Christian Saints Podcast

Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne

November 19, 2022 Darren C. Ong Season 3 Episode 10
Christian Saints Podcast
Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne
Show Notes Transcript

Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne was a French Roman Catholic  nun in the Society of the Sacred Heart, and a missionary to the Native Americans living in the region we know today as Kansas and Missouri. The Potawatomi people whom she ministered to gave her the name Quahkahkanumad - the woman who prays always.

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 God is glorious in his saints! 
 Welcome to the Christian Saints Podcast. My name is dr Darren Ong, recording from Sepang in Malaysia. In this podcast, we explore the lives of the Christian saints, from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Today, we commemorate St Rose Phillippine Duchesne
 Saint Rose Phillipine Duchense was a French Roman Catholic nun and missionary, who grew up in the late 18th century during the French revolution. In the chaos of the revolution her convent was destroyed, and she joined instead the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a new congregation that was focused in the work of education. She felt called to be a missionary, and left for America to preach the gospel there, in French Louisiana, specifically in mordern-day Kansas and Missouri. She was especially effective in bringing the gospel to the Native Americans living in that region of America.
 Let us read the biography of Saint Rose Phillipine Duchesne, on the Vatican’s website:
 ROSE PHILIPPINE DUCHESNE Was born August 29, 1769 in Grenoble, France. She was baptized in the Church of St. Louis and received the name of Philip, the apostle, and Rose of Lima, first saint of the new continent. She was educated at the Convent of the Visitation of Ste. Marie d'en Haut, then, drawn to the contemplative life, she became a novice there when she was 18 years old. 

At the time of the Revolution in France, the community was dispersed and Philippine returned to her family home, spending her time nursing prisoners and helping others who suffered. After the Concordat of 1801, she tried with some companions to reconstruct the monastery of Ste. Marie but without success. 

In 1804, Philippine learned of a new congregation, the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and offered herself and the monastery to the Foundress, Mother Madeleine Sophie Barat. Mother Barat visited Ste. Marie in 1804 and received Philippine and several companions as novices in the Society. 

Even as Philippine's desire deepened for the contemplative life, so too her call to the missions became more urgent - a call she had heard since her youth. In a letter she wrote to Mother Barat, she confided a spiritual experience she had had during a night of adoration before the Eucharist on Holy Thursday: "I spent the entire night in the new World ... carrying the Blessed Sacrament to all parts of the land ... I had all my sacrifices to offer: a mother, sisters, family, my mountain! When you say to me 'now I send you', I will respond quickly 'I go"'. She waited, however, another 12 years. 

In 1818 Philippine's dream was realized. She was sent to respond to the bishop of the Louisiana territory, who was looking for a congregation of educators to help him evangelize the Indian and French children of his diocese. At St. Charles, near St. Louis, Missouri, she founded the first house of the Society outside France. It was in a log cabin - and with it came all the austerities of frontier life: extreme cold, hard work, lack of funds. She also had difficulty learning English. Communication at best was slow; news often did not arrive from her beloved France. She struggled to remain closely united with the Society in France. 

Philippine and four other Religious of the Sacred Heart forged ahead. In 1818 she opened the first free school west of the Mississippi. By 1828 she had founded six houses. These schools were for the young women of Missouri and Louisiana. She loved and served them well, but always in her heart she yearned to serve the American Indians. When she was 72 and no longer superior, a school for the Potawatomi was opened at Sugar Creek, Kansas. Though many thought Philippine was too sick to go, the Jesuit head of the mission insisted: "She must come; 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". 

She was with the Potawatomi but a year; however, her pioneer courage did not weaken, and her long hours of contemplation impelled the Indians to name her, Quah-kah-ka-num-ad,
 "Woman-Who-Prays-Always". But Philippine's health could not sustain the regime of village life. In July 1842, she returned to St. Charles, although her heart never lost its desire for the missions: "I feel the same longing for the Rocky Mountain missions and any others like them, that I experienced in France when I first begged to come to America...". 

Philippine died at St. Charles, Missouri, November 18, 1852 at the age of 83.

 Central to the story of Saint Rose Phillipine Duchesne is a struggle between desiring the contemplative life and her desire to be a missionary, to bring Jesus to the world. She was greatly influenced by the writings and the lives of the Jesuits, many of whom were missionaries to far-off places. Let us read some excerpts from her letters, talking about her desire to be missionaries. These letters were written to Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, the founder of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
 My first enthusiasm for missionary’ life was roused by the

tales of a good Jesuit Father who had been on the missions in,

Louisiana and who told us stories about the Indians. I was

just eight or ten years old, but already I considered it a great

privilege to be a missionary. I envied their labors without

being frightened by the dangers to which they were exposed,

for I was at this time reading stories of the martyrs, in which

I was keenly interested. The same good Jesuit was extraordi-

nary confessor at the convent in which I became a pupil. I

‘went to confession to him several times, and I loved his sim-

ple, informal manner of speaking, a manner he had used with

the Indians.’ From that time the words “Propagation of the

Faith” and “Foreign Missions” and the names of priests des-

tined for them and of religious in far-away lands made my

heart thrill”
 ‘When I entered religious life at the age of eighteen and a half

‘years, a desire to share in the apostolate made me choose the

Visitation, where children were educated, in preference to

Carmel {a contemplative order}, which I loved very much,

My community was animated by the spirit of the Jesuits,

from whose Constitutions they boasted their own had been,

drawn, The library was enriched with nearly all the works of

Jesuit authors, because at the time of the suppression of the

order three of its members found a refuge in our chaplain’s house, and when they died they left their library to the convent. During two whole years of my novitiate I read only Rodriguez (a famous Jesuit writer), without ever tiring of it; and when we assembled after Vespers, I used to relate to my Sisters the lives of

nearly all the saints of the Company of Jesus [Jesuits]. That

of St, Francis Xavier appealed most strongly’ to me... . I

loved his touching appeals to the European schools to send

him missionaries. How often have I not said to him since

then, in my impatience, “great Saint, why do you not call,

me? I would respond at once.” He is the saint of my heart

Saint Rose Phillipine Duchesne is also well-known for her devotion to prayer, especially in the later years of her life. Let us read an excerpt of a homily from Father Lawrence Lew, a Dominican Friar, about Saint Rose Phillipine Duchesne’s devotion to prayer. We will read a section from the end of his homily:
 At last in 1841, aged 72, she was allowed to join the new Sugar Creek Mission in Kansas. The superior of the group insisted that she come along, saying: “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 favours on the work”. For indeed Rose Philippine had become herself a house of prayer, and it was her prayerfulness that ensured the success of the mission, of restoring souls in the Potowatomi tribe to friendship with Christ through grace. 

The tribe called her “Kwah-kah-kum-ad,” the ‘Woman Who Prays Always’, and they loved her as they saw her deep in prayer all night, for although she could not speak their language, she communicated through her love for them, a love flowing from closeness to Christ’s Sacred Heart. Thanks to her prayers and the teaching of the other missionaries, at least half of the tribe became Catholic, and St Rose Philippine wrote in one of her letters of the transformation that grace had in their lives. She said: “The Catholic Indians live in a village quite separate from the pagans… Among the Catholics there is no drunkenness, no dancing, no gambling. Every Sunday one sees at least a hundred at the Holy Table; at Christmas 400 received the sacraments. Since last July about 70 old people have been baptized, and they are all persevering. In the church the men and women sit on opposite sides and sing hymns in their own language. They do this also at night and they say the family rosary, each one carrying a pair of beads always…” Hence, we could say, a den of thieves became a house of prayer. 

Because of her health she only lived in the Potowatomi village for a year, but she remained deep in prayer, and one can still see in her surviving journal which is splashed with tears: “Thy will be done”. And this is what prayer does: it converts and transforms our hearts so that they beat in tandem with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, for we don’t pray so as to change God’s mind but in order that we may be changed and conformed to God. May St Rose Philippine pray for us, and for all who minister to the native American peoples of this land. 

 Saint Rose Phillipine Duchesne is celebrated on November 20 in the Roman Catholic church.
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   Let us end with a poem by Beverly Boyd, titled, “To Phillipine Duchense 
Beverly Boyd
To Philippine Duchesne

(Linn County, Kansas, 1841)

What were you doing here, old woman,

old woman from France,

out here among the Indians,

the Osage and the Potawatomi,

with their strange languages,

and their ghost dance?

This is a great spirit's country,

and neither theirs nor yours

willed here by other forces,

governments, agreements, treaties, wars.

Over the ocean and the Missouri,

and in a wooden cart

crossing the Kansas tallgrass

with only God in your heart:

what were you thinking of, old woman,

with your woman's lines and pains,

out here among the Indians

in the Kansas winds and rains?

I know you well, old woman;

I know what was in your heart

riding back east for St. Louis

the way you came here, in a cart,

and back down the Missouri River,
 you that had come so far;

nothing to show for the hardship,

the work of God your last star.

Now by the Mississippi buried,

old woman from sweet France,

the Indians here still recall you,

though some keep the old customs

and their ghost dance.

You are "The Woman Who Prays Always"

in the legend of their past;

there is a shrine no one visits

where the winds and land are vast.