Catholic Parish


Parish History



As a result of the reformation, the connections of the Church of Finland to catholicism were cut off from 1517, and catholicism was forbidden in the country for two hundred years. 鈥淲hoever turns to the pope’s doctrine, never has a home or residence within Swedish borders鈥︹, was decreed in the 脰rebro parliament in 1617.

However, for the few catholic sailors, merchants and craftsmen who lived in Turku in the 18th century, establishing a parish in Turku was of paramount importance. The first known catholic pastoral mission in Turku was the visit of Paolo Moretti, Stockholm’s provicar, in the late summer of 1796. After the Finnish war between Russia and Sweden, a Russian army was deployed to Turku, including catholic soldiers. As far as possible, catholic priests of Vyborg visited Turku from February 1811 onwards.

Initially, Turku was part of Saint Henry鈥檚 parish in Helsinki. In 1890, 64 catholics lived in the Russian garrison area of Turku. The Polish military priest offered masses in the Betel Church in Turku. The sermon was given in Polish or Russian. Catholic soldiers had their own cemetery near the orthodox cemetery. Later, part of it was annexed for use by the catholic parish. At the beginning of the 20th century, a few Italian-born and German-born families came to Turku, and needed catholic pastoral care. In addition to these, the city was home to strolling Italian merchants and street organ grinders. German brewer Maximilian Heining worked at the Aura Brewery and contributed to the launch of mass being offered in Turku on a regular basis.

When the Finnish apostolic vicariate was founded in 1920, it improved the situation of the catholics of Turku. From 1922, Johannes van Gijsel, a parish priest, travelled to Turku about once a month. Masses were offered in the home of brewer Heining. There were usually about twenty parishioners present. The sermon was given in Swedish or German. Confessions were also heard in these languages.


Puistokatu Street 1
The parish needed its own facilities. For this purpose, father Van Gijsel rented a modest wooden building near Martinsilta bridge (Puistokatu 1). The house was in disrepair, the chapel was frigid in winter, and the walls were covered with yellowed, tattered wallpaper. In this shack, a small group of faithful participated in the same holy mass that had been offered in the Turku Cathedral according to the Missale Aboense. The Puistokatu chapel was consecrated on June 17th, 1922 and was dedicated to Saint Bridget. Ever since, a monthly mass was offered regularly in the chapel. 鈥淭here were usually about 30 people present, including a street organ grinder, a couple of ice cream salesmen, a few merchants with their families, a bazaar manager, and some German brewers.鈥


Birgerinkatu Street 14
The chapel on Puistokatu could not be considered a permanent solution, so the parish priest van Gijsel had to locate a new place for the parish. Such was found on Birgerinkatu, in the neighborhood of the present church. The name of the street today is Ursininkatu. The Birgerinkatu chapel was built by removing a wall between two rooms. The apartment also included a priest’s room and a kitchen. The priest’s room was later used as a vicar’s work and bedroom, as a sacristy, and as a guest room. At the same time, the kitchen was also the residence of a monastic brother, who acted as assistant to the vicar.
The chapel building was acquired and renovated in the first half of 1926. On June 3rd, the Feast of Corpus Christi, Van Gijsel offered the first mass there. Father Guliemus Cobben was appointed as parish priest in Turku, and preached there for the first time on September 26th, 1926. Father Cobben remained in Turku and began to keep his own church records. Until then, the parishioners had been members of the Helsinki parish. Thus, the Turku parish was eventually born.
Guliemus Cobben (b. 1897, d. 1985) was born in Holland and belonged to the order of the Sacred Heart Priests (SCJ). When he came to Turku, he was 29 years old. In the early years, he preached mainly in Swedish and German, because these languages were better understood by parishioners than Finnish. Vicar Cobben was a joyful, spontaneous, and benevolent young priest who without complaints settled for the cramped conditions of his rectory.

