Adam Thomson

    There is something about the process of canonisation which puzzles me – I’d be glad of enlightenment. Since evidence of two miracles done in answer to prayer is a prerequisite, it follows that it must be legitimate to pray to a deceased Christian who has not yet been canonised. So at what stage in the process does this become legitimate? Presumably one may not pray to just anyone who has died. Is it legitimate to pray to Mother Riccarda and Sister Katherine already?

  • Nat_ons

    Would you ask just anyone to say a wee prayer for you, while they remain in the passing flesh? You might do, of course, but one wonders why just ‘anyone’ would seem right (merely look at the souls about us .. and ourselves)! The custom of calling only the canonised ‘saints’ is misleading, without doubt; yet all of us are called to be holy in Christ, it be saintly – some are, some less so, however a very few do seem to exude this divinely graced blessedness.

    “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Phil 4 : 8. It is the praise of worthy blessedness that raises the real saint-next-door to a true hero of the faith, i.e. being canonised a Saint for remembrance at the Altar – as an exemplary witness. The faithful little old lady sitting down the pew from us, for instance, may indeed be every bit as much worthy of such praise, and I suspect we could do very much worse things than ask for her prayers (or seek to join with her in prayer). We are called to a heavenly and festal gathering, even while in our mortal frame; nonetheless, to ask their prayers (in the Spirit) one must still first ask .. that is ‘pray’; theirs is a prayerful community, thank God, so it is not that difficult .. in a general way with belief in the communion of All Saints or toward a soul whom we believe to have witnessed Christ – personally (as very many have done, do now, and shall do without a heroic elevation to the altars of the church catholic), Heb 12 : 22-24.

    “Brothers, pray for us.” 1 Thess 5 : 25.

  • Tiddles The Cat

    Way to go!

    Two pairs of Bridgettine feet on the path to sainthood! And Passionist sister Elizabeth Prout also well on her way, too.

    After the beatification of John Henry Cardinal Newman, the latest candidates for sainthood should give us just as big a morale boost.

    Please God it is a swift journey for the sisters.