Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne
November 18th is the optional memorial of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, a French Religious Sister and educator. She is the foundress of the American branch of the Society of the Sacred Heart.
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 twelve 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 nineteen 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 forty-nine, 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.
In 1841, the Jesuits asked the Sisters to join them in a new mission with the Potawatomi tribe in eastern Kansas, along Sugar Creek. At age seventy-one, she was not among those initially selected for the trip. However, Father Verhaegen insisted, “She may not be able to do much work, but she will assure success to the mission by praying for us.” Unable to master their language, she was not able to teach, so she spent long periods in prayer. The children named her Quahkahkanumad, which translates 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. She died in 1852 at the age of eighty-two and was canonized in 1988.
She is the patron saint of opposition of Church authorities and the diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
“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.”
“You may dazzle the mind with a thousand brilliant discoveries of natural science; you may open new worlds of knowledge which were never dreamed of before; yet, if you have not developed in the soul of the pupil strong habits of virtue which will sustain her in the struggle of life, you have not educated her, but only put in her hand a powerful instrument of self-destruction.”
~St. Rose Philippine Duchesne
Gracious God, you filled the heart of Philippine Duchesne with charity and missionary zeal, and gave her the desire to make you known among all peoples. Fill us who honor her memory today, with that same love and zeal to extend your kingdom to the ends of the earth. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.