Saturday, October 13, 2012


Saint Louis University Museum of Art

ST. ROSE PHILIPPINE DUCHESENE was born in Grenoble, France in 1769 and died in St. Charles, Missouri in 1852.

Home of the Duchesne Family
She was the daughter of Pierre-Francois Duchesne, a prominent lawyer, and her mother was an ancestor of Casimir-Perier, President of France. From the age of eight she had a desire to evangelize in the Americas, sparked by hearing a Jesuit missionary speak of his work there.

St. Rose Philippine received a basic education at home from tutors, and religious education from her mother. Educated from age 12 at the convent of the Visitation nuns in Grenoble, she joined them in 1788 at age 19 without the permission or knowledge of her family. Initially they were violently opposed to her choice, but finally gave in.

Religious communities were outlawed during the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution, and her convent was closed in 1792. She spent the next ten years living as a laywoman, but still maintained her religious life. She established a school for poor children, provided care for the sick, and hid priests from Revolutionaries. When the Terror ended, she reclaimed her convent and tried to reestablish it with a group of sisters she had maintained in Grenoble.
 Rose with Mad. Sophie- Sr. Patricia Reid, RSCJ

However, most were long gone, and in 1804 the group was incorporated into the Society of the Sacred Heart under St. Madeline Sophie Barat.

They then reopened the convent of Sainte-Marie-d'en-Haut as the second house of Sacred Heart nuns. Rose became a postulant in December 1804, and made her final vows in 1805.
 Aboard the 'Rebecca' - oil on panel
portrait by Margaret Mary Nealis, R.S.C.J.
 Sacred Heart School in Halifax

In 1818, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne headed to America with a few other members of the Society. She arrived in New Orleans, and traveled the Louisiana territory and ended up in St. Charles, Missouri near St Louis. Here she created a new house of the Sacred Heart Society in a log cabin. This was the first house ever built outside of France.

This new Community faced many struggles including lack of funds and very cold weather. Another major problem was that the saint struggled to learn English. She and four other members of her Society continued to create schools in America. By the year 1828, six houses had been added in America.

"Poverty and Christian heroism are here," she wrote, "and trials are the riches of priests in this land." Other schools in the area were founded and while she enjoyed her work with these students, she truly desired to work with Native Americans.

 In 1841, when Philippine was 71 years old and in poor health, a Jesuit missionary named Pierre De Smet * proposed that the sisters start a school among the Potawatomi. From France, Mother Barat wrote to include St. Rose Philippine in the mission. "Remember that in leaving for America, good Mother Duchesne had only this work in view," she wrote. "It was for the sake of the Indians that she felt inspired to establish the order in America.”

St. Philippine Duchesne Shrine in Linn County, Kansas, memorializing the Catholic Mission that was built to serve the Potawattomie Indians who’d been evicted from their homelands in Indiana and forced to march to Kansas on what became known as the “Potawatomi Trail of Death” because so many died along the way.

When the other sisters questioned the prudence of  including the saint, Fr. Peter Verhaegen insisted: "If we have to carry her all the way on our shoulders, she is coming with us. She may not be able to do much work, but she will assure success to the mission by praying for us." When the group arrived in Sugar Creek, Kansas, 500 braves rode out in gala dress to welcome them!

Adam Long

At this new house, she spent her time taking care of sick Native Americans but later weak and ailing, St. Rose Philippine could not take up the demands of  teaching or master the Potawatomi language.  She did however spend long hours before the Blessed Sacrament. As she knelt before the tabernacle, lost in prayer, many of the Indians would come into the church to watch her. Noiselessly they would approach her, kneel and kiss the hem of her worn habit. They were also deeply touched by her kindness as she sat with the dying to comfort them. The Indians had the greatest admiration for her and called her Quah-Kah-Ka-num-ad, “Woman-who-prays-always.”

On November 18, 1852, at the age of 83, Mother Duchesne died at St. Charles. On May 12, 1940, she was beatified by Pope Pius XII. She was canonized by the church in July of 1988 by Pope Paul II.

St. Rose Philippine Church in Florissant
She is a good example to all who labor on later in life. She did not make her final profession of vows until age 37. Not until she was 49 was she able to leave her native France for America (not old by today's standards), and not until she was 72 was she able to establish a school for Native American girls in Kansas (most are retired by this age today).

Her feast is celebrated on November 18. Her remains rest in the chapel dedicated to her on the campus of the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles. The State of Missouri named her first among the women on its Pioneer Roll of Fame. The inscription on the plaque reads: “ ‘Some names must not wither.’ And among the Potawatomi, Quah-Kah-Ka-num-ad is still remembered with great fondness and reverence.”

* Years ago we read Paths to the Northwest : A Jesuit History of the Oregon Province by  Wilfred P Schoenberg, SJ, which is a fascinating account of the Jesuits of our area, most especially the adventures of  Father Pierre de Smet.

In 1838, Fr. De Smet made the first of many overland journeys to establish missions among the Indians. The first mission was at Council Bluffs, Iowa, among the Potawatomie tribe. In 1842, Fr. De Smet became the first Jesuit missionary to travel to the Indian Tribes of the Pacific Northwest.

Fr. De Smet was able to win the confidence of both the Indians and the white settlers. The Indians called him "Blackrobe" and held him in high regard. In 1868, Fr. De Smet visited the camp of Sitting Bull in the Big Horn Valley of Montana, although this chief had vowed to kill any white man to show himself there. Sitting Bull welcomed him and agreed to a conference which eventually ended hostilities. De Smet was called upon regularly to arbitrate treaty conditions during the latter years of the 19th century.

Fr. De Smet traveled more than a quarter of a million miles over the Western Plains and across the Atlantic to Europe in the service of the American Indian Tribes. He died on Ascension Thursday, 1873, at the age of 72 and was buried at Florissant, Missouri, where he had completed his novitiate 50 years before.

It would not be surprising to one day have this remarkable man on the roster of  SAINTS IN AMERICA!

Father de Smet with the Flatheads (Montana)

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