Inscribed on the Pioneer Roll of Fame at Missouri’s Jefferson Memorial Building in St. Louis, are the words: “Some names must not wither.” First among those etched on the bronze tablet is “Philippine Duchesne.” Worthy tribute. But she was much more than a pioneer.
The famed Father Pierre DeSmet said he had never seen a soul more ardent in its love of Our Lord. He compared Rose in sanctity to Saint Teresa of Avila, in poverty to Saint Francis of Assisi, and in zeal for the salvation of souls to Saint Francis Xavier. Father DeSmet predicted she one day would be raised to the altars. And indeed, Holy Mother Church has insured that her name will not wither. On July 3, 1988, Rose Philippine Duchesne was enrolled in a memorial much greater than any of mere stone or bronze, when she was canonized as America’s newest saint.
In Southeastern France lay the rugged, beautiful province of Damphiny. Here in the late Eighteenth Century, the character of the people matched the terrain, as they were known for their strength, courage and independence. This was particularly true of the Duchesnes. The generosity and self-assertion of this bloodline typically manifested a bedrock of faith in the women, but could lead to a liberal and revolutionary spirit in its men.
Pierre-Francois Duchesne and his wife, Rose-Euphrosine, shared the home of her parents in Grenoble with her brother, Claude Perier, and his wife – the two young couples living on separate floors. Characteristically, Pierre-Francois, a lawyer, and Claude Perier, a financier and industrialist, would become prominent in French politics. The wives were hardy in body and soul. Twenty babies between them produced a bustling, cheerful double-household.
The Duchesnes’ second girl was born on August 29, 1769. On Our Lady’s birthday, September 8, at the Church of St. Louis of France, she was baptized Rose Philippine, in honor of Saint Rose of Lima, first saint of the Americas, and of Saint Philip the Apostle.
Though her features were slightly disfigured by smallpox, Philippine was a pretty girl whose natural generosity, together with the religious piety instilled by her mother, moderated the iron will of the Duchesne temperament. She was also strong and robust. All these unpampered Duchesne children had to be so, having, for example, to crawl out of bed in the dark mornings of winter and break the ice in their pitchers before they could wash. Philippine’s lighthearted gaiety was balanced by a sense of responsibility acquired from daily chores and the caring for the younger children who had been assigned to her. Giving alms was one of her greatest joys. And she loved reading lives of the saints, particularly the martyrs.
During the time of the American struggle for independence, when the French were settling in the Louisiana and Missouri territory, missionaries were returning to France telling of their work in the American wilderness. One of these, a Jesuit, inspired young Philippine with a zeal befitting her naturally apostolic heart.
High on the mountainside next to Grenoble, backed by snow-capped Alps and removed from the world, stood a monastery of the Visitation nuns known as Sainte-Marie-d’en-Haut (St. Mary’s on the Heights). It bore above its entrance this inscription: “St. Francis de Sales chose this place for the foundation of the fourth monastery of his Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary. The first stone was laid in his presence on October 6, 1619.” In 1781, Philippine and her cousin, Josephine, became boarding pupils at this “eagle’s nest” in preparation for Holy Communion.
“Ste. Marie,” the holy woman would later reminisce, “was the home of our childhood, the cradle of our faith and the intimacy that united us.” Here, where the sanctity of her character was molded, she so loved the prayer-life of the nuns that she was granted permission to recite the Office with them. She also was allowed a special time for adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, a practice for which she was noted in later years.
A century earlier, Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque had given the Order devotion to the Sacred Heart. Now, “the Heart that has so loved men” became the center of Philippine’s life and love. And her yearning to spread that love was nurtured by a Jesuit confessor at the school, who inflamed her zeal to bring Indians to the Faith.
When the girls received their First Holy Communion on Pentecost Sunday, 1782, Philippine offered herself entirely to God and placed her vocation under Our Lady’s protection, reciting the Memorare many times daily for this intention. Her spiritual growth so manifested itself in her outward behavior, that the family soon discovered the child’s vocation. Her father, now thoroughly a Voltairian who was active in planting revolutionary seeds in Grenoble, withdrew Philippine from the convent school. In response to this crushing disappointment, which she bore resolutely, she increased her prayers for her father, whom she dearly loved.
