Saints of the Day – Rose-Philippine Duchesne

Mother Philippine DuchesneArticle

Born in Grenoble, France, August 29, 1769; died November 18, 1852; beatified in 1940; canonized on July 3, 1988 by Pope John Paul II.

Rose, also known as “The Lady of Mercy,” was the daughter of a prosperous merchant. At the age of eight, her interest in mission work was enkindled by the visit of a Jesuit who had labored in Louisiana. She was educated by the Visitation nuns of Sainte- Marie-d’en-Haut, near Grenoble. At 17, against the opposition of her parents who wished to arrange a marriage for her, she joined the Visitation nuns. Her father, however, was successful in blocking her profession.

During the Reign of Terror in 1791, the nuns were repressed and expelled from their convent. Rose returned home from where she nursed the sick, taught children, visited imprisoned priests, and gathered together a community there. After the concordat of 1801 between Pope Pius VII and Napoleon had restored peaceful relations between the state and the Church, she attempted unsuccessfully to rebuild the convent where she had been educated. Nevertheless, she remained in the house and with one other took vows in what was intended to be a new congregation, the Daughters of the Propagation of the Faith. When the new community still faltered, in 1804, she convinced Mother Madeline Sophie Barat to accept it for her recently founded Society of the Sacred Heart.

Rose became a postulant of the society in December 1804 and was professed the next year. Her interest in the missions was again engaged by a visit from the abbot of La Trappe, who had been one of the first Cistercians sent to North America. Although she wished to be a missionary, Rose Philippine held administrative offices for 14 years.

In March 1818, she was sent as superioress with four sisters to the United States in answer to a request for help from Bishop Dubourg of Louisiana. Landing in New Orléans on May 29, the small group of women travelled up the Mississippi and founded the first American Sacred Heart house at Saint Charles, Missouri – in a log cabin. The group opened the first free school west of the Mississippi but moved to a brick building in Florisant near Saint Louis the next year. They accepted their first American postulant in 1820.

The community thrived after some difficulties, including the language barrier (they had received inadequate education in English), and by 1828, six houses had been established along the Mississippi River. She opened several schools in Missouri and Louisiana, insisting upon a high standard of education and compliance with French modes of behavior and discipline.

She received some criticism for not learning English, but she was known to have an endearing personality, which shone through despite the shock of the reality of mission life, which was so different from her imaginings.

On house they founded at Grand Côteau, about 150 miles from New Orléans, took four weeks to reach. The nine-week return journey was a nightmare. Rose Philippine was on a boat infected with yellow fever. After tending to the sick, she contracted the disease and was put ashore at Natchez (Mississippi). There she could find no shelter except the bed of a woman who had just died of yellow fever.

Still wanting to be an active missionary, she resigned as head of the American branch of the Sacred Heart in 1840. The following year, at the age of 71, Rose Philippine began a school for the Pottowatomy Indians in Sugar Creek, Kansas, at the request of the Jesuit Father de Smet. The Indians called her the “Woman-Who- Prays-Always.”

After a year, unable to master the native language and her health failing, she was forced to leave the mission. She retired to Saint Charles. It was decided that the foundation should be closed, but Mother Duchesne campaigned to kept it open, and eventually succeeded. There was an apparent break down in communication between Rose Philippine and Mother Barat after the former’s return to Saint Charles. It seems that a nun confiscated the correspondence. The relationship between the saints was finally when the puzzled Mother Barat sent Mother Duchesne’s niece to find her. Rose Philippine, revered by all who knew her, died at the convent in Saint Charles (Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Walsh, White).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 12 August 2020. Web. 26 November 2020. <>