Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
For a large part of the liturgical year, we devote ourselves to listening to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects unfolded as we seek God's truth and understanding.
Rose Philippine Duchesne, Religious, 1769-1852
Philippine, as she was called by her family, was born into an aristocratic family in Grenoble, France. The marriage of her mother, Rose Périer, to her father, Pierre-François Duchesne, had united the two most prosperous textile manufacturing families of the town. The family traits of strong will and determination were passed on to Philippine, along with a passion for reading and study.
When Philippine was not yet ten years old, a Jesuit missionary visited her family. Telling tales of working with Indians in the Louisiana territories of the New World, he enkindled a desire in Philippine to be a missionary to those Indians, a wish that would take over sixty years to fulfill.
Philippine was schooled in her early years in the Visitandine Convent of Ste-Marie-d’en-Haut, and was greatly influenced by the nuns. At the age of seventeen, Philippine entered the convent there, although her parents, who had been urging her to marry, were reluctant to grant consent for this move. Then, in 1791, the French Revolution reached its peak. All churches and religious houses were closed and confiscated by the government, and all priests and religious were secularized. Philippine was sent back home to her family, where she maintained, as much as possible, her religious practices.
In 1801, a pact was signed by the pope and the leader of France which allowed the churches and religious houses to reopen. While her order had been scattered, Philippine was resolute in her efforts to regain and reopen Ste. Marie. She offered the convent to Mother Madeleine Sophie Barat, who had founded the Society of the Sacred Heart four years previously. Philippine resumed her novitiate with Mother Barat’s order and took her vows in 1805, eighteen years after she first entered the convent.
In 1817, the bishop of New Orleans visited the convent at Ste. Marie and requested that several nuns of the order be sent to his diocese as missionaries. Five nuns were selected for this mission, with Mother Duchesne appointed as their superior. After an arduous fifty-six day voyage which included several storms and an encounter with a pirate ship, Mother Duchesne and her sisters arrived in New Orleans on the feast of the Sacred Heart, May 29, 1818.
The sisters moved up the Mississippi River to Missouri shortly after their arrival. Over the next several years, Mother Duchesne founded several convents and schools, including the first free school for girls west of the Mississippi. By 1830, the society had six convents in the Mississippi valley and sixty-four nuns, and more than 350 children in their schools.
In 1841, Mother Duchesne, now seventy-two and relieved of her duties as superior, finally realized her childhood dream of working among the Indians. She and three other sisters established a school at a Potawatomi Indian mission in what is now Kansas. When the Indians were leaving in the morning to begin their labors, Mother Duchesne would be on her knees in the chapel praying. When the Indians returned in the evening, they found her in the same position. This gained for her the Indian name, Quah-kah-ka-num-ad, Woman-who-prays-always.
This saint is the patron of the diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Missouri. An optional memorial honors her on November 18.
Philippine's message today: Philippine contributed much energy to regaining her convent in France and to organizing schools and convents in the diocese of New Orleans. But perhaps her greatest contributions came from her lifelong dedication to prayer. Much has been accomplished through prayer, and God certainly answered the prayers of this saint.