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Philippine's prayer, persistence and passion

Mission to America by Patricia Reid, RSCJ

When Father Varin and others urged Madeleine Sophie to go to Ste. Marie d’en Haut, did they call her “impetuous”? Certainly she was passionate! The stories are told of Philippine Duchesne kneeling in the doorway to welcome Sophie to Ste. Marie the first time, quoting the prophet: “How lovely on the mountain are the feet of those who bring the gospel of peace!” And then, years later, again flinging herself down on the floor at Sophie’s feet in Paris, to beg her to change the decision to put off Bishop DuBourg and his plea for nuns to come to Louisiana: “Your consent, Mother! Give your consent.”

What happened to that passion, the “impetuosity” when she was “stuck,” first in Bordeaux, then after the long voyage, again in New Orleans, waiting for word from Bishop DuBourg to proceed to St. Louis? How did she contain herself when she and her companions were put out in the log cabin in St. Charles with very little money and very few pupils, to start a school there instead of St. Louis? She prayed, certainly, but I am still amazed that she managed to wait, to move to Florissant, then back to St. Charles, etc. Waiting became more and more her normal ‘state’!

As years passed, attempts to introduce Indian girls into the boarding school or to find other means for going closer to the native peoples she sought, failed every time. Ideas for following them to the reservations were rejected. Other needs were considered more important priorities.

And Philippine waited – patiently or not – she could only wait and pray. Somehow she accepted the seemingly endless delays, yet never lost sight of her heart’s desire, her longing to fulfill her vow to go to bring the love of the Heart of Jesus to the Indians.  

And then, when she was too old and too sick to be “useful,” she finally got to the Potawatomi at Sugar Creek, though only at the insistence of Fr. Peter Verhaegen, S.J. She had a great influence on those she met and those she prayed for at Sugar Creek, but with the push for the Indians to be moved farther west, she knew she could no longer be what she considered a burden on the community. So she went back to St. Charles, expecting to die. And then death was ten years in coming!

Through all of this, Philippine never seemed to realize what her very presence spoke to people about God, about the love of the Heart of Jesus, about prayer. Perhaps by the time she returned to St. Charles the impetuosity was quenched, but the passion was still there. And Anna du Rousier, another passionate person, arrived at St. Charles just in time to give Philippine Sophie’s final blessing, and to receive from Philippine the fire to carry her to Chile, secure in God’s Will. 

Constance Dryden, RSCJ