St. Rose Philippine Duchesne’s life before moving to the United States tested her strength in her faith. Growing up in Grenoble, France, Duchesne experienced life changing events: contracting smallpox, which caused scarring to her face, and the death of her older sister when Duchesne was only nine years old. As well as these unfortunate events, Duchesne’s family repeatedly prevented her from chasing her dream of entering the Visitation convent of Sainte Marie d’En-Haut. Upon learning of her interest in the church, her father withdrew her from the boarding school at the convent, but Duchesne would not give up on her faith and dedication to the church. Upon turning 18, Duchesne convinced one of her aunts to let her visit the nuns at the convent and refused to leave when she arrived. Due to the Reign of Terror, the Visitation community was disbanded, and it became Duchesne’s goal to recreate the Visitation community after the Reign of Terror ended. However, Duchesne let go of that dream and lost her religion for a short period of time. Her dedication to religion prevailed once more as she received money for the recreation of Sainte Marie. Around this time is when Duchesne decided to reach for an even higher goal of creating an educational establishment in the Americas.
Duchesne realized her childhood dream of teaching people of her faith could come true in the Americas by working with Native Americans. St. Rose Philippine Duchesne and five other nuns traveled across the Atlantic ocean to New Orleans for seventy days. After her long and hard journey to America, Duchesne sailed up the Mississippi river to St. Louis, but she did not stay there long because Bishop DuBourg asked her to open her convent and school for young girls in St. Charles in the year 1818. The school Duchesne opened was racked with hardship and had to be closed not even a year later in 1819.
The Sacred Heart nuns then moved to Florissant, Missouri, and tried opening up another school in hopes of raise enrollment. In 1828 almost ten years later Mother Duchesne’s fellow Sacred Heart nuns traveled back to St. Charles to reopen their originally school on request from Bishop DuBourg. Once the school in St.Charles was succeeding Duchesne traveled to Kansas to fulfill her dream of helping Native Americans. Duchesne worked alongside Potawatomi for a year during the infamously known Trail of Tears. One of the hardest struggles Duchesne had to face in her work was the struggle to communicate with the natives. Mother Duchesne found it difficult to learn the language but it is said that she taught the natives about God and Christianity through her kind acts of love and devotion. The Potawatomi tribe gave Duchesne the nickname “Quakahkanumad” which translates to “the woman who prays always” because of her constant devotion to God. Mother Duchesne returned to the St.Charles school in 1837 due to her decline in heath. On November 18, 1852, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne passed away at the age of 83. Her funeral had to be held off the ground of the school because the large procession of people who came to say goodbye to their beloved teacher and mentor.
St. Rose Philippine Duchesne’s effect on the great St. Louis area has been tremendous. Within the St. Louis region, she opened schools, taught children how to read, and spread the word of God. More than 150 years after her death, Duchesne’s influence on St. Louis Catholicism remains palpable. In St. Louis a very popular question is where you went to high school and part of the reasoning for that is because of the numerous private schools in the area. Many private schools throughout the metro, ranging from elementary to high schools, have dedicated their name to her and her mission, including: The Academy of the Sacred Heart, Duchesne High School, Villa Duchesne, Sacred Heart, and St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Elementary Grade School. Without her influence, it is possible that many regions of St. Louis would not have be exposed to Catholicism. In St.Charles she opened up the school The Academy of the Sacred Heart to teach young girls about Catholicism. She opened this school so the children of this area had a free school to attend. If she did not venture out there in the early 1800s, St. Charles may not have the strong Catholic roots that is has today.
Duchesne’s influence on Catholic teaching was so strong that the city of St. Louis honored her by inducting her into St. Louis’ Walk of Fame, alongside other such St. Louis notables as Maya Angelou, Kate Chopin, and Charles Lindbergh. She is the first Saint to be given that honor in St. Louis. The Archdiocese of St. Louis, which has been called “the Rome of the west” because it's one of the largest archdiocese in the nation, has made Duchesne their patron Saint.
Our group decided the week of Thanksgiving to visit St. Rose Philippine Duchesne’s shrine in St. Charles, Missouri, thirty minutes west of St. Louis. During this visit one of the first things we observed was an older family that walked in with us. Because we wanted to observe the people and the shrine, we let the family go up to the shrine first. They were there for roughly twenty minutes walking around the shrine and sharing memories. From what we could hear them say, it seems like this was a family tradition held every year around Thanksgiving time. When they were walking in they were talking, to what seemed to be other family members, on the phone discussing about their annual trip. They finished their discussions and walked into the shrine silently. They also were all carrying rosaries and a few bibles with them. For those twenty minutes in the shrine the family was reverently silent, all saying their own prayers. When the first few family members were done with their prayers they proceeded to walk around observing the art work until the rest of the family members were done.
The overall feeling of the shrine was that it was a very holy place, especially for those who live in the area. While inside all that could be heard was the soft tone of others reading excerpts, or complete silence. Most everyone in the shrine seemed to be in their own trance, wrapped in silence and their own thoughts.
Researched and written by Anna Breneman, Katie Grass, and Miranda Wilson
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