Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 8, 2004
The house where charity dwells
Missionary priest's stories inspired this French sister to travel to the New World
St. Rose Duchesne - - November 17
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
St. Charles, Mo.
It's a serene place, a chapel with a small alcove reserved for the tomb of St. Rose Phillipine Duchesne. Its simplicity fits the image of the woman who, since her canonization by Pope John Paul on July 3, 1988, has gained great popularity in her adopted New World.
She followed in the footsteps of many women religious who left their French homeland forever to spend a life in the service of God.
Born in Grenoble in 1769, Rose early on revelled in stories of far off Louisiana by a retired missionary priest. So with a desire to dedicate her life to missionary work in the remote corners of the world, she was admitted to the Order of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1804, founded just four years earlier by St. Madeleine Barat.
Send me overseas
From then on, at Grenoble and later at Paris, Rose continually pressured her superior and closest confidant to fulfill her desire to be sent overseas. Finally, after a visit from Louisiana Bishop William Duborg, Mother Rose, at the head of group of five sisters, brought the order to the New World in 1818.
After a painful Atlantic crossing, the party travelled up the Mississippi River to an area that the saint would call home for the rest of her days in what is now the state of Missouri.
Once there, she opened a free school at St. Charles in 1818 and a year later, built the Sacred Heart convent at the town of Florissant, where another school was begun and from where she established three more communities.
Her St. Charles convent, the "house where charity dwells," was constructed in 1835. Over the years, she was obliged to be chief administrator and perform all the mundane chores of her establishment - gardening, travelling over primitive routes and fencing with authority - both church and civil.
Finally, continually frustrated in her desire to work with the native people, 72-year-old Mother Rose was authorized to accompany a group that was returning to a mission at Sugar Creek, Kan. Welcomed there by the Potawatomi residents, but with fading eyesight and unable to converse with her hosts, she felt herself isolated, earning the sobriquet "woman who prays always."
Then her stay was cut short by illness and her twilight years were spent at her St. Charles convent.
A soldier of Christ
The chapel that contains the saint's tomb is situated in a corner of the attractively landscaped grounds of the Sacred Heart Academy not far from her old 1835 convent. Above the chapel door is inscribed appropriately "I am a soldier of Christ."
The buildings interior is modern, recently renovated and includes art work depicting the life of Mother Rose and a crucifix from the old Grenoble convent. A recess contains her plain, undecorated stone sarcophagus.
Other artifacts relating to St. Rose, including the tiny cell where she spent her last days, can be viewed in a museum area of the old convent.
Other places that are associated with the saint include nearby St. Charles Borromeo Church and her convent in Florissant, which can be toured.
St. Phillipine is an example worth emulating of the result of following God's direction rather than one's own. Her determination and desire to minister to the indigenous people of the Rocky Mountains was thwarted, but with the result that she left an enviable record for persistence and unswerving devotion to her vocation in the St. Charles area and ultimately merited formal recognition as one of God's special people - St. Rose Phillipine Duchesne.
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