Back home, studies were continued with her cousins under a priest-tutor. Yet, while she enjoyed worldly delights in the ensuing years, she never neglected devotions and penances. When her parents wanted marriage for their pretty eighteen-year-old daughter, therefore, she not only refused, but gave herself over to an even stricter prayer-life.
At least her aunt sympathized; and Philippine one day talked the good woman into a visit to Ste. Marie. Once there, the young saint was simply overwhelmed by a desire to stay. And so she did, leaving her poor aunt to go home alone to break the news.
With characteristic fervor, young Philippine assimilated the Order’s spirit of prayer, recollection, charity and self-renunciation. So, too, was she determined to practice obedience to such perfection that the saint would relate, “The day I entered at Ste. Marie I took a resolution never to fail on a single point of the rule, and indeed I do not recall ever infringing on a single one.”
As the Community was animated by the Jesuits, from whose constitution the Order’s Rule had been drawn, its library was well stocked with Jesuit writings. Philippine devoured a great many of them, especially drawing sustenance for her apostolic spirit from missionary accounts, such as those on the Eight North American Martyrs. But the “saint of her heart” was Francis Xavier. Touched by his pleas in the Sixteenth Century for more missionaries from Europe to help with his apostolic labors, she answered in spirit, “Great saint, why do you not call me? I should obey.”
The thought of poor infidels, whom she knew could not be saved without the Catholic Faith, fired her yearning to convert them. She memorized, and recited every day for the rest of her life, Xavier’s prayer which says in part:
Eternal God, Creator of all things, remember that the souls of unbelievers have been created by Thee and formed to Thine own image and likeness. Behold, O Lord, how to Thy dishonor hell is being filled with these very souls . . .
Our missionary-in-the-making also developed a devotion to Saint John Francis Regis, whose care of the poor she hoped to imitate. She often prayed before his relic, preserved at the monastery, asking that he obtain for her the grace to be led to a missionary apostolate like that of Saint Francis Xavier. Not only would the prayers be answered, but the intercession of the sainted Regis was to show itself again and again in Philippine’s life.
Philippine should have made her religious profession in 1789. But her father forbade it, due to the political unrest at the onset of the French Revolution — in which, unfortunately, he and his relatives had played no small part. “This is the severest trial God could have sent me,” she confided to a priest.
The latter consoled her, counseling, “Adore God, my child. He has His designs in what He allows to happen. Later on, you will understand.” So the novice persevered at Ste. Marie as even more disturbing news made its way up the hill.
The storming of the Bastille, on July 14, 1789, was symbolic of the mob uprising against legitimate authority. After the Royal Family was imprisoned in October of that year, the revolutionary government began confiscating Church property. The following year, it passed the notorious Civil Constitution of the Clergy which overturned the Church in France, drafting new diocesan boundaries and stipulating that bishops and priests were to be elected by the people — with even Protestants and Jews having a vote. To take the mandated oath of the Civil Constitution was to reject the authority of the Pope and the Church. Most of France’s priests and religious, therefore, refused to do so and were exiled, forced into hiding, or put to death.
For the crime of “making common cause with refractionary priests,” religious orders, beginning with contemplatives, considered useless by the State, were suppressed. Two of Saint Rose Philippine’s aunts, also Visitation nuns, were sent home from their convent at Romans. She herself was hoping the situation would improve before the suppression reached Grenoble, but matters only worsened.
The Reign of Terror was unleashed upon the Catholic populace. Churches were closed, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was forbidden. Anyone suspected of not supporting the Revolution faced execution by the guillotine. Having drawn wrath upon himself by showing respect for the king, Philippine’s father withdrew from public life and moved the family to their country home in Grane.
In August, 1792, a mob stormed the Tuileries where members of the Royal Family were imprisoned. They barely escaped to the Assembly, safe at least from the mob. But all who had defended them, including 600 Swiss Guards, were slaughtered in one of the most repulsive outrages of history, with even women and children participating in the diabolical butchery. Then came the infamous September Massacre in Paris. Over 400 priests and religious, 1,000 Catholic nobles, and 8,000 citizens went to their deaths. Trials and executions at the Carmelite monastery, where priests and monks were held prisoner, were limited to two or three minutes for maximum efficiency in administering mass-production ‘justice.” Having chosen death rather than to deny the authority of the Church by the oath, 191 of these victims known as the Blessed Martyrs of Carmes have been beatified.
The French Revolution was the most cruel and bloody atrocity the world had seen thus far. Its purpose, despite revisionist claims to the contrary, was the eradication of all things Catholic and the overthrow of the Christian Order. France was but the first victim in a plan of world revolution directed by a conspiracy tracing its roots back at least to the Sixteenth Century. Since the 1782 Congress of Wilhelmsbad, in which arch-conspirator Adam Weishaupt amalgamated his Illuminati into Freemasonry, the goal of Illuminized Freemasonry has been the establishment of a Novus Ordo Seclorum (New World Order) — that is, an absolute world government ruling all mankind, and a new universal religion of atheistic secular humanism. Always pre-eminent amongst the conspiracy’s many deadly designs for erecting this New Order has been the utter destruction of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Holy Catholic Church.
“Let us crush the wretch! Crush the wretch!” cried Voltaire, the perverse Freemason who paved the way for the Revolution. “The Christian religion is an infamous religion. It must be destroyed by a hundred invisible hands.”
Masonic philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau planted more seeds for the Revolution. His demonic contempt for the Catholic Faith is especially revealing when he proclaims, in his Social Contract, “But anyone who dares to say ‘Outside the Church there is no salvation’ should be expelled from the State.” No doubt, because it is such an “intolerant” doctrine for so “tolerant” a free-thinking Mason!
Further proof that the annihilation of the true Church of the one true Christ was the real motive behind the French Revolution is seen by the revolutionary government’s audacious attempt to erase all traces of even the Christian era! By decree years were no longer to be dated from the birth of the Incarnate God-man, but instead from the beginning of the Revolution. The seven-day week, instituted by God in the very foundation of the world, was to be changed arbitrarily to ten days, with Sundays totally abolished. Names of months were changed, and of course Holy Days were no longer to be celebrated.
Throughout history God has permitted such evil to triumph in the temporal order at least for a time. But always out of such calamities great saints arise. And such was the case in France, for, despite its destruction, the Revolution did produce saints.
Rose Philippine Duchesne was one of these. For nine years, she carried on a charitable apostolate among victims of the Revolution. She formed a little association called the Ladies of Mercy whose members, after the Terror reached Grenoble in 1794, visited priests and religious held prisoner at Ste. Marie. In addition, Philippine herself cared for the sick and dying all over the city and often sought out priests in hiding, leading them to those in need of the Sacraments. And she befriended wayward boys so as to teach them catechism. Because her many spiritual and corporal works of mercy were performed at the risk of life, her worried family pleaded that she show more concern for her own welfare. To this she simply replied: “It is my happiness and glory to serve my Divine Savior in the person of the unfortunate poor.”
By 1800, some semblance of peace had returned to France, and Philippine made a pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint John Francis Regis. Disappointing, to be sure, was the fact that no Mass was celebrated at the shrine. One altar had been smashed by revolutionary desecrators; the other was covered with dust. Nonetheless, she came away more devoted to the saint and, in imitation of him, to instructing the poor. What is more, she was determined to reclaim the now abandoned Ste. Marie with his help.
What joy our saint felt when she and a companion, having gotten possession of the monastery, reentered it one rainy December day in 1801! It was without lock and key and in great need of repair. Missing doors and windows let in the snow and cold. But in two weeks, Mass would again be offered there.