From 1931, brother Erik, a former sea captain, worked as an assistant to the parish priest. He cooked, repaired clothes, and served at mass. Because food expenses had to be minimized, meals were modest and the health of the vicar declined. Vicar Cobben’s time as parish priest in Turku lasted nearly eight years. In 1934, Cobben was appointed apostolic vicar, and was consecrated as bishop in the Netherlands. The parishioners rejoiced in the appointment, but were saddened by losing their beloved parish priest.


Birgerinkatu Street 15
The second vicar of the parish was Laurentius Holzer (b. 1897, d. 1978). Arriving in 1922, he was a Dutch parish priest and was not affiliated with an order. He was regarded as a skilled economist and architect, skills which were necessary in the Turku parish. The inauguration was celebrated on August 4th, 1935. The parish priest immediately went to the Netherlands to raise money and, upon returning, traded the plot of land on Birgerinkatu 15. The purchase price was 395,000 marks, and the bank loan was to be 350,000 marks with interest and amortization to be paid by lotteries, collections, and various business transactions. The new chapel was completed quickly, and the inauguration was held on the Feast of Pentecost, on the last of May, 1936.
Compared to the previous, Birgerinkatu 15’s chapel was spacious and beautiful. A cabinet altar decorated with wood sculptures was a gift from Dutch monastic sisters. To relieve the debt burden of the parish, the vicar made long trips to Europe in order to raise money. As the political situation became turbulent in the autumn of 1939, many parishioners moved to Germany or Sweden, some even as far as to Italy. Still others moved from the city to the countryside to protect themselves from bombings.

During the Winter War, only the morning masses were offered in the chapel. Living in the rectory was hazardous, as the bomb shelter was not nearby, and the the railway station (often targeted by the enemy) was almost next door. Thus, the parish priest moved to Kristiinankatu, which was a somewhat safer living arrangement. When it was difficult to raise money for operating the parish during the war, vicar Holzer tried to find other ways. He made toys out of pieces of boards that were then sold in Wilhelm Casagrande’s store. The products were well-traded, but the company’s operations were discontinued after the bishop pointed out that such a business pursuit was not suitable for a priest.

After the end of World War II, the vicar went back to his fundraising and also travelled to Rome. Here he clarified his business activity to the pope’s secretary, which resulted in the Vatican鈥檚 approval. Visiting the Netherlands, he received $10,000 in aid from the Order of the Sacred Heart, and spent the entire sum on tulip bulbs. When the tulips arrived in Finland, he sold them at an auction in Helsinki for $50,000. Next, Holzer imported rice and oranges. He sold the delicacies at a lucrative price, and by these means was able to pay for the building debts of the Turku chapel. With the remaining money, he built a three-story house for the sisters鈥 orphanage and kindergarten in the late 1940s. The parish priest created drawings of the new building by himself and also worked as a builder. The building was ready for use in August 1949.

Five sisters of the Order of the Sacred Heart settled in the house, after which the orphanage opened its doors. At the beginning, there were about 30 children in the orphanage and up to 80 pupils in the kindergarten. The appearance of the black-veiled sisters was an unusual sight in Turku, and they were interviewed in the papers. The orphanage stopped operating in the 1950s when it became unnecessary, but the kindergarten functioned until spring 1984.

Father Jan Snijders (b. 1912, d. 1972) was the vicar from 1949 to 1967. He was also born in the Netherlands. Snijders wanted to enrich the spiritual life of the parish and form a single family out of his scattered flock. Many felt that his term of office was a time of spiritual growth. He sought to develop the choir and was also interested in working with children and youth. When his energy declined, he decided to serve in hospital ministry in Germany.


In 1966 there were 225 members in the parish and 157 of them were Finnish citizens. The number of Finnish-speaking parishioners grew sluggishly. Meanwhile, many of the originally foreignspeaking families were fennicized. The last mass in the Ursininkatu 15 wood chapel was offered on January 6th, 1966. Only a few weeks later, the building was demolished. The masses then took place in the chapel of the sisters’ house until the new church was completed.

