Mother Tekla was Abbess General of the new branch of the Bridgettines, the Order of the Most Holy Saviour, for 37 years, from 1979 until 2016. She was born in 1936 in a village near Naples, and her experience as a small child during World War II led her to enter the convent of St Bridget’s in Rome at the age of 15. Over the years she was to become a legendary figure and was known as one of the most influential women in the Catholic Church of the time, also thanks to her close friendship with Pope St John Paul II.
I lived for many years close to the House of St Bridget in Rome and I met Mother Tekla on many occasions. I was aware of her decisive contributions not only to the Order (which more than doubled in size during the time she was Abbess General), but also to the whole Church although indeed I did not know their extent.
On March 3rd Signum published a memorial note by Ambassador Fredrik Vahlqvist, chairman of the Birgittastiftelsen, Swedish Ambassador to the Holy See from 2002-2008, and a longtime friend of Mother Tekla. The note illustrates Mother Tekla’s activities over and above her tireless work for the Order: among others, the promotion of Ecumenism that created a bridge between Northern Europe and Rome (she even gave the use of a Chapel in the Bridgettine House in Rome to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden); campaigning against the trafficking of women; achievements in the field of Vatican diplomacy - in primis her contacts with Fidel Castro that led to the resumption of diplomatic ties between Cuba and the Holy See. She undoubtedly contributed to St John Paul II declaring St Bridget as one of the Patron Saints of Europe in 1999. Finally, a cause she had promoted for many years was fulfilled in June 2016 when Pope Francis canonised the Foundress of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour, St Elizabeth Hesselblad.
Mother Tekla received much recognition for her achievements all over the world, including the awarding of important Decorations by Finland and Sweden.
Our thoughts and prayers are now with the Bridgettine sisters, especially with those that many of us know in Turku and in Rome.
May Mother Tekla rest in peace.
Diana E. Kaley