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Philippine Duchesne

Excerpt from House on the Hill, by Mary Schaller '61

In 1818, the Society of the Sacred Heart arrived on the shores of North America in the person of Mother Rose Philippine Duchesne. She was born on August 29, 1769 in Grenoble, France. From an early age, Philippine had a calling to dedicate herself to doing God’s will by teaching children. When she turned eighteen, she became a novice at the Convent of the Visitation, where she had received her own education.

At the outset of the French Revolution, the Visitation nuns dispersed for their own protection. Philippine returned to Grenoble where she helped to nurse prisoners. Following the Concorde of 1801, Philippine tried to reconnect with the other nuns of her Order, but she was unsuccessful. In 1804, she learned of the Society of the Sacred Heart and she offered herself to Mother Madeleine Sophie Barat, who gladly accepted the new postulant.

More than anything else, Mother Philippine wanted to do missionary work in the New World. In 1818, Mother Barat received a plea from the bishop of St. Louis, Missouri. He asked for teachers for the children of the French settlers as well as for the Native Americans. Mother Barat sent Mother Duchesne.

Philippine arrived at St. Charles, Missouri, “the remotest village in the U. S.,” where she founded the Society’s first convent outside of France. The motherhouse was a simple log cabin. In 1820, Mother Duchesne finally had enough fellow teachers to open a school. It was the first free school west of the Mississippi River. This first school was so successful that Mother Duchesne founded six more convent schools by 1828.

At the venerable age of seventy-two, Philippine finally realized her dream of teaching the Native American children when she opened a school for the Potawatomi Indians at Sugar Creek, Kansas. Her long hours of prayer and meditation so impressed the Indians that they called her Quah-kah-ka-num-ad, “Woman Who Prays Always.”

Mother Duchesne lived among the Pottawatomie for over a year before her health declined. In 1842, she returned to her motherhouse at St. Charles. She died there on November 18, 1852, at the age of eighty-three.

For her saintly life as well as for her courage as an American pioneer woman missionary, Pope Paul VI canonized Mother Rose Philippine Duchesne in Rome on July 3, 1988. Her Feast Day is celebrated in all Sacred Heart schools on November 18th.

Philippine Duchesne Mass

Feast of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, November 2019