By Sandy Ahlheim and Theresa Grass
After Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne died on November 18, 1852, she was buried on the convent grounds in St. Charles, Missouri. Three years later, Mother Aloysia Jacquet, RSCJ, had a small octagonal shrine built in honor of Our Lady of the Pillar on the grounds of the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles. Soon after, Mother Duchesne’s remains were removed from the cemetery and placed in this shrine where she rested for almost 100 years.
When Mother Duchesne was beatified in 1940, the decision was made to replace the simple resting place on the Academy’s front lawn with a much larger shrine befitting a saint.
Plans were drawn up for a basilica, and on April 18, 1951, the relics of then Blessed Rose Philippine Duchesne were transferred from the small octagonal shrine to a specially prepared marble sarcophagus.
An alumna of the Academy, Nellie Carleton Ricker, recalled the feelings of those who were at that ceremony. “As the white satin-draped casket of the saintly pioneer was carried back into the convent which saw the beginning of her missionary labors, past the bare little room where she breathed her last prayerful breath, an indescribable thrill ran through the devoutly kneeling spectators.”
The casket was lowered into the sarcophagus and sealed officially by Most Reverend Joseph E. Ritter, the archbishop of St. Louis at the time. It was then placed under an altar located on the inside porch of the 1835 convent.
According to the school journal on April 18, 1951:
The remains of Blessed Philippine were transferred from the Shrine to the little Oratory erected in her honor. They will remain there until the Basilica in her honor will be built. His Excellency, Archbishop Ritter and thirty-one priests were present. A delegation of Knights of Columbus and the Daughters of Isabella were represented. A number of our Religious from the area houses came-also the college girls from Maryville and some of the children from Villa, City House and the Sophie Barat school. Our children wore their light-blue uniforms, hose and uniform shoes, new white veils and white gloves. All was most orderly and impressive.
After the ceremony, everyone processed outside singing “O Beata” for the ground-breaking where the new Shrine would be constructed. The archbishop dug the first shovelful, then handed the shovel to Reverend Mother McCabe.
Standing in front of the microphone, the archbishop said, “In God’s own time, when we gather to celebrate the canonization of this child of Holy Mother Church, we shall have a suitable chapel … She belongs not only to St. Louis and St. Charles, but to the Church and to the whole world. Today a new chapter begins.”
As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of this event on April 18, 2021, the archbishop’s words ring true. The shrine on the grounds of the Academy in St. Charles draws pilgrims from around the world; and as they spend time in prayer in this holy place, they experience the peace and trust in God that Philippine shared with those who knew her so long ago.
Sandy Ahlheim is the director of the Shrine of Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne in St. Charles, Missouri. Theresa Grass is the archivist at Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles, Missouri.