When RSCJ make their perpetual profession of vows, they receive a cross to wear. This is a photo of the cross given to Philippine; it has been stored in our central archives in Rome since 1914.
It may well have spent the past century resting in a box, but with its worn insignia and mottos, it bears the imprint of the many years it has spent on mission. This is a cross that spent two months being battered by Atlantic winds and sprayed with salty water as it crossed the ocean in 1818. Year after year, it endured primitive conditions, mud, humidity and extremes of weather – bitter winter frosts and melting summer heat. Time and again it was clasped in times of crisis, disappointment or difficulty, maybe by hands damp with sweat or tears, providing a welcome reassurance of God's faithful love and presence. It reached new lands and crossed frontiers, spent hours in infirmaries and classrooms, lived in basic log cabins, cramped quarters and with Native Americans, and knew hours and whole nights spent in still, heartfelt prayer.
By 1852, as Philippine lay dying, this cross must have felt its years of service were coming to an end. And then Anna du Rousier arrived from France, en route to Chile, to begin our first Latin American foundation. She and Philippine exchanged profession crosses, and so Philippine's cross went with Anna on the long, arduous journey to a new frontier, trekking for months on tracks and bumpy roads, being bounced and thrown about each time her horse stumbled or she fell.
So much prayer, suffering, passion, fidelity, courage and endeavour are ingrained in this cross, as surely as the insignia and mottos engraved on it. And just as it must have reminded Philippine of her vowed commitment, so it quietly reminds us today of the totality of her gift of herself and the call we all share with her, to give our whole lives to knowing and making known the unlimited love of the Heart of Jesus.
Text and Image: Silvana Dallanegra, RSCJ, Province of England - Wales