Saint of the Day – 18 November – St Rose Philippine Duchesne RSCJ (1769-1852) – Religious, of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Missionary, Teacher, Apostle of Prayer – born on 29 August 1769 at Grenoble, France and died on 18 November 1852 at Saint Charles, Missouri of natural causes. Along with the foundress, St Madeleine-Sophie Barat (1779 – 1865), she was a prominent early member of the Religious Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and founded the congregation’s first communities in the United States. She spent the last half of her life teaching and serving the people of the Midwestern United States, then the western frontier of the nation. Her Body is incorrupt.
Rose Philippine Duchesne was born 29 August 1769 in Grenoble, France, the second of seven daughters, along with one son. She was baptised in the Church of St Louis and received the name of Philip, the apostle and Rose of Lima, first saint of the new continent. She was educated at the Convent of the Visitation of Sts Marie d’en Haut, then, drawn to the contemplative life, she became a novice there when she was 18 years old.
At the time of the Revolution in France, the community was dispersed and Philippine returned to her family home, spending her time nursing prisoners and helping others who suffered. After the Concordat of 1801, she tried with some companions to reconstruct the monastery of St Marie but without success.
In 1804, Philippine learned of a new congregation, the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and offered herself and the monastery to the Foundress, Mother Madeleine Sophie Barat. Mother Barat visited St Marie in 1804 and received Philippine and several companions as novices in the Society.
Even as Philippine’s desire deepened for the contemplative life, so too her call to the missions became more urgent – a call she had heard since her youth. In a letter she wrote to Mother Barat, she confided a spiritual experience she had had during a night of adoration before the Eucharist on Holy Thursday: “I spent the entire night in the new World … carrying the Blessed Sacrament to all parts of the land … I had all my sacrifices to offer: -a mother, sisters, family, my mountain! When you say to me ‘now I send you’, I will respond quickly ‘I go”‘. She waited, however, another 12 years.
In 1818 Philippine’s dream was realised. She was sent to respond to the bishop of the Louisiana territory, who was looking for a congregation of educators to help him evangelise the Indian and French children of his diocese. At St Charles, near St Louis, Missouri, she founded the first house of the Society outside France. It was in a log cabin – and with it came all the austerities of frontier life: extreme cold, hard work, lack of funds. She also had difficulty learning English. Communication at best was slow; news often did not arrive from her beloved France. She struggled to remain closely united with the Society in France.
Philippine and four other Religious of the Sacred Heart forged ahead. In 1820 she opened the first free school west of the Mississippi. By 1828 she had founded six houses. These schools were for the young women of Missouri and Louisiana. She loved and served them well but always in her heart she yearned to serve the American Indians. When she was 72 and no longer superior, a school for the Potawatomi was opened at Sugar Creek, Kansas. hough many thought Philippine was too sick to go, the Jesuit head of the mission insisted: “She must come; she may not be able to do much work but she will assure success to the mission by praying for us Her very presence will draw down all manner of heavenly favours on the work”.
She was with the Potawatomi but a year, however, her pioneer courage did not weaken and her long hours of contemplation impelled the Indians to name her, Quah-kah-ka-num-ad, “Woman-Who-Prays-Always”. But Philippine’s health could not sustain the regime of village life. In July 1842, she returned to St Charles, although her heart never lost its desire for the missions: “I feel the same longing for the Rocky Mountain missions and any others like them, that I experienced in France when I first begged to come to America…”.
She spent the last decade of her life living there in a tiny room under a stairway near the chapel. Toward the end of her life, she was very lonely, going blind, feeble and yearned for letters from Mother Barat. She died at St Charles, Missouri, 18 November 1852 at the age of 83. Initially, St Philippine was buried in the convent cemetery, when her remains were exhumed three years later they were found to be intact. The Holy See ordered in 1951 that she be buried more suitably. Construction was begun on a larger shrine, and her remains were moved there on 13 June 1952. She was Beatified on 12 May 1940 by Ven Pope Pius XII and Canonised on 3 July 1988 by St Pope John Paul II.