Today is the optional memorial of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne.
Saint Rose was born on August 29, 1769 at Grenoble, France to a family of wealth and political connections. When she was eight years old, she heard a Jesuit missionary speak of his missionary work in America, which sparked a strong desire within her to evangelize. She was educated at home until she was 12 years old, when she was sent to the convent of the Visitation nuns in Grenoble to continue her studies. She joined them when she was 19 without the permission or knowledge of her family.
Her convent closed quite abruptly during the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution. She spent the next ten years living as a laywoman, but continued to live as if she were still with her Order. She established a school for poor children, cared for the sick and hid priests from the Revolutionaries. When the Reign of Terror ended, she reclaimed her convent and attempted to reestablish it with a small group of sisters. However, most were long gone, and in 1804, the group merged with the Society of the Sacred Heart under Saint Madeline Sophie Barat. They then reopened their convent as the second house of Sacred Heart nuns. Rose became a postulant in December 1804, and made her final vows in 1805.
In 1815, Mother Duchesne was assigned to found a Sacred Heart convent in Paris. At age 49, she and four sisters were sent as missionaries to the Louisiana Territory to establish the Society’s presence in America. Diseases contracted during the trip to America nearly killed her, and after she recovered in New Orleans, the trip up the Mississippi nearly killed her again. She established her first mission at Saint Charles, Missouri, a log cabin that was the first free school west of the Mississippi River. She eventually opened six other houses in America, which included schools and orphanages. She experienced some opposition as her teaching methods were based on French models, and her English was terrible; her students, however, received a good education. She was constantly concerned about the plight of Native Americans, and much of her work was devoted to educating them, caring for their sick, and working against alcohol abuse.
Finally able to retire from her administrative duties, Mother Duchesne evangelized the Pottawatomies and in the Rocky Mountains at age 71, and taught young girls of the tribe. This work, however, lasted but a year, as she was unable to master the Pottawatomie language. She was known to the tribe as “Woman-Who-Prays-Always”. She spent her last ten years in retirement in a tiny shack at the convent in Saint Charles, Missouri where she lived a life of poverty and penance, in constant prayer.
We cultivate a very small field for Christ, but we love it, knowing that God does not require great achievements but a heart that holds back nothing for self.
~ Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne