Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"A Great Fear of Spoiling Things"-Sister Rose

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne:

Philippine was the daughter of a prominent French lawyer and was educated by the Visitation nuns, whom she later joined. During the French Revolution the Order was dispersed and for some years she served the sick and the poor as well as fugitive priests.

In 1804 she joined the Religious of the Sacred Heart, founded by St. Madeline Sophie Barat. When Bishop Dubourg of New Orleans asked for nuns for his young American diocese, Philippine begged for permission to go with him. She was forty-nine years old when she arrived at St. Louis, Missouri, with four companions, and established the first convent of the Society at St. Charles.

Cold, hunger, illness, poverty, and opposition were the lot of the young community, but the indomitable courage of the holy foundress overcame all obstacles. She opened a school for Indians and whites at Florissant, the first free school west of the Mississippi. She established houses at various places which were the beginnings of noted schools and colleges conducted today by the Society. Her one ambition, however, was to work among the Indians. She was seventy-one years old when she obtained the coveted permission from Mother Barat, who wrote: "Don't try to stop her; it was for the Indians that she went to America."

With three companions she traveled by boat and oxcart to Sugar Creek, Kansas, to labor there among the Potawatomi's. Their convent was a wigwam, they slept on the bare ground, and the food was coarse. They opened a school for Indian girls and taught them sewing, weaving, and other household arts. Philippine thought herself a failure because she could not master English, much less the Indian language, but her holiness made a deep impression on the Indians who called her "the woman who always prays," because she spent so much time in the chapel. A priest said of her: "The Indians used her kindness as one uses water — without thinking of it, for they were sure of finding it always fresh and pure."

The severe winters and the lack of proper food sapped her health and she was sent back to St. Charles. Here she spent the last decade of her life, praying "for her Indians" and for the Society which she had established and which was growing rapidly. She died at St. Charles, thinking herself a failure, yet she was the first missionary nun among the Indians, blazing the trail for a host of valiant women who were to follow her.

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