Philippine had hoped that, with Ste. Marie recovered, its former inhabitants would quickly return and convent life would resume. But bitter disappointment followed. Though a few of the nuns and the Superior did return temporarily, the austere living conditions proved too much for them in their advanced years.
Saint Rose Philippine dutifully stayed on, joined by three others, and spent the next three years living the Visitation Rule as best she could. Yet she was delighted when she and her companions were invited to enter a new religious order just formed in Amiens.
Society of the Sacred Heart
Under the guidance of the Fathers of the Faith (a group of priests modeled after the Jesuits), the Society of the Sacred Heart was devoted to Our Lady, founded on prayer and sacrifice, and given over to the education of children. Its foundress was Mother Madeleine Sophie Barat, a peasant from Burgundy who would also be canonized. Her brother Louis, a pious priest, had been a professor at the seminary in their native town of Joigny and had given Madeleine an education far surpassing the norm for girls in those days. He had also introduced her to Father Varin, who was so impressed with Madeleine’s holiness that he guided her to found a religious order of women completely devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and having the glory of His Heart as the sole purpose of their lives.
It was Father Varin who encouraged Mother Barat to visit Ste. Marie for the purpose of establishing a second foundation: “You will find there companions who will help you, especially one — and if there were only that one, she would be worth seeking at the other end of the world!”
The meeting of the two saints, on December 13, 1804, was most touching. As Mother Barat entered the dimly lit corridor of Ste. Marie, Rose Philippine Duchesne fell prostrate at her feet, repeating after the Psalmist: “How lovely on the mountain are the feet of those who bring the gospel of peace!”
Mother Barat would later remark, “I let her do it through pure stupefaction. I was utterly dumbfounded at the sight of such faith and humility, and I did not know what to say or do.”
The twenty-five-year-old foundress herself served as Superior of the new foundation in which Philippine, at age thirty-five, was again a novice. The holiness and wisdom of Mother Barat shone, as she guided the souls in her care and developed in them the spirit and virtues characteristic of her Society. She exhorted, “We have a double purpose in our efforts: our own perfection and the salvation of souls. We must be saints.”
On November 21, 1805, Philippine made her vows. Shortly afterwards, Mother Barat returned to Amiens. Thus began a lifelong communication between the two saints by way of correspondence. Many of their letters have been preserved and give insight into the charming personality and sanctity of both heroines of the Faith.
Philippine also maintained contact with her family. In this way she was able to bring her father back to the Faith before his death. The saint’s youngest sister had become a Visitation nun, and two of her nieces attended the school opened at Ste. Marie, where they were taught by their pious aunt. Both would eventually enter the Society of the Sacred Heart, one of them leading so exemplary a life that Mother Barat would say of her, “Such was my dream for all of them.”
The apostle from Grenoble was anxious to carry knowledge and love of the Sacred Heart to the uttermost ends of the world. Waiting had always been one of her most persistent crosses; and it would still be another decade before her missionary dreams were fulfilled. But these were years of the most intense spiritual preparation for our saint, preparation that would enable her to endure the rigors of frontier life. Mother Barat, speaking of this period, remarked of “Good Mother Duchesne” (for such became her title) that she “teaches in the school all day, sits up at night with the sick children, has the whole exterior management of the house, but she never shows distress and scarcely seems to be overworked. What a valiant woman!” Philippine’s greatest joy was to spend the night on her knees before the Blessed Sacrament where, wrapt in prayer, she seemed to others like an angel in adoration.
To the St. Louis Country
Few periods in French history were less favorable to developing religious orders than the Napoleonic era. “My main purpose is to hinder the re-establishment of the Jesuits in France . . . I want nothing that resembles an organized religious group,” the Freemason Napoleon declared. Yet the Society of the Sacred Heart, with a saint at the helm and at least one more in its ranks, grew to six houses, with many new postulants and prospects of more foundation, particularly in America.
Philippine became the Superior of a new house in Paris. Here she met Bishop DuBourg, who had arrived from America seeking recruits. It had been three hundred years since Columbus had carried Catholicism to the New World.
