The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Venerable Mother Philippine Duchesne

Mother Philippine DuchesneIn apostolic fervor Venerable Mother Philippine Duchesne emulated her superior, Blessed Mother Barat. Bishop Otto Zardetti has styled her the Francis Xavier of the Society of the Sacred Heart. The narratives of a Jesuit missionary in Louisiana awoke in the heart of Mother Philippine a true desire of the missions and of martyrdom when she was only eight years old. She was the daughter of a respectable family of Grenoble* When grown up she tenaciously withstood the desire of her parents that she should marry. She was finally permitted to take the veil in the convent of the Visitation; but before she had taken her vows she was obliged to seek refuge with her family on account of the Revolution. During the Reign of Terror she practised works of apostolic zeal with remarkable heroism. In 1801 she attempted to gather the dispersed nuns into the former convent of Saint Marie d’en Haut, near her native town. Her attention was soon attracted to the zealous young society of the Sacred Heart, and with her companions she earnestly petitioned Mother Barat for admission. In the beginning of 1805 the union of the two communities took place.

When Bishop Dubourg of New Orleans came to France in 1817 and asked Mother Barat to send some of her sisters to his extensive diocese, Philippine Duchesne finally achieved the desire of her youth, so often expressed to her superiors. In the spring of 1818 she set out with her companions as their superior for the United States. She founded the first American convent of her Congregation at Saint Charles, near Saint Louis, then in the diocese of New Orleans. The vast uncultured and uncivilized territory offered the sisters a wide and difficult field of labor. But the ardent zeal of Mother Duchesne did not grow cold. She encouraged the others to constant activity by word and example. When seventy years of age she was relieved of her office of superior and sent to the Sugar Creek Indian reservation, to instruct children who were really pagans. The transports of glowing zeal for souls which had filled her mind during the whole of her lifetime are most inspiring. She died at Saint Charles, aged eighty-three, on 18 November 1852.

– this text is taken from The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century: Saintly Men and Women of Our Own Times, by Father Constantine Kempf, SJ; translated from the German by Father Francis Breymann, SJ; Impimatur by + Cardinal John Farley, Archbishop of New York, 25 September 1916