This Sunday we are celebrating the Feast of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne. Normally we wouldn’t do this on a Sunday but because she is a secondary patron of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and it is the 200th anniversary of her arrival in St. Louis, we are. Actually I didn’t just decide to do this myself, the Archbishop has given permission for all parishes in the Archdiocese to do this and also forwarded some information about her (which I am adapting to our space below).
She had already lived through some interesting times before getting to St. Louis. Born August 29, 1769 at Grenoble and educated by the Visitation nuns at Sainte Marie d’en Haut, Rose Philippine Duchesne entered the Visitation community at the age of 17. During the Reign of Terror the community was expelled from France and Philippine returned home. After the Concordat of 1801, she and her companions attempted to rebuild their convent but were unsuccessful. In 1804 she persuaded Mother Barat, Founder of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to accept the convent of Sainte Marie, and Philippine and four others became postulants. She was professed in 1805.
In 1818, with four companions, she was sent to the United States of America to found the first American house of the Society, a log cabin at St. Charles, near St. Louis, Missouri. She opened the first American free school west of the Mississippi, received the first American postulant in 1820, and, by 1828 had founded six houses. In 1840, Rose Philippine Duchesne resigned as superior to devote herself, at the age of 71, to beginning a school for the Indians at Sugar Creek. Deteriorating health forced her to resign this much cherished work and on November 18, 1852, she died, having spent 34 years of her life extending the work of the Society as an international community.
I had often heard of her long desire to work with the Indians and her difficulty with learning the Potawatomi language resulting in her only spending one year with them, but I didn’t realize she was already in her 70’s at that time. Even with that she did manage to serve them with her prayer and by her example, gaining the name “Woman Who Prays Always.”
Rose Philippine Duchesne was beatified in 1940 and canonized in 1988. Her feast is observed in the Society of the Sacred Heart on the day of her birth into eternal life. As we celebrate this local saint may we be inspired to consider how we can help spread God’s word in the world today.