Bishop Louis W.V. DuBourg and St. Rose Philippine Duchesne were key builders for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
they always didn’t see eye-to-eye. In fact, St. Philippine Duchesne
lamented in a letter dated September 1823 that the visionary DuBourg
“sees everything through rose-colored glasses,” which is among the
earliest written usages of the phrase to describe optimism when a
situation calls for skepticism or doubt.
Still, they persevered.
Thanks to them, the archdiocese is celebrating 200 years of Catholic
education, and thanks to the Archdiocesan Archives, their influence is
celebrated in a new exhibit in the Rosati Museum at the Cardinal Rigali
Center in Shrewsbury.
Archivists Eric Fair, Rena Schergen and Eric
Holt developed the exhibit, “1818: A Year Of Beginnings.” Schergen
studied Bishop DuBourg, Holt researched St. Philippine Duchesne and Fair
covered the past 200 years, highlighted by Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter’s
integration of Catholic schools.
Here’s a brief look at each section through the eyes of the archivists:
with Bishop DuBourg’s background entering the project, Schergen
discovered a “very idealistic man,” who made his mark after the French
Revolution, traveled back and forth across the pond and played a role in
a number of schools in the New World — St. Mary’s College in Baltimore,
Georgetown College in Washington, D.C., Mount St. Mary in Emittsburg,
Md., St. Mary of the Barrens Seminary in Perryville, the Academy of the
Sacred Heart in St. Charles and St. Louis Academy. He also had a brief
stint in Cuba.
“He was just all over the place,” Schergen said,
with a laugh. “He ends up in New Orleans as administrator (of the
Louisiana/Florida Diocese), but there’s a corrupt priest at the
cathedral, who is turning everyone against him, and DuBourg is forced to
live with Ursuline Sisters.”
Then, on a trip to France, DuBourg
recruited Vincentian Fathers Felix DeAndreis and Joseph Rosati, the
Society of the Sacred Heart and St. Philippine Duchesne; and Pope Pius
VII appointed him bishop of Louisiana/Floridas. Returning to New Orleans
was a non-starter, so he picked St. Louis as his See city, arrived in
January 1818, and the fledgling river town would never be the same.
A New Role
Philippine Duchesne followed about eight months later; she thought she
would teach Native American children, but Bishop DuBourg changed her
“The moment she got here she was told, ‘You’re going to
build a new school in the coming center of the world — St. Charles,’”
Holt said. “DuBourg literally thought that St. Charles was going to
become like New York City of Midwest America. All of the trade in the
world is going to come through St. Charles.”
relationship was strained at times, but she did as instructed and
started the school in St. Charles. It closed a year later, but DuBourg
insisted that she start another school in Florissant. Money was tight,
exacerbating the difficulty of pioneer living.
“In many of her
letters back to her superior (in France), she said, ‘If you’re going to
send people to us, make sure to let them know this is a real hard place
to live,’” Holt said.
Voice For Change
education was on its way in St. Louis. By the mid-20th century, the
“Rome of the West” was teaming with Catholics, but the sin of racism was
apparent in St. Louis Catholic schools. White students and black
students were educated separately … until then-Archbishop Joseph E.
Ritter arrived and desegregated the schools in 1947.
through his correspondence and administrative documents, you can see his
drive and determination to end segregation,” said Fair, the archives’
director. “He already had integrated schools in Indianapolis. The
language he used to talk about it: ‘This is within Catholic teaching.’”
And it’s embodied in the Catholic education set in motion 200 years ago by Bishop DuBourg and St. Philippine Duchesne.