Saint Rose Phillipine Duchesne
By Isabel Haghighat
St Rose Phillipine Duchesne was born on August 29, 1769 in Grenoble, France to a family of wealth and political connections. Her father, Pierre Francois Duchesne, was a lawyer, businessman and a prominent civic leader. Her mother, Rose Perier, was a member of a leading family from the Dauphine region of France. Rose learned political skills from her father and a love of the poor from her mother.
Educated by the Visitation nuns, she entered their order in 1788 at the age of 19 without the permission or knowledge of her family. Initially they were violently opposed to her decision, but eventually accepted it. She was not able to make her profession because of the disruption of the French Revolution. All religious orders were outlawed and she was expelled from her convent in 1792. Even though she lived as a layperson for the next ten years, she continued to act like a member of her order. She established a school for poor children, provided care for the sick and hid priests from the Revolutionaries. When the Revolution ended, she tried to reclaim her convent, but was unsuccessful. In 1804 she opened it to St Madeleine Sophie Barat of the Sacred Heart and entered into the order herself, making her final vows in 1805.
In 1815, Mother Duchesne was assigned to found a Sacred Heart convent in Paris. Her ambition since she was a little girl, however, was to evangelize the Native Americans. On March 14, 1818, she thought got her chance. She and four nuns were sent as missionaries to the Louisiana Territory to establish the Sacred Heart Society’s presence in America. She and her four sisters were sent to their first mission which St Rose called “ the remotest little village in the U.S.” , St Charles, Missouri. When she arrived, it to was find that the bishop had no place for them to live and work among the Native Americans. With characteristic drive and courage, she founded the first free school for girls west of the Mississippi River.
Her energy and ideas were prodigious. At Florissant, she built a convent, an orphanage, a boarding academy and a novitiate for the order. In 1827, she was in St Louis when she founded a convent, orphanage and a parish school.
Rose finally got her lifelong wish when at the age of 72 she founded a mission school at Sugar Creek, Kansas, among the Potawatomi Indians. Although she could not learn their language, she was constantly praying. While others taught, she prayed. The Potawatomi called her “ Quah-kah-ka-num-ad “ which means “ Woman-who-prays-Always “. There is a legend about her that Native American children would sprinkle bits of paper on her habit when she prayed and would come back hours later to find them undisturbed.
She spent the last ten years of her life in a tiny shack at the convent in St Charles, Missouri, where she lived austerely and in constant prayer. St Rose died at the age of 83 on November 18th, 1852.
St Rose had an iron will and determination. She endured setback after setback. It took her 72 years to be able to fulfill her desire of evangelizing to the Native Americans! She nearly died several times. Diseases contracted during the trip to America nearly killed her, and after she recovered in New Orleans, the trip up the Mississippi nearly killed her. She suffered several hardships on the frontier – poor lodgings, shortages of food, drinking water, fuel and money, the harsh Missouri climate, and a loss of privacy. But through all of her trials, she maintained humility and selflessness and a desire not to be made superior to others. She let nothing stop her, nothing discourage her and nothing slow her down!
St Rose teaches us that we can do almost anything for God if we refuse to be discouraged and are willing to pay the price. That price is our sufferings and our reward is holiness.
“We cultivate a very small field for Christ, but we love it, knowing that God does not require great achievements but a heart that holds back nothing for self…The truest crosses are those we do not choose ourselves…He who has Jesus has everything.”