Main Entrance of the Convent
The drawings of the present Saint Bridget and Blessed Hemming Church were drawn up by the architect A.S. Sandel and the project funding was taken care of by Holzer this time as well. The new church was inaugurated on November 5th, 1966.

The stained glass and other art objects are the work of father J. De Visser. On the wall behind the altar there was initially a large crucifix made of wrought iron and steel, and there were six copper candlesticks beside the altar. On the back wall, there were pictures of the church鈥檚 patrons, Saint Bridget and Blessed Hemming. The baptismal font was located in the side chapel.

There is a vision of Christ as the central figure of the universe and creation in the large window on the street side. The main theme is the old Christian symbol of a fish and bread basket. The great fish, Christ, leads his followers. The window on the side of the side chapel illustrates the history of the Catholic Church in Finland. It depicts Saints Eric and Henry arriving on the crusade and the medieval bishop sitting on his throne. In addition, the window has the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus beside the Turku Cathedral and the Turku Coat of Arms.

Bishop Cobben inaugurated the church, and most of the catholic priests, sisters, and brothers working in Finland were present. The bishop blessed the church hall and placed the relics of Saints Bridget, Lawrence, Boniface, and Cecilia in the altar stone. Bishop Verschuren offered the first mass with the assistance of several priests at the new altar. At that time, the Teresa Society was at its busiest, with twenty active members. Chairs in the parish hall were purchased with funds collected by the association. The next vicar, father Jan Paus, began his ministry at the parish on March 23rd, 1967 and continued for fourteen years. At his initiative, the gathering for church coffee after sunday mass was started.
Father Frans Voss was the vicar of Turku from 1981 to 1993. He sought to revitalize the liturgy, emphasized the role of lectors, acolytes, and the choir. He also organized singing rehearsals for learning new pieces.
The work of the parish council increased and became more effective. The separate economic council was tasked with improving the chronically deficient economy of the parish.

In spring 1985, vicar Voss and a group of parishioners went on a pilgrimage to Vadstena. One of the purposes of the visit was to encourage the Bridgettine sisters to establish a new convent in Turku, and in 1986 this occurred.


In the summer of 1986, the Bridgettine sisters returned to Finland four hundred years after the Naantali convent closed its doors. They opened a guest house and a student dormitory. Birgitta hall was erected in the yard between the church and the sisters鈥 house, with plans drawn by architect Benito Casagrande. The creation of the monastery meant that the life of the whole parish became more active.

At the celebration for the thirty-year anniversary of the sisters鈥 arrival in Turku Leena Casagrande, chairman of the Association of the Friends of the Bridgettine sisters, commented on the meaning of the sisters in her address: Obviously, getting the sisters to Finland required a lot of negotiations and preparations. Bishop Paul Verschuren had discussions with mother Tekla in Rome, but preparations took place also in Turku. Father Frans talked about the matter at a meeting of the parish council. There, Vittorio Casagrande suggested a pilgrimage to Vadstena in hopes of speeding up the project. This was viewed as a way to give our wish to Saint Bridget herself. Thus, a hopeful group of parishioners went on the pilgrimage to Sweden. Hearing about the trip arranged by our parish, our bishop commented with a smile: “If it is done, success must follow.”
During these past thirty years we have got to experience the kindness and friendship of the sisters. It is always good to be here with the sisters鈥 If one attends mass here, the sight of the sisters, peaceful in the church, is evident. Yet, it is assured that six days a week they work hard from morning to night. They pray multiple times each day (for all of us and for their deceased friends), which can also be considered work, but they perform many other tasks.

The guest house requires daily cooking, laundering, and cleaning. We have countless times enjoyed delicious coffee and meals here, and the cleanliness of the facilities can be seen by any visitor. The floors always sparkle! Sister Nunzia’s flower garden over there delights everyone that enters, and that also does not bloom without work. The new sisters are also busy working hard at their Finnish lessons, which requires much work. In addition to all this, the sisters also aid the church by cleaning and ensuring that our priests eat well and receive healthy food. The sisters also lend the beautiful Birgitta hall to the parish.


