St. Rose Philippine Duchesne

Most children are very perceptive. They often knickname their teachers and other adults in an extremely accurate manner. The little Potawatomi Indians were not wrong about "woman-who-prays-always," Blessed Rose Philippine Duchesne. 

Indeed, she had need of prayer; not only to bear her many responsibilities, but also to accept the untold disappointments she met from within and without her religious community. She did not often "get her own way" but she surely accepted all tribulation as well as joy, as "God's way!" 

Rose was the daughter of an active political father, Pierre Francois Duchesne who practiced law in Grenoble in the South of France. Her mother was a gentlewoman from the province of Dauphine. Like most girls of such a family, she was sent to a convent school under the direction of the Visitation nuns. She became attracted to religious life there and the first encounter with opposition occurred. Her father opposed her wish to enter the Visitation order. He had a wedding in mind but she refused and entered the order in 1788.
She remained there for over four years while the sisters tried to cope with the troubled times of the French Revolution. Eventually, her convent was disbanded, as were virtually all religious orders in France. She returned to her family and spent 10 years devoting herself to charity, often sheltering priests who were being persecuted. She also taught the town's children. 

After this decade of waiting, good fortune seemingly smiled on her when, after the turmoil of the early days of the Revolution, she was able to enter the convent of Sainte-Marie-d'en-Haut. However, she was unable to regroup the Visitation community. With a few companions, she joined a new order, The Society of the Sacred Heart. With these sisters, her attention turned from Europe to the United States. 

As a girl in the lush grapelands of southern France, Rose had often read of the missionaries in America and dreamed her young dreams of adventure. When, in maturer years, she recognized mission life as a call to hardship and deprivation, her enthusiasm remained undiminished. Now that the Society of the Sacred Heart had heeded the call of the American bishops for help, none was more eager to respond than she. 

But the time had not yet come. The community had needs at home which had to be met. Among these was the foundation of the first house of her order in Paris in 1815. Three years were spent in arranging household affairs, establishing religious regularity and forming a family spirit in the young community. Then, in 1818, the time for the missions came! 

Along with four companions, she left France for America. They arrived at New Orleans, LA, on May 29, 1818. William du Bourg, the bishop of Louisiana commissioned her to open a school in St. Charles, Missouri, the first free school west of the Mississippi River for Catholic and non-Catholic children. She also built a convent at Florissant, MO and operated a free parish school and a small orphanage. Extending her resources and energies even further, Mother Duchesne started a school for Indian children (which unfortunately was short-lived) and an academy for boarding pupils for this pioneer area of vast spaces had few formal schools for the expanding population. Mother Rose's ideals spread to her pupils and many fine young women wished to join her in her work, thus necessitating the first novitiate of the Society of the Sacred Heart in the U.S.A. Madeline Sophie Barat, who founded the society, had an able follower turned leader in Mother Rose Philippine. 

One would think that all this hard work, the long travels, the need to be informed about building and supporting her many endeavors, would have long ago erased the deep longing to be a missionary in the sense of "living with the natives!" Not so! At the time of life when one deserves peace, quiet and rest, Mother Rose set out for Sugar Creek, Kansas. She was 72 years old but she wanted to live among the Indians. Again she took with her four companions. They traveled by boat up the Mississippi to the junction of the Osage River and Sugar Creek. There they were met by 500 braves in gala dress who led them to a village of 700 inhabitants. Among them were Potawatomi, already Catholics, the Kickapoo, the Wabash and Osage tribal members. 

She had enjoyed the pleasant diversion of the river boat ride and welcomed the opportunity to gain strength for the four day journey by wagon! Upon her arrival she was revivified and settled down to visit the old and sick and to teach the Potawatomi's children. They soon gave her the name "Quah-kah-ka-num-ad,"-the woman who prays always. 

Having founded six convents and accepted 64 young women into the congregation, Mother Rose found joy in the simple life of the Indian tribes-people. However, it ended all too quickly. On Palm Sunday of the next spring, she was directed to return to St. Charles, where she had founded the first school of her community. It was a bitter reward for a woman who had suffered many disappointments and who now found such loving reward among the Indians. Even so, she accepted the decree as an obedience to her superiors. At St. Charles she lived in humble observance of the rule and in quiet meditation. While there she had the joy of seeing her first pupil in New Orleans become the first Mother at Manhattanville, NY. 

On Nov. 1, 1852, in her 83rd year, as the Angelus bell rang, Mother Rose died. Her confessor wrote of her: "Eminent in all virtues, but especially in humility, she sweetly and calmly departed this life." Mother Duchesne was named "Blessed" in 1940 by Pope Pius XII. Her tomb is built into a beautiful new church in St. Charles where she was known even there, far from the Potawatomi children, as "the woman who prays always." The State of Missouri inscribed her name first among the women on the Pioneer Roll of Fame in St. Louis. The inscription on the plaque reads: "Some names must not wither." Certainly Mother Rose Philippine Duchesne's has not. Twelve thousand people celebrated her pioneer spirit and holiness in a Te Deum Service at the St. Louis Cathedral on her beatification day and 3,500 Knights of Columbus processed to her shrine to unveil the commemorative plaque.

Related Post