Drawn to a life of religious service, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne led a mission of five nuns to St. Louis in 1818, settling in the frontier town of St. Charles, where she established the Academy of the Sacred Heart, the first free school west of the Mississippi.
Even though the Religious of the Sacred Heart came to St. Louis at the invitation of Bishop Louis William DuBourg, the community was given notice that it would be on its own to support themselves. St. Philippine Duchesne later helped open convents, schools and orphanages in Florissant and St. Louis.
In Florissant at the Old St. Ferdinand Shrine, St. Philippine Duchesne was reported to have made a makeshift bedroom in a closet under the stairs in the hallway of the convent. It’s been said that she slept on a straw mattress with a ragged blanket in the closet to be close to the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel.
In 1841 at the age of 72, St. Philippine Duchesne moved to Sugar Creek, Kansas, to help establish a school for the Potawatomi tribe. Her frail health only allowed her to be there for one year. She also did not know their language, but her prayer transcended that barrier. Witnessing her in long periods of prayer, the Potawatomi bestowed her with a native name Quahkahkanumad, meaning “the woman who always prays.”
According to the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, a legend was born from her devotion to praying to God. As the story goes, the Potawatomi scattered kernels of corn on her robe when she prayed to see if she moved. According to the story, she amazed the Potawatomi by remaining motionless as she prayed through the night.
After her year in Sugar Creek, St. Philippine Duchesne returned to St. Charles, her original foundation, where she remained devoted to her prayer life. She died at the age of 83 on Nov. 18, 1852, having spent 34 years in America. She was canonized in 1988.
Her prayer life and the sacrifices she made in coming to the United States should serve as an inspiration for all of us.
Gracious God, you filled the heart of Philippine Duchesne with charity and missionary zeal and gave her the desire to make you known among all peoples. Fill us, who honor her memory today, with that same love and zeal to extend your kingdom to the ends of the earth.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever.
Source: Society of the Sacred Heart