Sussex

Wartime saviour nun from Brighton on road to sainthood

Mother Riccarda Beauchamp Hambrough (from St Mary Magdalene church website)
Image caption Mother Riccarda worked with her abbess to save dozens of lives

A nun from Brighton who helped hide persecuted Jews, Communists and Poles from the Nazis in wartime Rome is being considered for sainthood.

Mother Riccarda Beauchamp Hambrough was baptised as a child at Brighton's St Mary Magdalene Church.

She later became a nun and saved the lives of more than 60 people by smuggling them into her convent in Rome.

The Pope is to make her "a servant of God" - two steps away from sainthood.

Pope Benedict XVI will proclaim Mother Riccarda "venerable" on 5 July in a ceremony at the Vatican.

The Priest at St Mary Magdalene, Father Ray Blake, said the congregation at the Upper North Street church was excited and looking forward to organising a memorial to Mother Riccarda.

But he said little was known about her time in Brighton.

"She was baptised here when she was three or four, and later went off to school in Yorkshire, we think," he said.

"Her parents had become Catholics from what we understand.

"They were a Brighton family who owned property, became bankrupt, then re-established themselves.

"She had a rather fractured family, I suspect."

Father Ray said Mother Riccarda, who was born in 1887, was influenced by Benedictine monks and decided to go to Rome at the age of 24, where she became a nun.

She joined the Bidgettine order, which dated from the 14th Century but had almost died out until it was revived early in the 20th Century.

She and the abbess, Blessed Mary Elizabeth Hasselblad, are credited with smuggling scores of Italian Jews, Communists and Poles into their convent during World War II.

"Mother Riccarda seems to have been the gentle force in the convent, with the rather stern superior, Mother Elizabeth," said Father Ray.

Mother Elizabeth was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1999, the next stage towards sainthood after being proclaimed venerable.

'Divine sign'

For beatification to take place, it must be shown that the person is responsible for a posthumous miracle. A second miracle has to take place before the person can be canonised.

The priest, theologian and writer, Cardinal Newman, who founded Birmingham Oratory, could become the first non-martyred English saint since the Reformation after his beatification last year by Pope Benedict.

Father Ray said the Church would now be looking for a "divine sign" associated with Mother Riccarda.

"A saint will be someone who is very definitely in heaven," he said.

"Not just a shining example of Christian virtue, but somebody who is actually also interceding so we would expect some type of miracle before they proceed to beatification."

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