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St. Rose Philippine Duchesne

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne by Julie Lonneman

Artwork Narrative:

Rose Philippine Duchesne was born in 1769 in Grenoble, France. Against her parents’ wishes, she entered the convent at age 19. During the French Revolution, the convent closed, so she cared for the poor and sick. After the war, she joined the Society of the Sacred Heart.

In 1818, at age 49, she traveled to America. She landed in New Orleans, where the bishop sent her up the Mississippi River to St. Louis and the nearby colony of St. Charles, Missouri. There she founded a school for girls. Then she founded the first Catholic school for Native Americans in Florissant, Missouri. She created several schools and houses for her nuns in the United States.

She was 72 when a mission was founded at Sugar Creek, Kansas, with Native Americans. Since she never was able to learn the language, she spent her days in prayer. She became known as “Woman-Who-Prays-Always.” She died in 1852 at age 83.

Her feast day is November 18.

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Born in Grenoble, France, of a family that was among the new rich, Rose 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. She entered the Visitation of Mary convent at 19 and remained despite family opposition. As the French Revolution broke, the convent was closed, and she began taking care of the poor and sick, opened a school for homeless children, and risked her life helping priests in the underground.

Rose personally rented the former convent and tried to revive its religious life. The spirit was gone, however, and soon there were only four nuns left. They joined the infant Society of the Sacred Heart, whose young superior, Mother Madeleine Sophie Barat, would be her lifelong friend.

In a short time, Rose was a superior and supervisor of the novitiate and a school. But since hearing tales of missionary work in Louisiana as a little girl, her ambition was to go to America and work among the Indians. At 49, she thought this would be her work. With four nuns, she spent 11 weeks at sea in route to New Orleans, and seven weeks more on the Mississippi to St. Louis. She then met one of the many disappointments of her life. The bishop had no place for them to live and work among Native Americans. Instead, he sent her to what she sadly called “the remotest village in the U.S.,” St. Charles, Missouri. With characteristic drive and courage, she founded the first free school for girls west of the Mississippi.

Though Rose 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 the first Catholic Indian school, adding others in the territory.

Finally at age 72, retired and in poor health, Rose got her lifelong wish. A mission was founded at Sugar Creek, Kansas, among the Potawatomi and she was taken along. Though she could not learn their language, they soon named her “Woman-Who-Prays-Always.” While others taught, she prayed. Legend has it that Native American children sneaked behind her as she knelt and sprinkled bits of paper on her habit and came back hours later to find them undisturbed. Rose Duchesne died in 1852, at the age of 83, and was canonized in 1988.