Missionaries had watered the soil with their blood, and it had borne fruit. It was now twenty-six years since George Washington (later to become a Catholic) was inaugurated first President of the United States and John Carroll was consecrated as the country’s first bishop. In the intervening years, Monseignor Flaget, saintly Bishop of Bardstown, Kentucky, had done tremendous work increasing America’s Catholic flock. And the French had made great inroads in Canada as well as the Louisiana and Missouri territory, for which Bishop DuBourg was now seeking nuns.
As the good Bishop was discussing this need one day with Mother Barat, Philippine suddenly appeared, fell on her knees before the Superior General, and with clasped hands pleaded: “Your consent, Reverend Mother, do give your consent!” Touched by this perseverance, Saint Madeleine Sophie’s consent was given for her elder spiritual daughter to go to America’s frontier, and the preparations were begun.
Mother Duchesne was to have four companions: Mother Octavie Bert-hold, a convert from Calvinism and daughter of Voltaire’s secretary; Mother Eugenie Aude, whose vocation was realized when, while at the court of Napoleon, she was taking an admiring glance in a mirror and saw there not her own fair face, but the bloodstained countenance of Jesus; Sister Catherine Lamarre, nine years a professed religious, with ample experience in teaching poor children; and Sister Marguerite Manteau, whose solid virtue won her a place in this first community of the Society of the Sacred Heart to go to America.
Saint Rose Philippine was forty-eight when, in 1818, she left behind her the family members she loved so dearly, exhorting them to remember “the one thing necessary- the salvation of their souls. The seventy-day trans-Atlantic voyage was one of hardship and suffering: intense heat, stagnant water, spoiled food. Seasickness and little privacy made religious life difficult, Mass impossible. Horrible storms, reminding Mother Duchesne of Judgment Day, struck terror in all; while at other times the wind was becalmed, leaving the sailing vessel to drift aimlessly for days. What was worse for Philippine, she suffered a bout of spiritual dryness, a condition by which God often tries pious souls. Still, all five of the nuns endured the hardships so patiently that they made a deep impression on passengers and crew. Their daily singing of Ave Maris Stella brought peace to all.
It was May 29, 1818 — providentially, the Feast of the Sacred Heart- when the nuns set foot, with deepest emotion, in America. Mother Duchesne’s face was radiant with joy as she immediately knelt and kissed the ground. “No one is looking,” she said to the others. “You kiss it too!”
For two months, they stayed in New Orleans with Ursuline nuns, whose charity toward them could not have been greater. The Ursulines begged the guests to establish a foundation there in New Orleans, but Saint Rose Philippine and her little band, their hearts set on St. Louis, left in July on a forty-day journey up river.
As on their ocean voyage, the nuns marveled at the glory of God reflected in the scenic beauty that surrounded them. Dark forest walls of moss-covered cypress, oak, and cottonwood rose majestically beside the glimmering water. And the sunrises were beyond description.
Finally, after having arrived in St. Louis, Philippine personally was disappointed by the absence of any expected “savages” she had come to convert. Nevertheless, she and her religious enjoyed the hospitality of General Pratte’s family, in whose home they spent a delightful three weeks. The five little Pratte girls were so taken with the sisters that they continually pestered their parents for permission to attend the school which the nuns intended to open.
When the good bishop of Bards-town cordially received them, however, they met with another disappointment, as he informed them that their foundation was not to be in St. Louis as thought, but in St. Charles.
Sanctity On The Frontier
On a bluff overlooking the Missouri River stood the small, rented dwelling which would be the first convent-school of the Sacred Heart in America. In its chapel dedicated to Saint John Francis Regis, the new foundation’s first Mass was celebrated on Our Lady’s birthday, September 8. A few days later, Mother Duchesne opened the first free school west of the Mississippi, and two of the Pratte girls, joined by a cousin, became the first boarding pupils.
Education was modeled as closely as possible after that of the houses in France. But books and supplies were far from adequate; and for Philippine there was a language problem, as she was never quite able to master English. Always nearly destitute, the nuns and children alike suffered for lack of food and water. The cold easily penetrated the thin walls, to the extent that water froze even when kept by the small fire — for which they had no means of obtaining wood.
