Honoring St. Rose Philippine Duchesne with 24 hours of prayer

Photo courtesy of the Academy of the Sacred Heart

A well-known tale of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne's life in St. Louis was that she slept in a small closet under a staircase at her community's convent in Florissant.

It was believed St. Philippine Duchesne slept on a straw mattress, in her desire to be as close as she could be to the Eucharist in the chapel nearby. Prayer and adoration were central; they sustained her as she established the Society of the Sacred Heart in the United States in 1818 to teach Native American and French children.

As St. Philippine Duchesne's feast day nears Nov. 18, the Academy of the Sacred Heart will celebrate the prayerful life of the educational pioneer with 24 hours of adoration Nov. 13-14 at the shrine, located on the grounds of the academy in St. Charles. (See related.)

The Potawatomi Native Americans nicknamed her "Quakahkanumad," which translates to "woman who prays always," said Jane Cannon, alumni director at the academy. A story has circulated — with several variations — about the depth of her prayer life. Depending on the source, children would leave sticks, stones or pieces of paper on the folds of St. Philippine Duchesne's habit. Upon returning hours later, they'd find the items still on her habit, which meant she hadn't moved.

"She was completely lost in God," said Sister Maureen Glavin, RSCJ, head of the Academy of the Sacred Heart.

Her devotion to the Eucharist was a reflection of the Society's charism and dedication to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Part of that spirituality includes First Friday devotions and adoration. Sister Glavin said that could explain why the saint chose the small staircase in the Florissant convent as her sleeping space.

"It gave her the freedom to get up in the middle of the night and go pray in the chapel," she said. "She must have had a strong constitution, because she didn't seem to need as much sleep as others. She was usually the last to bed and the first to rise. I often have this image of her with her sleeves rolled up, down on her hands and knees working." Even in her old age — she died at the age of 83 in St. Charles on Nov. 18, 1852 — she was frequently found praying, when she could no longer physically labor.

St. Philippine Duchesne had a special devotion to St. John Francis Regis, a French Jesuit priest who spent much of his life serving the marginalized. He was canonized in 1737, shortly before St. Philippine Duchesne's birth. She often prayed to him, promising to establish a shrine to him if she was able to come to America.

"He was to her what she is to us," Sister Glavin said.

When St. Madeleine Sophie Barat founded the Society of the Sacred Heart in 1800, she was cognizant of the community having a balance between contemplative and apostolic life. At that time, the French Revolution had ended, and the needs were many.

"She realized she didn't want to just be in a convent praying with all these needs out there," said Sister Glavin. "You cannot pray without moving that prayer to action, nor can you be in action and see the needs of the world without moving to prayer."

St. Madeleine Sophie also realized the potential of multiplying those prayers through those taught by the community. That was considered as the Academy of the Sacred Heart planned its 24 hours of adoration.

"The charism of the Society of the Sacred Heart is the discovery of God's love and the revealing of God's love," said Sister Glavin. "And that's what happens when you place yourself before the Blessed Sacrament."

We reveal God's love in how we interact in the world, Sister Glavin said. And in the minds of St. Philippine Duchesne and St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, helping those most in need was the best way to do that. 


The Academy of the Sacred Heart welcomes all to participate in 24 hours of eucharistic adoration at the Shrine of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, 619 N. Second St. in St. Charles.

Adoration will begin with an 8 a.m. Mass Friday, Nov. 13, celebrated by Father Mark Chrismer, and end with a second Mass at 8 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 14, celebrated by Father Sean Charles Martin.

The shrine includes a new exhibit that features key moments in the saint's life and the impact her missionary endeavor has had on the Archdiocese. The sarcophagus containing St. Philippine Duchesne's remains also is on display at the shrine.

For more information on the shrine, visit www.duchesneshrine.org. 


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