Rose Phillipine Duchesne (1769 – 1852)
It was in 1937 that the Archbishop of Brisbane, Archbishop James Duhig, invited the Religious of the Sacred, an Order founded in France in 1800 by St Madeleine Sophie Barat, to take responsibility for the administration of the first University College for Catholic women in Queensland.
It was actually the Archbishop who gave the College its name. He said that the name recalled a valiant French woman, St Philippine Duchesne, who was born on August 29, 1769 in Grenoble an ancient city in the French Alps.
The name “Duchesne” means literally “of the Oak”: this inspired the College motto “Robur in Luce Veritatis”. Robur translates as either oak or strength, so the motto is “Strength in the Light of Truth”.
As mentioned, the name “Duchesne” means “of the Oak” and it describes both Philippine’s character and her physical make-up: strong-willed, enduring, faithful, attractive, vital, impetuous. She was in addition a woman who loved greatly and was greatly loved.
Philippine was the eldest of eight children and grew up in the security and happiness of a large extended family. She was educated at home and at the Visitation Monastery of Sainte-Marie-d’en-Haut on a mountain above the city. At an early age she felt drawn to a contemplative life, and at the age of 18, against the wishes of her family, she joined the Visitation Order at Sainte-Marie-d’en Haut. This was in 1788, in the middle of the French Revolution. She was not able to make her profession because of the disruption of the Revolution and had to return home when the Visitation Sisters were expelled from their Convents.
So during the next 11 years in dangerous circumstances, she spent her time teaching children, visiting prisons, finding shelter for orphans and caring for the poor and sick. She knew well the risks she was taking, as a number of her own family had died violent deaths during this time.
After the Revolution in 1801, she obtained possession of Sainte-Marie-d’en-Haut: there she tried together with some companions to re-open the Convent where she had been 11 years earlier. However, after three years, it was clear that this venture was not going to succeed.
It was then in 1804 that she heard of the new religious Congregation – the Society of the Sacred Heart – dedicated to spreading the love of the Heart of Jesus especially through the work of education. St Madeleine Sophie, the foundress of the Society of the Sacred Heart, travelled to Grenoble to meet Philippine Duchesne who had been described to her as “a remarkable woman”.
Philippine recognized her own vocation in the charism of the Society of the Sacred Heart whose members are “consecrated to glorifying the Heart of Jesus”. A strong friendship formed between these two remarkable women of differing temperaments, a friendship which was to endure through their long and eventful lives. For twelve years the patient wisdom of Madeleine Sophie Barat moulded the rugged, ardent Philippine Duchesne into an apostle according to the Heart of Jesus.
Even as Philippine’s desire deepened for the contemplative life, so too her call to the missions became more urgent – a call she had heard since her youth. Her dream was realized in 1818 when she and four other Religious of the Sacred Heart were sent to respond to the request from the Bishop of New Orleans, for a congregation of educators to be sent to help him evangelize the Indian and French children of his diocese. They left France in 1817 aboard a small sailing ship, the Rebecca and reached New Orleans on 29 May 1818. Bishop William Du Bourg called them to St Charles, Missouri, where they opened a boarding school, the first one of the Society outside France. It was in a log cabin, and with it came all the austerities of frontier life: extreme cold, hard work, lack of funds. Philippine was dismayed to find that she could not master the English language as she struggled to adapt to the American way of life. She soon learned that “at close range what seemed to be a beautiful reality was only a beautiful dream”. And so she kept in the background, lighting the morning fires and putting out the lamps at night, washing dishes and peeling potatoes, mending torn clothing. In one of her letters to Madeleine Sophie Barat at the time, she said, “The best thing for me is to disappear”.
However, in spite of all the difficulties Philippine and the four other Religious of the Sacred Heart forged ahead. Philippine’s energy and ideas were prodigious. By 1828 six schools had been opened for the young women of Missouri and Louisiana. Hers was a difficult task of adapting to a new culture while maintaining unity within a rapidly spreading Society of the Sacred Heart, all the while trying to keep its spirit intact.
In 1841 when Philippine was 72 years old her dream of serving the American Indians was finally realized. She founded a mission school for the Potawatomi Indians at Sugar Creek in Kansas. Though many thought Philippine was too sick to go, the Jesuit Priest in charge of the mission insisted: “She must come; she may not be able to do much work, but she will assure success to the mission by praying for us. Her very presence will draw down all manner of heavenly favours on the work”. But once there she could no longer work and was there for only a year. However, her pioneer courage did not weaken and her long hours of prayer impelled the Indians to name her Quah-kah-ka-num-ad, “Woman-Who-Prays-Always”. But Philippine’s health could not sustain the regime of village life, and she returned to St Charles in 1842 where she continued to be a model and inspiration to those around her. While this change must have cost her dearly, her only comment was “God alone knows the reason for this recall”. Her heart never lost its desire for the missions. She was truly the “missionary of the American frontier”.
Philippine Duchesne died at St Charles, Missouri, on 18 November 1852 aged 83.
She is honoured in the Jefferson Memorial Building in St Louis as one of those pioneer women whose names, according to the bronze memorial plaque, “must not wither”. She is buried in a shrine built in her honour in St Charles, Missouri.
She was beatified on 12 May 1940 and canonised at St Peter’s in Rome on 3 July 1988. Many past students from our Schools and Colleges around the world were in Rome for the celebrations.
How to Apply
Applications to Duchesne College are now open and are easy to do. Simply Download and complete the Application form along with the Application Interview form and mail them into the College.…Read more
Scholarships and Bursaries
Duchesne College seeks to nurture each of its students, in the tradition of Madeleine Sophie Barat. Acknowledging and celebrating ‘achievement’, in its widest sense, plays an important part in this.…Read more
The College boasts many facilities and services to our students, including a Learning Lounge, Wi-fi availability in common areas, 2 large common rooms, fully equipped Gym and over 200 single study bedrooms.…Read more