But hardship only brought all -children and nuns — closer together, while love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus sustained them. Nor did Providence abandon these souls. Boxes of provisions from France and New Orleans would arrive at opportune times and were appreciated enormously.
Word of all events at the foundation — including a chapel fire in which the Sacred Host was found unharmed in a charred pall and corporal — was faithfully sent on by Philippine to Mother Barat. As postage could not be afforded, however, letters often had to be dispatched via travelers, under the trusted protection of Saint Anthony. So esteemed were letters from Mother Barat, in return, that the elder saint always read them on her knees.
For lack of enough students to support its school, this first foundation failed. Mother Duchesne, in her humility, blamed herself: “If a saint had been in charge, all would have gone well. That thought makes the burden of my office all the heavier. Every day I see more clearly that I do not possess the qualities necessary in a superior.”
The other nuns disagreed. And across the ocean Mother Barat knew she had the best she could give in this holy daughter. Bishop DuBourg, in a letter to the venerable foundress, expressed admiration for “the rare virtues and remarkable gifts of the religious whom you have sent me. I cannot tell you how excellent an impression they have made in this part of the world. Mother Duchesne is a saint.”
In September, 1819, after only one year in St. Charles, the nuns moved to Florissant. Following a temporary stay in the bishop’s farmhouse, the little community moved into its new convent. School enrollment here was improved, and even a novitiate could be opened. Yet the nearly eight years spent at Florissant were typical of Philippine’s frontier life and suffering. Utter poverty; cramped living conditions; dangers of fire, flood, and epidemic; financial anxieties -nearly every hardship imaginable was borne by this holy pioneer without complaint. Yet, while continually praising the exemplary lives of the other nuns, she considered herself useless.
Of course, it was her own example of serving God in word and deed that elevated the others. She slept in a closet under the stairway. She was always the first to rise and the last to retire, for which reason the children often awoke to find their clothes mended and shoes patched by the saintly Superior. Her nights were often spent in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, her mornings in fasting, with hopes that a priest would arrive to provide Mass and Holy Communion. In fact, her whole livelong day was a fast, as she served the good food to others while allowing herself only scraps left on the children’s plates.
Saint Rose Philippine took on all manner of work, reserving the hardest tasks for herself. Indeed, her frequent ejaculations and vocal prayers sanctified both work and leisure. She was the delight of recreation, during which her joyful spirit and lively stories cheered everyone. And her patience and kindness conquered even the most difficult children. She was the comfort of the sick, the consolation of the lonely and distressed. In a word, she was all things to all.
In 1821, a new foundation was opened at Grand Coteau, in Louisiana, whence Mother Duchesne sent her most valued nuns. Later, having visited the flourishing new convent, she endured a prolonged martyrdom on the journey home. Yellow fever swept through the ship. Men were dying like animals, with no spiritual help save that of this poor nun, who managed to baptize at least one victim before he died. Stricken herself, she and her young student companion were put off the ship. Deathly ill, the only refuge offered her was at the home of a man who had just lost his wife to the contagion. Upon making some recovery, Philippine and her companion recommenced the trip upstream. It was then that they discovered God’s guiding hand in this episode. They gazed with horror as they passed the crumpled wreckage of the ship from which they earlier had been made to disembark.
One of the greatest joys of the saint’s frontier days was the arrival in Florissant of the Jesuits, whose novitiate was transferred from Maryland in 1823. The little group included some of the most distinguished names in the Missouri mission field. Most notable was Pierre-Jean DeSmet, the apostle of Kansas, Oregon, and the Rocky Mountains. He called himself the spiritual son of Mother Duchesne and kept up correspondence with her until her death. They even made a pact that whichever should die first would grant the other a favor. After Philippine’s death, Father DeSmet received the promised favor.
