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.