On Nov. 18, we celebrate the feast day of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne. During her long life of service, she confronted many hardships, and played an important role in bringing the Catholic faith to the new American frontier. Her endless devotion to prayer and lifelong desire to help those in need provides us with a beautiful example of stewardship and faith in the face of great adversity.
Born on Aug. 29, 1769 in Grenoble, France, to a prominent lawyer, the young Philippine was educated by tutors and her own mother, as well as by the Visitation nuns in Grenoble. By 1788, the 19-year-old Philippine had become completely devoted to the Catholic faith, and she joined the Convent of the Visitation — by some accounts, against her family’s wishes.
However, by 1792, the convent was closed due to the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution — an era that witnessed the outlawing of all religious organization in France. While no longer a member of a convent, Philippine remained fully active in providing service and ministering to those in need — even selflessly putting herself at great risk by helping to hide priests from the Revolutionaries.
By the time the Reign of Terror ended and the Concordat between Napoleon and Pope Pius VII was signed in 1801, Philippine attempted to restart the convent, but without success. However, in 1804, she learned of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and with several of her companions, became a novice in the Society. By 1815, Philippine was elected secretary general of the Society, but had already expressed a strong desire to minister outside of France and Europe.
Such an opportunity was presented just three years later, as Bishop William Dubourg requested missionaries at his large diocese in Louisiana. Philippine, along with a group of four companions, sailed to New Orleans in May 1818. By that September, Philippine and her companions had opened the first free school for girls located west of the Mississippi.
While Philippine found great difficulty adjusting to an unfamiliar culture in what was still largely uncharted North American territory, she nevertheless continued to oversee several struggling convents. And despite her uneasiness with the language and culture, Philippine worked to maintain a unified spirit within the Society as it spread throughout the new American territory.
By the early 1840s, Philippine decided to join her companions in the Society at a reservation of the Potawatomi nation, in Sugar Creek, Kan. A major influence on this decision was Philippine’s disgust with the treatment of the native people on behalf of the American government. She felt that by serving the reservation, she could concentrate on ministry and prayer in a setting far removed from European influence.
Unfortunately, Philippine’s health had already begun to fail, and at Sugar Creek she could do little more than continually pray in the reservation chapel. Nevertheless, her strong faith and spirit profoundly moved the Potawatomi people, and they affectionately referred to her as Kwahkahkanumad, or “the woman who always prays.”
As her health continued to deteriorate, Philippine was soon recalled from Sugar Creek. She would spend the final 10 years of her life quietly working to spread the Catholic faith throughout North America. Philippine died on Nov. 18, 1852. Her companion, Anna du Rousier, was by her side at her death. Anna would carry the mission of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus into South America, assuring that Philippine’s faithful devotion to ministry and prayer would continue to inspire and influence long after her passing.
In recognition of Philippine’s contributions to the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as well as to the spread of the Catholic faith in North America, she was beatified on May 12, 1940. And on July 3, 1988, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne was canonized.