The sisters esteemed these Jesuit priests; and it was Philippine’s delight to lavish motherly care on them, somehow providing for their needs despite the community’s own poverty. For, as the saint remarked before departing from France, “Even if I could do nothing but cook for the missionaries, I should be perfectly satisfied.”
About this time, a serious illness for Mother Octavie led not only to a remarkable recovery, but also to the conversion of her Protestant doctor, who was won over by the spirit and peace he witnessed at the convent.
Finally, the first Catholic school for Indians in the United States was opened. Though it was destined to be short-lived, Saint Rose Philippine delighted in caring for her little “savages” during its brief existence.
After nine years in America, Mother Duchesne was able to establish a long-desired foundation in St. Louis, where she served as Superior of the city’s first Catholic -and free — school. Added to the customary deprivations here was the infrequency of Masses, due to a lack of priests. But she continued to give of herself without reserve, as a letter from a younger sister to Mother Barat attests: “I am now in St. Louis with my dear Mother Duchesne. I cannot tell you how hard she works or how she deprives herself in order that we may have more. One can truly say she is like a victim continually immolating herself in the interest of our dear Society.”
Due to those efforts, the Society of the Sacred Heart made remarkable progress in this country. After only twelve years, it had six houses- at Grand Coteau, St. Michael’s and La Fourche in Louisiana; Florissant, St. Louis and St. Charles (re-opened) in Missouri. There were 64 nuns — 14 from France and 50 Americans. And more than 350 children were enrolled in the schools.
But with the sweetness of this hard-earned success was mixed the bitter gall of many personal sorrows for Saint Rose Philippine. Among these was the death of Mother Octavie Berthold. Also, a cholera epidemic struck hard in Louisiana, carrying off many of the saint’s beloved Sisters.
Alas, the demanding work at St. Louis was becoming too difficult for Philippine, now old and frail. And so, at Mother Barat’s bidding, she exchanged places with the Superior at Florissant, where six more years of her model religious life edified all who came in contact with our dedicated saint. A touching account is given of the young nun who unexpectedly came upon Mother Duchesne resting from her work in the garden. The holy old nun was clutching her rosary in one hand while brushing tears from her cheeks with the other. It was a picture of unspeakable suffering patiently borne. But, though much had this gallant woman done for the Faith in America, she had much more yet to do.
In 1840, a new Superior General came to America. Mother Elizabeth Galitzin was a convert from the Russian schismatic church, and her overbearing, autocratic nature had not been tempered by the sorrows and sufferings of a Mother Duchesne. She pressed for changes and introduced new rules into the American foundations — actions which she would later regret, and for which she would heroically immolate herself. Mother Galitzin relieved Philippine of her position and sent her back to St. Louis.
The Indians At Sugar Creek
“How blessed we shall be if at the price of even great sacrifice we shall have made God known and loved by one more soul!” Philippine had once written to her cousin. Great sacrifices had our saint made, and many, many souls had she influenced. Yet, still her dream of converting Indians had not been fulfilled. What joyful anxiety seized her, therefore, when, at Father DeSmet’s persuasion, it was decided that four nuns were to be sent amongst the Indians near Sugar Creek, Kansas. But could she hope to be one of those sent? After all, she was now seventy-two, weak and sickly — a most unlikely candidate for the demanding mission. It would take a miracle, Mother Duchesne realized, and so she poured out her soul to the Heart she loved so much.
Only three nuns were presented to Father Verhaegen, the Jesuit in charge of this mission. He had, of course, expected four. Turning, he saw Mother Duchesne praying silently, tears falling on the worn hands that held her beads. “But she must come too,” he said, for the aged saint was the person he wanted above all. “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 favors on the work.” So it was decided.
Appropriately on the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, the little expedition struck out from St. Louis in 1841. Four days on the Missouri River and eight days of travel by ox-cart brought the missionaries to the Potawatomi settlement. So eager were the Indians to receive the apostolic group that they came out in bands to greet it in their most festive dress, riding plumed horses. Seven hundred natives filed by to bid them welcome.
