Tuesday, December 7, 2010

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne - Part 1

This paper was originally written for my Historical Foundations class at Franciscan University of Steubenville. I will post it in sections with a bibliography attached to the last part. At the end of each post, there will be a few reflection questions for readers to use as they meditate on their own lives in relationship to the experiences of St. Rose.

The Trials and Triumphs of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne

          In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (9:23).  Christians of all times and places have struggled to keep this command, and many have looked to the saints for guidance, example, and encouragement in their trials.  One such saint, Rose Philippine Duchesne (1769-1852), a nun of the Society of the Sacred Heart and a missionary to America, was given many opportunities to take up her cross and follow Jesus, and she did so willingly, thereby growing ever closer to the Lord and providing a model for other Christians, both her contemporaries and those who would come after her.  Rose, whose perpetual motto was, “Let us bear our cross and leave it to God to determine the length and weight,” lived a life characterized by severe trials, but these hardships eventually led to the triumph of Rose’s beloved Sisters of the Sacred Heart and to her own triumphal entry into Heaven (qtd. in Lynch). (1)
The Early Life: The Trials of Rose’s Youth

          Rose Philippine Duchesne was born August 29, 1769, in Grenoble, France, to Pierre François and Rose (Périer) Duchesne (Keppel 2; Bascom 4).  From her earliest days, Rose was no stranger to hardship and work.  Although her family was reasonably well-off, her childhood home lacked comforts that many modern people take for granted.  Rose and her siblings were used to enduring cold and snow, even having to break the ice from their water pitchers each morning, as the icy winds blew through their poorly-insulated home (Keppel 3; Bascom 5; Jeanne Marie).  Rose helped with daily household chores, and as the second oldest in the family, she often cared for her younger brothers and sisters (Jeanne Marie). (2)  She also learned early in her life to care for those less fortunate, accompanying her devoutly-Catholic mother on visits to the sick and poor of their town and often giving her spending money and possessions to the children she met (Lynch; Cradle Land).  Once, when her parents protested her generosity, reminding their daughter that those things were for her pleasure, Rose replied, “This is my pleasure” (Bascom 5). (3)
          One of the greatest trials of Rose’s younger years was her father’s hostile attitude toward the Catholic Church that her mother had taught her to love dearly.  Pierre Duchesne was an “enthusiastic supporter of the new ideas of liberty” in France, adhered firmly to the anti-Christian rhetoric of Voltaire, and took an active part in local “revolutionary clubs and Masonic groups” (Horvat).  Her father’s attitude nearly broke Rose’s heart.  “This is the severest trial God could have sent me,” she once confided to a priest (Jeanne Marie). (4)
          Although Rose was too respectful and loving to clash openly with her father about his beliefs, tension increased between parent and child as the latter grew older and especially after she discovered her vocation to religious life.  At age twelve, Rose entered the boarding school at Ste. Marie-d’en-Haut, a Visitation convent near Grenoble (Bascom 5; Lynch).  She threw herself wholeheartedly into her new life of prayer and study, reciting the Divine Office with the nuns and spending hours in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament (Jeanne Marie; Keppel 5-6). By the time she made her first Holy Communion on Pentecost Sunday in 1782, Rose knew for sure that she wanted to dedicate her life to God and the Church, particularly as a missionary nun, serving the “heathen in distant lands [and] the neglected and poor at home” (Jeanne Marie; Lynch; Lowth).  Her father, however, would hear nothing of it.  He immediately pulled her out of school.  From then on, Rose was educated by a tutor at home.  She must have missed Ste. Marie immensely, and her forced absence was certainly a “crushing disappointment” and a great trial (Jeanne Marie).  Even at home, though, Rose dedicated herself to prayer and penance, took on the worst possible household chores, resumed her visits to the sick and poor, and essentially, tried to live the life of a nun right at home (Lynch; Keppel 7; Jeanne Marie). (5)
          Rose continued this way of life for several years until, in 1787 at age eighteen, the call of her vocation proved too strong to ignore.  For many years she had prayed to know God’s will and do it, and now, she felt, her time had come.  She convinced her parents to let her visit Ste. Marie accompanied by her aunt.  Once there, however, she refused to leave the convent, and her aunt returned to Grenoble alone to face Rose’s parents.  None of her father’s arguments or threats could convince Rose to return home, and she entered the novitiate at Ste. Marie, only agreeing to her father’s request that she postpone her vows until age twenty-five.  Pierre Duchesne, it seems, had an inkling of the events to come, events that would shake France to its very roots (Keppel 8; Bascom 6-7; Emery 688; Horvat; Jeanne Marie). (6)

1. While the main body of this study will examine the trials and triumphs of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, the end notes will contain brief reflection questions designed to help modern readers meditate on their own lives through Rose’s example. After all, one of the primary purposes of studying the life of any saint is to learn to live more like Jesus by examining how that saint did so.
2. What are the hardships and inconveniences you face in daily living? How do you accept those hardships?
3. How does the modern world view generosity? Are you as generous as you could be towards others? What concrete actions could you take to become more generous?
4. Do you have a relative or friend who is away from the Lord? How could you help that person to grow closer to Jesus and come back to the Church? Rose’s father, by the way, did find his way back to the Catholic Church, surely with the aid of Rose’s many prayers. He died a faithful Catholic.
5. Have you seriously discerned your vocation in life? If so, how are you living it? If not, how might you further discern your vocation?
6. How do you determine God’s will in your life? Is there something you have wanted to do for a long time but have hesitated to fulfill? What might you do now to remedy that situation?

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