Rose Philippine Duchesne was born August 29, 1769 in Grenoble, an ancient city, France’s beautiful archway to the Alps. One of eight children in a family of privilege, she was strong-willed, impetuous and generous. Educated by the Visitation nuns at Ste Marie d’en Haut monastery, she was drawn to their life of contemplation. She entered the congregation when she was 18, against the wishes of her family.
The French Revolution soon forced the nuns to leave the monastery, and Philippine returned to her family. For eleven years, she risked her freedom and life by nursing prisoners, bringing priests to the faithful and teaching and feeding poor children. At the close of the war, she gained title to Ste Marie d’en Haut and opened a boarding school. Only a few other nuns returned, and they did not stay long. In December 1804, she met Madeleine Sophie Barat, who in 1800 had founded the Society of the Sacred Heart. Philippine immediately turned over Ste Marie d’en Haut and entered the Society.
A deep friendship formed between these two remarkable women of such different temperaments. For twelve years, the patient wisdom of Sophie molded the ardent, steadfast Philippine into a religious called to glorify the Heart of Jesus. Philippine, whose greatest joy was to spend whole nights in prayer, soon felt a call to serve as a missionary. Many times, Philippine shared with Sophie her dream of bringing the Gospel to the native peoples in America, but her skills were needed at home, first in the school at Ste Marie, later as the Society’s secretary general.