Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne

Celebrated November 18

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne was a courageous pioneer and persevering missionary. She was born in Grenoble, France, on August 29, 1769, and despite her father’s opposition, she entered (1788) the Visitation Convent of Sainte-Marie-d’en-Haut.

Later, because of the French Revolution, the community was dispersed (1792) and, thus, she returned home and spent her time teaching neglected children and caring for the sick.

When peace returned, she purchased the convent building from the government and tried to bring the Visitation Sisters together again, but this proved impossible. Having heard of a new congregation, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, she offered herself and the building to the founder, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat.

Then, in 1818, her dream of missionary work in the New World came true. Bishop Louis Du Bourg of the Louisiana Territory requested sisters to teach Indian and French children in his diocese. Mother Rose Philippine asked to go; she and four companions landed in New Orleans in May 1818.

They made their way to St. Louis, and that September she opened, at St. Charles, near St. Louis, the first free school for girls west of the Mississippi. Life on the frontier was far from easy; the sisters lived and taught in unheated log cabins. In succeeding years, more schools were opened; parish schools, schools for Indian girls, and schools for boarding students.

In 1840, when Mother Rose Philippine was in her seventies, she was sent to help start a school among the Potawatomi Indians in Sugar Creek, Kansas. She did not teach—she was never able to learn their language—but she cared for their sick. The Indians called her “Woman-Who-Prays-Always.”  While others taught, she prayed. Legend has it that Native American children sneaked behind her as she knelt and sprinkled bits of paper on her habit, and came back hours later to find them undisturbed. In 1842, she was recalled to St. Charles, and she died there on November 18, 1852. She was canonised by Pope John Paul II in 1988.

Reflection

Divine grace channelled her iron will and determination into humility and selflessness, and to a desire not to be made superior. Still, even saints can get involved in silly situations. In an argument with her over a minor change in the sanctuary, a priest threatened to remove the tabernacle. She patiently let herself be criticised by younger nuns for not being progressive enough. For 31 years, she hewed to the line of a dauntless love and an unshakeable observance of her religious vows.

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