The school year of 1818-19 was the first year St. Rose Philippine Duchesne spent on American soil, opening oneschool in St. Charles and another in Florissant. Her missionary accomplishments were rooted, first and foremost, in the grace she received from the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the love she had for Him. But they were also supported by deep human friendships, most especially her friendship with St. Madeleine Sophie Barat.
Rose Philippine entered the Visitation convent in Grenoble, France, at the age of 18. When the convent was closed by the French Revolution, she returned to her family. She spent 11 years living the rule of the Visitation life in the secular world, and organizing women in works of charity. When circumstances made it possible, Rose Philippine tried to re-open the convent in 1801. She spent a great deal of time, energy and her own money on the project, but it just didn’t work. For three years, she met obstacle after obstacle, both material and psychological, both personal and communal.
In 1804, Madeleine Sophie came to the convent with a proposal that the members join a new order — what would become the Religious of the Sacred Heart. Where Rose Philippine had failed, Madeleine Sophie succeeded, giving direction and momentum to the community. The two became fast friends.
Subsequently Rose Philippine was able to give tremendous practical and spiritual support to Madeleine Sophie during the early years of the order. She was tireless in taking on tasks and roles in the community, and helped Madeleine Sophie with the community’s Rule and Constitution.
After thirteen years together, Madeleine Sophie fulfilled a lifelong desire of Rose Philippine’s, giving her permission to go to the missions in America. Rose Philippine and a small band of sisters left France for the six-month journey to St. Louis.
Naturally, many letters were written back and forth. But it took three to six months (in one case 13 months!) for a letter to get from one person to another. Communication was too slow to allow consultation on major decisions. But the bonds of affection between them deepened, despite the separation in space and time.
Madeleine Sophie would be superior of the community from 1806-65, during which time the Religious of the Sacred Heart would set up foundations in 13 countries in addition to France. Rose Philippine became the foundress of the Religious of the Sacred Heart and their network of schools (now numbering 22) in America. Both were named saints — Madeleine Sophie in 1925, Rose Philippine in 1988.
What do we learn from these two saints? That friendships rooted in Jesus can sustain our hearts for great deeds even when space and time separate us from each other. In Jesus, space and time are overcome. This is not only a remarkable fact, it is also a foretaste of the resurrection.
Two hundred years later, as the end of the 2018-19 school year draws near, it seems fitting to reflect on the friendship between Rose Philippine and Madeleine Sophie. It points us — as they always did and continue to do — toward the heart of Christ.
St. Rose Philippine Duchesne and St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, Pray for us!