Catharina Broomé was a Dominican nun. She was an important figure in the Catholic Church and a popular educator in the second half of the 1900s. She shared her knowledge of Catholic theology, culture and church life with a wide audience in a pedagogical, easily understood manner.
Catharina Broomé’s parents were Karl and Anna Broomé. The family, who were living in Stockholm, numbered four daughters of whom Catharina Broomé was the eldest. She and her sisters received a foundational Catholic education at home. She spent some of her early school years at the French school. She later attended high school at Högre allmänna läroverket för flickor at Sveaplan, where she took her high school exam in 1943.
Given her pedagogical talents, Catharina Broomé wanted to become a teacher and thus applied for the state teacher training programme in Stockholm. Unfortunately, her application was rejected due to her Catholic faith, which barred her from entering certain state professions, including teaching at state schools. (This was before the law on religious freedom was enacted in 1951.) Catharina Broomé then opted to study Nordic languages at Stockholm College (later Stockholm University). After a few years she obtained a temporary position as an extra assistant at the university library in Uppsala and she continued her studies there.
In Uppsala Catharina Broomé was part of a group of Catholic students who formed strong bonds and lifelong friendships. The other members were Gunnel Vallquist (later a member of the Swedish Academy), Torgil Magnusson (later professor of art history), and Arne Rask (later a Benedictine priest named Andreas Rask). Josef Gerlach, a Jesuit priest in Uppsala, took the students under his wing and organised theological seminars with them. The group would sometimes visit the Dominicans in Stockholm to participate in their liturgies, which they greatly admired. This was how Catharina Broomé came to know the Dominican sisters at Sankta Ingridshemmet in Stockholm.
Catharina Broomé had already considered becoming an ordained nun earlier in her life and her introduction to the Dominican sisters led her to travel to their cloister for novitiates in Voreppe, near Grenoble, in order to determine whether she had the calling to become a nun. After a period there she was taken on as a novice and subsequently undertook further training in Pensier outside of Fribourg. As a novice she took courses in theology, philosophy and pedagogy. After making her final vows as a nun in 1950, she returned to Sweden and joined the sisters at Sankta Ingridshemmet.
Catharina Broomé became engaged in the Dominican sisters’ religious education work, which largely consisted of producing catechistic material in Swedish for Catholic children. Amongst other things she wrote a simple church history and stories about the saints for children, and published a children’s magazine and a newsletter for distribution to Catholic homes together with the other nuns.
In the 1960s Catharina Broomé was one of the religious representatives who was tasked with reviewing what the Swedish school textbooks said about the Catholic Church. This allowed her to establish contact with some educational companies and led to her being asked to write general articles on her outlook on life as well as some deeper texts. These works made her known as a writer beyond the Catholic Church. She and Kajsa Rootzén co-edited the anthology called Katolska ordnar och kloster, published in 1963. She also authored a range of her own books such as Katolska kyrkan idag, 1968, Vatikankonciliet. Dokumenten i sammandrag, 1969, and Katolicismen. Kyrkan – läran – missionen, 1975. A couple of these books were later updated and released in further editions. In 1978 she created Efterföljare, a calendar which included Swedish saints and a short biography of each person along with a quotation and accompanying prayer. When the aforementioned book on cloisters from 1963 became obsolete, she and her fellow nun Catherine Cottin wrote I kyrkans mitt. Kloster, ordnar och kongregationer, published in 1989.
Catharina Broomé also worked as a translator. Her most famous translations are Dom Helder Camara’s Tusen skäl att leva, 1982, and Vladimir Lossky’s Östkyrkans mystiska teologi, 1997. She also translated and adapted liturgical material into Swedish and she was a member of Sampsalm, a committee which developed the ecumenical section of the hymnbook which was published in 1986. She was the chair of the advisory group which put together the Catholic section of the hymnbook. Catharina Broomé also contributed many translations and some new poems to the hymnbook, which was published by the Catholic Church in 1987 under the title Cecilia. In the book she is named as the author of 23 psalms.
Catharina Broomé often moved in circles beyond the Catholic Church. This was partly due to her outgoing personality, and partly due to her being a member of the Dominican order. Ecumenism was not simply one activity among others for her, it was a way of life. This was even more the case after the Second Vatican Council, which opened up the Catholic Church to Christians in other communions. She was a member of the Swedish ecumenical commission for faith and witness and in each community she was a part of she was always engaged in the local ecumenical cooperation. It is impossible to enumerate all the sermons, worship services, talks and retreats that she organised in the Church of Sweden, the free churches and in the wider public cultural sphere. Her activism on behalf of Christian unity had a great breadth. She collaborated with bishops in the Church of Sweden and with Pentecostal pastors.
Catharina Broomé’s talent for medial exposition meant that she could often be heard on the radio or seen on TV. Her name became familiar to many through her years as commentator on the televised midnight masses in Rome. Catharina Broomé saw herself primarily as a journalist, a profession that she engaged in from the 1960s onwards for a full thirty years as a member of the editorial board of Katolsk Kyrkotidning. She was a fearless polemicist who, although fully supportive of the church, never hesitated to criticise the church when she felt it was required. She was often privately contacted for personal conversations. She would have liked to offer some of them the holy sacrament but this was not possible for a woman in the Catholic Church. She became increasingly convinced of the need for female priests and officially pronounced herself on this cause during her later active years.
In 1989 the faculty of theology at Uppsala University awarded Catharina Broomé an honorary doctorate in recognition of her years of cultural and educational contribution to theology. Her attempts to introduce the Dominican perspective into Swedish cultural life were particularly noted. Her lecture to the faculty on the occasion of her honorary degree was entitled “Dominikus och Norden. Predikarorden och dess bidrag till en nyttig teologi”.
The communal life of Dominican sisters with prayers, community, studies and work was the basis of and inspiration for Catharina Broomé’s 50 years of active outreach work. She lived and worked in the following communities: Stockholm (Villagatan 21) 1950-1978, Stiftsgården Marielund, Ekerö 1978-1990, and Märsta 1990-1999. Toward the end of her life she suffered from Parkinson’s disease and from 2000 until her death in 2007 she was cared for at a hospice in Stockholm. She is buried in the Catholic cemetery in Stockholm.