'Woman Who Prays Always': Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne
November 18 is the feast of Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne, one of the two co-patrons (along with Saint Vincent de Paul) of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. What is particularly distinctive about Saint Rose Philippine's patronage of the archdiocese is the fact that she is historically linked with the St. Louis region, having lived and ministered in the territory of the archdiocese for many years, and being closely associated with such institutions as Old Saint Ferdinand Shrine in Florissant and the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles. Additionally, Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne Parish in Florissant and Duchesne High School in St. Charles are named for and under the patronage of the saint. The following profile of Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne is adapted from the Patron Saints Index website.
Born August 29, 1769, in Grenoble, France, to a wealthy and politically connected family, Rose Philippine Duchesne's father, Pierre Francois Duchesne, was a lawyer, businessman, and prominent civic leader in Grenoble, and her mother, Rose Perier, was a member of a leading family from the Dauphine region. From the age of eight, she had a desire to evangelize in the Americas, inspired by hearing a Jesuit missionary speak of his work there. She received a basic education at home from tutors, and religious education from her mother. Educated from age 12 at the convent of the Visitation nuns in Grenoble, she joined them in 1788, at age 19, without the permission or knowledge of her family. Initially they were strongly opposed to her choice, but finally were resigned to it.
Religious communities were outlawed during the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution, and her convent was closed in 1792. She spent the next ten years living as a laywoman again, but still managed to act like a good member of her order. She established a school for poor children, provided care for the sick, and hid priests from revolutionaries.
When the Terror ended, she reclaimed her convent and tried to reestablish it with a group of sisters she had maintained in Grenoble. However, most were long gone, and in 1804 the group was incorporated into the Society of the Sacred Heart under Saint Madeline Sophie Barat. They then reopened the convent of Sainte-Marie-d'en-Haut as the second house of Sacred Heart nuns. Rose became a postulant in December 1804 and made her final vows in 1805.
In 1815 Mother Duschene was assigned to found a Sacred Heart convent in Paris. On March 14, 1818, at the age of 49, she and four sisters were sent as missionaries to the Louisiana Territory to establish the Society's presence in America. Diseases contracted during the trip to America nearly killed her, and after she recovered in New Orleans, the trip up the Mississippi River almost proved fatal as well.
She established her first mission at St. Charles, Missouri, a log cabin that was the first free school west of the Mississippi River. She eventually founded six other houses in America, which included schools and orphanages. She encountered some opposition, as her teaching methods were based on French models, and her English was very poor; her students, however, received a good education, and her intentions were obviously for their best.
She was ever concerned about the plight of Native Americans, and much of her work was devoted to educating them, caring for their sick, and combating alcohol abuse. Finally able to retire from her administrative duties, Mother Duchesne evangelized the Potawatomi nation and in the Rocky Mountains at the age of 71, and taught young girls of the nation. This work, however, lasted but a year as she was unable to master the Potawatomi language. Still, during that time, she strove to teach by example, spending many long hours in prayer, sometimes entire nights. For this, she was known to the Potawatomi as "Woman-Who-Prays-Always."
Mother Duchesne spent her last ten years in retirement in a tiny shack at the convent in St. Charles, where she lived austerely and in constant prayer. She died on November 18, 1852, at the age of 83. Following her death, she was interred on the grounds of the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles.
Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne was declared venerable by the Church in 1900 and was beatified by Pope Pius XII on May 12, 1940. She was canonized by Pope John Paul II on July 3, 1988. Her remains are today housed in a shrine, constructed in 1951 and named for her, at the Academy of the Sacred Heart.