My Friendship with Philippine
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 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. Living without running water or electricity, the thought of what Philippine had suffered made it easy to stay cheerful. Philippine faced so many great hardships and stayed serene. Our friendship deepened as she helped me to find more time for prayer. My twenty years as a missionary in Chile owe much to the example of our Saint.
Helen Rosenthal, RSCJ, Province of the United States – Canada
Image: Academy of the Sacred Heart, St. Charles, MO