The Indians appreciated Mother Duchesne from the start. Her age and venerable countenance aroused such admiration that they brought her gifts — their finest food and clean straw for her pallet.
Philippine, unable to master the difficult ten-syllable language of the Indians, could not teach the children as had long been her ambition. But what she could do, she did. She devoted four hours in the morning and another four in the afternoon to prayer before the tabernacle. The Indians would silently steal into the chapel to gaze at her in wonderment, or to kiss her worn habit, as she knelt so long motionless. They called her Quah-Kah-Kanum-ad, meaning “Woman who prays always.”
Thus, as Father Verhaegan had predicted, the saint drew the blessings of success on the mission while for Philippine personally, it was the happiest time of her life. She would have wished to stay here until she died, but it was not to be. After only a year among the Indians she was ordered to return to St. Charles, where she was to spend the last ten years of her life. Her response to this painful sacrifice was simply: “God knows the reason of this recall, and that is enough.”
Even in her advanced years, Saint Rose Philippine was never idle, nor did she allow herself any comforts. Fasts were still strictly observed. Her room was small and simple: two or three pictures, a cot, a chair, a few devotional books, and a box containing her treasures — letters from Mother Barat and instruments of penance.
Her physical sufferings increased. The cold aggravated her rheumatism; walking became more difficult. Poor eyesight hindered her sewing and reading.
For nearly two years, there were no letters from Mother Barat. Thinking she might have caused the displeasure of her dearest friend on earth, Philippine’s sorrow knew no bounds. Yet, across the ocean Mother Barat, for unexplained reasons, also had stopped receiving letters and grew very concerned about her saintly spiritual daughter in America. The latter’s niece, Mother Amelie Jouve, had been assigned to the Society’s newest foundation in Canada. Thus, Saint Madeleine bid her to make a special trip to Missouri.
Mother Barat’s emissary was received by Philippine as an angel from heaven. “So our Mother General still thinks of me, still loves me?” the saint responded, radiant with joy. For two weeks niece and aunt enjoyed to the fullest one another’s loving company.
Visits from others also relieved Mother Duchesne’s loneliness. Father DeSmet was one of these: “Never did I leave her without feeling that I was conversing with a saint. I have always regarded this Mother as the great protector of the Missions. For several years she offered two Communions a week and daily prayers for the conversion of the Indians, whom she dearly loved.”
Likewise, all her sisters in religion reverenced the sanctity of Philippine, now failing noticeably. A close companion, Mother Hamilton, nursed the saint with the same tender care that Mother Duchesne had given her as a novice. Every day she was practically carried to her place at Mass near the sanctuary railing. Receiving Our Lord in Holy Communion so transfigured her that often a glow radiated from her face as she left the chapel. The children, who waited to give the venerable old religious a curtsy, would whisper, “Mother Duchesne is still praying!” The rest of the day was spent in her room in silent communion with God.
Toward the end of her eighty-second year, Mother Duchesne’s health was so poor that the Last Rites were administered. She did recover enough to be carried to Mass to make a thanksgiving.
On November 16, Mother Anna du Rousier, who was en route to South America from France, stopped to visit Philippine, and to give her Mother Barat’s last blessing. The following day, she was decidedly weaker. Towards midnight, Mother Hamilton offered her a soothing drink, which the pious woman accepted only after being assured that it would not break her Eucharistic fast.
When a little fire was kindled in her room, Mother Duchesne reproached the gesture: “You think only of material things. It would be better to say a Pater and an Ave for my soul.” When informed that the whole community was praying for her in an adjacent room, she exclaimed, “Oh, how fortunate I am to die in a house where charity reigns!”
It was now November 18, 1852. Father Verhaegen heard Philippine’s last Confession and gave her Holy Viaticum. When she heard the invocation, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” she answered, “I give you my heart, my soul, and my life — oh yes, my life, generously!” As the noonday Angelus bell ceased its ringing, that heroic life came to an end. The soul of Mother Duchesne was borne by angels to the Sacred Heart she had adored and served to her last breath.
Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne, pray for us.