Isabelle Bertolini, an art teacher from France, knelt as she separated toothbrushes for “Blessing Bags” of hygiene and related items. The bags were delivered to St. Nicholas Parish in Downtown St. Louis where they’re being distributed to people who are homeless.
Bertolini was joined Sept. 15 by 10 students and three adults from Sacred Heart schools in France and about 200 Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School students, parents, faculty, staff and alumni in volunteering on the school campus in Frontenac — part of a Global Service Day at 147 Sacred Heart schools in 33 countries. The delegation of 45 people from France split up among service sites at Villa Duchesne/Oak Hill, where volunteers also led a blood drive and cleared the campus grounds; the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles, where volunteers held a pancake breakfast and made sandwiches for people in need; at the Missouri River for the Great Rivers Clean-Up; at the St. Louis Area Food Bank; and at All Among Us, helping to renovate a women’s shelter.
The service day marked the 200th anniversary of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne opening the first Sacred Heart School in North America. Bertolini and the delegation from France, who are following the saint’s footsteps as she arrived in and ministered in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, were eager to discuss the heritage of St. Rose Philippine. The saint founded the Academy of the Sacred Heart, the first free school west of the Mississippi River. She is buried at the academy in St. Charles, where visitors from around the world pay tribute to her pioneering spirit.
Michael F. Baber, head of school at Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School, listened while volunteers were greeted with shouts of “Good morning, bonjour.” He called the day “a great celebration of Sacred Heart education. For 200 years we’ve been serving our brothers and sisters in all different communities. The most fitting gift we can give to the Church is to highlight the value of service.”
The visitors from France “represent who we are as an international community,” Baber said. The founder of the Society of the Sacred Heart, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, provided a gift to North America by sending St. Rose Philippine and her four companions to St. Louis as missionaries from France, he added. “We share that gift generously with all our neighbors day in and day out. Service is our mandate, and it’s our joy.”
Kelly Johnson, mother of two students at Villa Duchesne, said being part of the global event “teaches our children the values of loving one another and giving back, which Jesus taught us to do. It’s the main philosophy in our home, too.”
Her daughter Caroline Johnson was busy helping assemble almost 300 “blessing bags” of items along with 20 grocery bags of leftover supplies. Caroline said the day focused on “one common goal — helping people in need.” A sophomore, Caroline enjoyed meeting the French students and learning about their culture, she said. “They’re kind, and they helped me in class,” she said.
Caroline’s sister, Katherine, a junior, helped check in people who donated blood, with 36 units of blood collected, including from four first-time donors. “To be a part of the Sacred Heart school system is amazing to me because it’s a community of people who love to help other people,” she said.
Katherine said she appreciated meeting the French visitors and learning “how they live out their values just as we live out our values.”
>>Visitors from France
On Sept. 12, a delegation of 45 students, faculty and staff who represent six of the seven Sacred Heart schools in France arrived in St. Louis to participate in the Sacred Heart Global Service Day and explore where St. Rose Philippine Duchesne lived and worked.
The group spent several days immersed in the life of St. Rose Philippine with a two-day trip to Sugar Creek, Kan., and Mound City, Kan., a trip to St. Rose Philippine’s Shrine in St. Charles, and a day trip to Old St. Ferdinand Shrine in Florissant.
The group also visited both Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School in Frontenac and the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles. On Sept. 14, the group attended and received special recognition at the 200th anniversary Mass at the Academy. On Sept. 16 they attended Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, saw the St. Rose Philippine mosaic by Sacred Heart alumna Hildreth Meiere and visited the new St. Rose Philippine statue in the Jubilee Prayer Garden.
On Global Service Day, the group joined in service projects in the St. Louis and St. Charles area. Their stay also included some local sightseeing.
Maelle Clement, one of the students from France, said she enjoyed seeing the differences between the schools in France and the U.S., the students’ activities outside school, the food and the landscape, with big cars and streets. The student-teacher relationships are different, with the U.S. approach more as friends and less strict, she said. Faith and symbols of faith are more present in the U.S., she added.
An art teacher from France, Isabelle Bertolini, said the visitors felt welcome, greeted with smiles and offers to help. “Americans are friendly,” she said. She enjoyed attending Mass, with everything the same except the language.
Paige Schneider, a junior at Villa Duchesne, said she appreciated meeting the French delegation, impressed that they knew American songs and pleased that they joined in dancing and having a good time during their visit.
>> 200th anniversary
Students, faculty, parents, alumni, Religious of the Sacred Heart and friends gathered at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles Sept. 14 to celebrate Mass in honor of the school’s 200th anniversary.
They honored St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, a pioneer missionary of the Society of the Sacred Heart, who came to St. Charles from France. Drawn to a life of religious service, St. Philippine established the Academy of the Sacred Heart, the first free school west of the Mississippi. She later opened convents, schools and orphanages in Florissant and St. Louis. At the age of 72, she moved to Kansas to help establish a school for the Potawatomi tribe, who called her the “Woman Who Prays Always.”
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson celebrated a Mass in the gym. Afterward, a birthday celebration included cake for all students and guests.
On Sept. 7, more than 1,500 people from St. Louis area schools and Sacred Heart affiliations gathered at Duchesne High School in St. Charles to celebrate the 200th anniversary of St. Rose Philippine’s arrival in St. Charles.
The morning featured period demonstrations performed by students from Academy of the Sacred Heart, information and a display from a local Potawatomi. The morning culminated with a short play, performed by Duchesne High School and Academy of the Sacred Heart students, re-enacting St. Rose Philippine’s journey and arrival in St. Charles.