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The Missioning of Philippine

Theresa Moser, RSCJ, submitted the following excerpt from Constance Solari’s novel about St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, Sophie’s Fire: The Story of St. Madeleine Sophie Barat (Constance Solari: 2012), pp. 183-84.

In the wake of its second general council, the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus blossoms like a rose and Philippine Duchesne takes her first steps into missionary glory.

Invited to the Council as an official representative from Grenoble, Philippine is elected as the Society’s first Secretary General. Shortly after assuming this exalted position, she can be found driving nails, glazing windows, and laying bricks at the new Mother House in the Faubourg Sainte-Geneviève.  It is there that she meets Louis DuBourg, Bishop of Louisiana and Seeker of Missionaries, whom she recognizes as her angel of deliverance. When, in Sophie’s presence, she throws herself quite literally at the good father’s feet, Sophie knows she is vanquished.

Within eight months, Philippine is traveling south to Bordeaux with several companions…. When the women reach Bordeaux, they must wait for the wind to rise. The day before the vernal equinox of 1818, they board a two-masted schooner called the Rebecca.

The ship moves slowly down the Garonne and two days later opens sail on the Atlantic Ocean. Over seventy days of violent storms, seasickness, slowly rotting food, and general wretchedness will pass before they drop anchor in New Orleans. There the women take temporary shelter with the Ursuline sisters. When Philippine recovers from the miseries of scurvy, the intrepid team of five begins a forty-day trip up the river to St. Louis, passing plantations, cotton fields, and scenes of a world none of them could have imagined.When they arrive, they are greeted by a frontier town boasting four streets and a bustling fur trade.

It will be another twenty-three years before Philippine fulfills her dream of working with the native people of North America. She will be seventy-one years old.

For more information about Sophie's Fire, visit Connie Solari's website.