Rose Philippine Duchesne was beatified in 1940. Four years later, at age thirteen, I began high school as a weekly boarder at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles, Missouri. The school was first opened by Philippine in 1818. Each night, I was one of the students who went to close up the shrine where Philippine was buried. Sometimes we would be wrapped up in the nuns’ black shawls to go out and say goodnight to our “Mother Duchesne.” I think I learned to pray as we knelt around the marble tomb with only the flickering light from the amber and green vigil lights that decorated it. For me, Mother Duchesne was a real mother: tender, loving, interested in all that I did each day and ready to help me. Those nightly conversations began a real friendship with Philippine that continues even today.
Sent straight from Rome to Chile after my final profession, Philippine Duchesne accompanied me in a special way. It was her courage and fortitude that carried me through the first year when I struggled to control 157 Middle School children without knowing the language. Philippine had managed to start schools without a command of the language and so I turned to her for strength and to keep my sense of humor. Then, an earthquake destroyed our convent and school and we were living without running water or electricity. I thought of what Philippine had suffered; that made it easy to stay cheerful. Soon we had a new school built with over 600 students and again I turned to Philippine as I was the new Head and it was way over my head; we began with no doors or blackboards, the kitchen was not finished and we had to make sandwiches for the children’s lunch. However, knowing that Philippine had faced so many great hardships and stayed serene, helped me immensely. Our friendship deepened as she helped me to find more time for prayer. I also found myself writing letters at night the way she did. My twenty years as a missionary in Chile owe much to the example of our Saint.
Helen Rosenthal, RSCJ