Year of Prayer - July 2

Year of Prayer - July 2

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

Year of Prayer - June 25Year of Prayer - June 25

Lights on Philippine Duchesne

Appeal to the Young. Some years ago, two boys aged about twelve came to our house to ask for help with their school project on religious life. We told them a few facts about our Society and gave them some booklets and pictures. A short time later, we were invited to their exhibition. On entering the hall, our attention was drawn immediately to a six-foot high poster of Philippine sitting on the deck of the Rebecca, and in their presentation, the boys made clear by their enthusiasm that Philippine was just the kind of religious they could understand and admire. Her daring, dedication and her selfless loving had captured their imagination. I learned from children that day a new appreciation for the gift to the Society of Philippine Duchesne.

Social Justice. In 1988, I had the privilege of making a pilgrimage organised by our French sisters. We visited the great house in Grenoble where the Duchesne and Perier families grew up, Philippine’s beloved Ste Marie d’En-Haut, and the Grande Chartreuse high in the majestic Alps. But the place that left the strongest impression on me was the Chateau de Vizille. In 1988, many banners around Vizille proclaimed it "Le Berceau de la Révolution!" ("The Cradle of the Revolution"). On display was the Charter of Human Rights, drawn up there in 1788, a document which triggered the Revolution and was partly the work of Philippine’s Uncle Claude. How much did Philippine hear of the political discussions going on around her? How did this affect her championship of the poor and the oppressed? For me, Vizille opened another window into the mind and heart of Philippine.

The Pioneer. The third memorable moment was my visit to Florissant on a bitterly cold March day. As I shivered in the spacious dormitory, my companion spoke to me about life in the boarding school in Philippine’s time. She assured me that things would have been even more austere then. As she spoke, I imagined Philippine walking around at night, trying to bring comfort and warmth to the pupils, then going to break the ice on the water jugs. Sitting in that comfortless room, I felt over-awed by the sheer heroism of this valiant woman.

Moira Donnelly, RSCJ, Province of Ireland - Scotland 
Artist: Margaret Mary Nealis, RSCJ

Crossing Boundaries - Breaking Barriers

Philippine Duchesne offers us the heart of a "frontier woman." She was a woman of deep prayer, as others described her, and a woman who spoke with her heart in the Saint Charles and Florissant world of her time. She was undaunted by language, culture, climate, distances and uncertainties of every kind. Instead, like a humble seed in the earth, she garnered a rich harvest in the slow process of dying and birthing.

Over the centuries, like Philippine, many young women and men felt "a call to mission" in distant lands and made immeasurable contributions in these places. Today, however, in several countries, missionaries are not so welcome. Their work is often considered controversial and their presence experienced as a threat to certain age-old traditions and cultures. Moreover, the internet is a great means of communication today. So, where do the frontiers exist? What would the 'frontier woman' be like today?

Perhaps Philippine, our frontier woman, has a question or two for us: Do we need to strengthen our internal bonds - spiritual and material? At the same time, should we turn outward to new life-giving sources, there to discover our place and spirituality anew? Where, for example, do we see ourselves in relation to the young who are being drawn by the Spirit to differently expressed spiritual commitments and involvement in the service of humanity?

Saint Philippine calls us today to respond to the promptings of the Spirit. In this lies our hope. How best can we address these realities in the midst of uncertainties and even, humanly speaking, at the risk of possible failure? Philippine beckons us to courage, unceasing prayer and contemplation in order to let go of all that hinders us and to let come the powerful work of the Spirit in our lives.

Mary Varghese, RSCJ, Province of India
Image: Mary Verghese, RSCJ

The woman who prays always

Since we were children, educated in a Sacred Heart school, we learnt to recognize the name of Philippine Duchesne as the first missionary of the congregation, without many details, but we knew of whom we were speaking.

Now, as a religious, the invocation of this outstanding woman is embedded in my heart; she was courageous in feeling herself insignificant, the good sister of the community who hastened to offer her services without being noticed, who tenderly welcomed the little ones in the school and who made up for the difficulty of making herself understood in a language that she never mastered.

One wonders how she was able to pass just as one among others, without the gift of a foreign language, but the Potawatomi give us the clue: she was the woman who prays always. That is her great gift, not just to our congregation but to the Church and the world of today. She gave that powerful witness of being the woman in whom people felt and experienced the presence of God.

The truly effective witness is that of a life in which the greatness of the humility of God vibrates. The deep and effective lesson of total self-giving in Jesus, who accepted to become one of us: limited but not worthless, powerless but not useless, close to us yet containing all the potential of the Trinitarian God, is what Philippine understood and what we and all the family of the Sacred Heart feel and love.

Philippine: the woman who prays always
Allow us to draw near very quietly, 
While you pray, caught up in this thirsting world
And to learn as you did, the wise way 
Of serving the water that springs up from the Eternal.
May we be always watchful
And allow God to pour forth his torrent
And reinvigorate the development of a people
Who are seeking solutions in the puddles
And are unable to find in our lives
The overflowing selflessness of God.
Help us to pray as you did
To pay the price of silence
And to receive joyfully the gift of a prayer
In which God’s gift of self
Overflows among God’s people.

Estela Henao, RSCJ, Province of Colombia
Image: Milton Frenzel

To Be and to Act as One Body

The Society has recently called us “to act as one body…” moved from its center by Love. Within this body, life flows, weaving different kinds of connections, bringing energy and flexibility to each part. What affects one of these parts affects the whole body.

General Chapter of the Society of the Sacred Heart, 2016, p. 15.

It was a great sacrifice for Sophie to allow Philippine and her companions to go to the New World, but she realized how important it was to respond to the calls of the Church and the world. Sophie understood that Philippine and her companions would remain part of the one body of the Society. The Cor Unum was made stronger through their mission in another part of the world and the correspondence between France and the New World. Although Philippine often had to wait for months before hearing from France, her loyalty to Sophie and the Society led her to maintain the sense of one body at all costs, even when decisions contravened her own wishes. Her humility and desire to follow the Spirit allowed her to “let go,” to yield to the opinion of others, but when the oneness of the Society was at stake, she was adamant.

Philippine must be very happy with the Chapter’s call to unity, especially when she sees our efforts to answer it in the concrete circumstances of our lives. May she intercede for us to enable us to grow as one body in our relationships with one another and with our God, who calls us to be of one mind and one heart in the Heart of Jesus.

Nancy Koke, RSCJ, Province of Uganda - Kenya
Image: Timothy Schmalz

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