Thirty years hold many unforgettable occasions and celebrations, but even more important encounters, wonderful moments that will always remain in our hearts. The visit of pope John Paul II in June of 1989 was, of course, a great event in the parish. The number of parish members continued to grow as the Vietnamese and e.g. Polish families moved to the Turku region.
The next vicar was father Ryszard Mis (SCJ). His friendly demeanor and deep sermons received a positive response from the parishioners. After father Mis took on a leadership position in his order, and thus moved to Rome in 1997, father Jaros艂aw Nieci膮g (SCJ) and after him father Wies艂aw Swiech (SCJ) until 2002. In 2003, the parish received a new vicar, father Peter G臋bara (SCJ), who was to serve the parish for a much longer time. Father G臋bara moved to Turku from Tampere.

There have also been many summer events in the life of the parish over the decades. The pilgrimage to K枚yli枚 a week preceding midsummer has been an annual event. There have also been occasional visits to the K枚kar monastery island. Masses have been offered in the Sture Church of the Turku Castle in connection with the Medieval Days of Turku. In Koroinen, a mass has been offered several summers, in addition to a small pilgrimage from the church to Koroinen.

In the 21st聽century, the parish has continued to host various groups, some of which include a youth group. Also, new groups have been established, e.g. the Theological Study Circle and the 鈥淢uksu Club鈥 for small children. The activities of the parish have also expanded in the diaspora. For example, there are more and more catholics on the 脜land island, so a regular diaspora mass has been established there. There are regular masses also in Eurajoki, which are attended by a large number of people, especially Poles.

The number of different nationalities in the parish increased in the 1990s and beyond, and at the moment there are at least over 60 different nationalities, and parishioners speak at least 30 different languages. The members of the parish of Saint Bridget and Blessed Hemming in Turku belong to a highly international community where the catholicism of the Church becomes tangible, as people from different countries form one parish and enrich its life and that of the entire diocese with their characteristics.

Updates and renovations have been made in the church building in the 21st聽century. For example, the lighting and sound systems of the church hall have been redone.

Church Hall
Sacrament Chapel beside the Church Hall

As the parish has grown, the space of the church has become insufficient. During the high masses it is common for all seats to be occupied. Therefore, since 2013 Sunday mass has also been offered at 9 AM either in Latin, Swedish or Finnish, and at 6 PM in English in addition to the high mass. The parish also has masses in Polish, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Spanish and Aramaic.

The management of the catholic cemetery belongs to this parish, and the voluntary work sessions to keep up the area have been arranged every year in spring and autumn. At times the cemetery has also had its own caretaker, but these days the parishioners (most notably the Vietnamese) have worked diligently to care for the cemetery.

The section on the years 1926-1996 is based on an article by Kalevi Vuorela, published in the parish magazine in 1996. From 2000 onwards, the information was provided by Jouni Leinonen and Leena Casagrande.

Source: Parish Magazine 3/2016 Feast Edition聽


Membership (pers.)
1930聽 >聽 81
1940聽 >聽 144
1967聽 >聽 236
1987聽 >聽 438
1996聽 >聽 820
2015聽 >聽 1912
2021聽 >聽 2342

Language distribution in 2015聽 |聽 2021 (pers.)
Finnish聽 >聽 523聽 |聽 546
Polish聽 >聽 321聽 |聽 537
Vietnamese聽 >聽 174聽 |聽 172
Spanish聽 >聽 115聽 |聽 121
Swedish聽 >聽 128聽 |聽 116
Aramaic聽 >聽 103聽 |聽 112
Tagalog聽 >聽 47聽 |聽 58
Arabic聽 >聽 30聽 |聽 34
Assyrian聽 >聽 11聽 |聽 10
Others聽 >聽 460聽 |聽 636


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