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Philippine Duchesne

(1769—1852)


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(1769–1852),

nun of the Society of the Sacred Heart and missionary. Born at Grenoble of a merchant family, she was educated by the Visitation nuns there. In 1786 she wished to join this community, but her father refused his consent to her profession owing to the political situation. In 1791 the Visitation nuns, like others, were expelled; during the Revolution Philippine rejoined her family and devoted herself to good works. In 1802 she bought the convent buildings and tried to revive the religious life there, but this failed. She offered herself and the buildings to Madeleine Sophie Barat, the foundress of the Society of the Sacred Heart. Philippine and four companions were professed in 1805. She wished to be a missionary in America. This idea was accepted in principle, but it was fulfilled only in 1818 when the bishop of Louisiana initiated a foundation.

Philippine and four other nuns sailed to New Orleans and travelled up the Mississippi to St Louis (Missouri), to the west of which they established a free school in pioneering conditions. They moved into a brick building at Florissant, received the first American postulants in 1820, made another foundation in 1821, and two more in 1826: these were all in the Mississippi valley. Such progress was however modified by other events. Slander and misrepresentation, ill-health and intrigues, one school reduced to five pupils, all contributed to the increasing strain born by Philippine. Never perhaps entirely sympathetic to the North Americans, she resigned her office in 1840 at a visitation. Now aged seventy-one, she agreed to set up a school for the Indians at Sugar Creek (Kansas). The conditions however were too severe for one of her age and she could not speak their language. She retired to Saint Charles (Missouri), the place of their first log-cabin school, living in conditions of extreme personal poverty for another ten years. These years of suffering and prayer, during two of which her letters to Mother Barat were never delivered, may well have been the most difficult of all in the life of this courageous pioneer. She died at the age of eighty-three on 18 November. She was beatified in 1940 and canonized in 1988. Feast: 17 November.

Lives by M. Baumard (Eng. tr. 1879), M. Erskine (1926);M. Symon (1926); and C. M. Mooney (1987); see also L. Callan, The Society of the Sacred Heart in America (1937), and B.T.A., iv. 378–81;Bibl. SS., iv. 847.

Subjects: Christianity.


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