It was the 35th Holy Thursday that she had lived through. Most of them were far more difficult that this one. The still-youthful sister, baptized with the names of a great apostle, St. Philip, and the lovely first saint of the Americas, St. Rose of Lima, had overcome the refusal of her family to enter religious life at the age of 18. But soon after, she would endure the disbanding of her monastery during, and in the aftermath, of the French Revolution. The year was now 1804, and though Christianity was no longer blatantly destroyed once Napoleon reigned over France, her beloved community of St. Marie, was just as obliterated as the remnants that remained of their convent.
Rose was bent in adoration on that Holy Thursday evening, in prayer with the few sisters that remained, all of them remaining before the Blessed Sacrament. And then, in the midst of that contemplation that had so captured her heart when she first found this this monastery, she writes that Christ drew her gaze beyond the monstrance, out of that dilapidated chapel, across the cold waves of the Atlantic to a far-away continent called America. “I spent the entire night in the new World … carrying the Blessed Sacrament to all parts of the land … I had all my sacrifices to offer: a mother, sisters, family, my mountain! When you say to me ‘now I send you’, I will respond quickly ‘I go.’”
She wrote those words to a Mother Madeleine Sophie Barat, the foundress of a new congregation, the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an active order of sisters, who were bent on the task of bringing the Gospel to the world. This letter would bring together the two groups, melding not only their communities, but also their mission: adoring Christ, but also carrying that Adoration out to the world. As she put it so well “carrying the Blessed Sacrament to all parts of the land”.
It would take 12 more Holy Thursday’s before that dream became reality. Only in 1818 was Philippine finally invited to take a group of sisters across to America, and after a brief stint in New Orleans, they took the steamboat up the Mississippi, and set up shop just north of St. Louis, which had recently been made the capital of the Missouri Territory (created after the return of Louis and Clark’s exploration of the Louisiana Purchase just 12 years before). They passed up the bustling town of almost 4000 people, soon to request statehood from the United States government, and settled in St. Charles.
The log cabin that acted as convent and school was miserably cold in the winter; they had no funds yet provided the schooling for free; and Rose could barely speak English. Yet she toiled on, founding 5 more houses in the next 10 years, and then in the 1840s, was finally was able to open a school for the Potawatomi tribe in Sugar Creek, Kansas. The struggles redoubled as she grew older, yet perhaps her energy was spent well: she received the nickname Quah-kah-ka-num-ad, “the woman who prays always”. Her life, and death, maintained that tremendous balance of both adoration and action, worship and work, contemplation and construction…
And perhaps that is what we should learn from her life. We’ve been baptized into the same duality: grace and nature, spirit and water, love of God and love of neighbor. Whatever vocation we have been entrusted with, can we engage it with the same passion that Rose did in hers? “We cultivate a very small field for Christ, but we love it, knowing that God does not require great achievements but a heart that holds back nothing for self.”
– Fr. Dominic Rankin traveled one third of the way around the globe to visit the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul (as well as to study theology and become a priest…), and the other third of the way around to visit the tomb of St. Thomas (as well as to work in Calcutta with the Missionaries of Charity…), but he has lived approximately 100 miles from the tomb of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne most of his life, yet has never visited her. Anybody want to go?