The Birgitta Fund

The Birgitta Fund was established in March 2015 to help children and adults facing challenges realize their fullest potential. Below is a condensed tribute to Birgitta from her husband, Father Ralph Peterson.

Here is my labor of love. I have written what follows, finally, after a time of sadness. This is a beginning; I have tried to capture a sense of her energy and impact as well as an incredible career.

Birgitta Esselius Peterson was born on November 23, 1936 in Borås, Sweden. She attended the University of Lund Medical School (1957-61) and the University of Uppsala Medical School (1961-67). Birgitta received her Medicine Kandidat and her Medicine Licentiat. She also majored in music and received the Organist and Kantor Examen diploma.

Licensed to serve as a physician in both Sweden and the United States, Birgitta was also a certified diplomate of the American Board of Pediatrics. She served for 20 years at New York Hospital as a resident, fellow and attending pediatrician. She was the pediatrician in charge at New York Foundling Hospital and served as the medical director of Odyssey Home.

It was from there that she volunteered with the International Red Cross for emergency service in the "Civil War in Nigeria" known also as the Biafran Conflict. She served in the midst of military conflict for three months before contracting typhus and returning through enemy lines. She was treated in Paris and soon after arrived in New York City.

The turning point in her life was meeting with the Rev. Ralph E. Peterson, the senior pastor of Saint Peter's Church, Manhattan. During a trip to Sweden as a delegate to the World Council of Churches Assembly, he decided to tour the historic medieval town of Vadstena, where he became ill and was directed to meet a physician at the Apotek. She prescribed treatment; he recommended a follow-up appointment! As he journeyed back to the USA, he realized that he had met the woman he wanted to marry.

The couple became engaged in December 1968 and started a new life together in New York City, where Birgitta worked with a number of organizations, including the NYC Board of Education, the Bureau of Handicapped Children and United Cerebral Palsy. Birgitta's work with children having disabilities continued until the last year of her life. Pediatric "habilitation" is not the same as "rehab" - children with limitations could not be restored to a perfect state, but they could adapt. Disability became an opportunity for new creativity in living. Birgitta found particular joy in helping the younger children learn how to type "I Love You" messages with their forehead pointer on a keyboard. It made her medical day.

Her most recent home was Kimball Farms, Lenox, Mass. She loved the place and the people.

In addition to Ralph, Birgitta leaves behind their son, Kristofer, who lives in London with his wife Chloe and their children, Fredrik, Lucia and Axel.

It is hoped that gifts to the Birgitta Fund will enable children with handicaps to have the opportunity to learn how to speak or write or dance or paint or weave or meditate or pray. She had the joy of life and sharing it with children was her passion.

Click here to donate to The Birgitta Fund.