Feast Day: November 18
Born in Grenoble, France, of a family that was among the new rich, Philippine learned political skills from her father and a love of the poor from her mother. The dominant feature of her temperament was a strong and dauntless will, which became the material—and the battlefield—of her holiness. When her parents refused to allow Philippine to enter a convent, she simply went there on her own and refused to leave. They let her stay until the French Revolution’s religious suppression forced her return home to Grenoble, where she began taking care of the poor and sick, opened a school for street urchins, and risked her life helping priests in the underground.
When calm returned, Philippine spent three years trying to revive her former convent before recognizing that she could not recapture the past. Soon after, a young superior, (Saint Madeleine) Sophie Barat, foundress of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and who would end up being Philippine’s lifelong friend, agreed to receive her and four companions as novices. Though Philippine was elected secretary general of the society, she begged to be sent to a mission in America.
In 1818, Philippine was sent to the Louisiana Territory. She and her Sisters settled at St. Charles on the Missouri River. They chopped their own firewood, cleaned their stables, milked their own cows, and grew their own vegetables. Though she was as hardy as any of the pioneer women in the wagons rolling west, cold and hunger drove them out—to Florissant, Missouri, where she founded a novitiate for her order and the first Catholic Native American school and others in the territory.
Finally, at seventy-two, in poor health and retired, she got her lifelong wish, which was to work as a missionary among the Native Americans. A mission was founded at Sugar Creek, Kansas, among the Potawatomi. She was taken along. Though she could not learn their language, they soon named her “Woman-Who-Prays-Always.” While others taught, she prayed. She opened a school for Potawatomi girls and worked as a nurse at the mission infirmary.
Her health failing, Philippine returned to St. Charles after her superiors recalled her. However, she never lost her love for them and wrote: “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.”
“We cultivate a very small field for Christ, but we love it, knowing that God does not require great achievements but a heart that holds back nothing for self… The truest crosses are those we do not choose ourselves… He who has Jesus has everything.”
“I never have the least doubt as to the will of God and his watchful care for the extension of his work in this country. My consolations exceed my trials… my prayer is one continuous thanksgiving for the knowledge of that much-desired will of God.”
Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne, pray for us!
Craughwell, Thomas J. “Saints Preserved-An Encyclopedia of Relics.” New York, NY: Image Books, 2011.
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day.” Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2009.
Gallick, Sarah. “The Big Book of Women Saints.” New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.