Monday, December 20, 2010

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne - Part 5

The American Order Grows…with Many Growing Pains
          The American contingent of the Society of the Sacred Heart grew slowly but steadily over the next few years as the community gained new members (the novitiate was opened in Florissant in 1821) and new convents and schools were opened in Missouri and Louisiana (Horvat; Keppel 67). The convent at Grand-Coteau, Louisiana, (opened in 1821) was especially successful even though, like all the houses, it was severely tried by illness and hardship (Keppel 70, 75). St. Louis, too, finally received its convent and school in 1826, along with an orphanage (Keppel 85; Horvat). By 1830, the American order boasted six convents, sixty-four nuns, and three hundred and fifty students enrolled in convent schools (Lynch).
          All during this time of expansion, Rose, as Superior, worked…and worked…and worked, offering her trials and sufferings for the success of her convents and schools. S.L. Emery notes, “Poverty, sickness, misunderstanding, spiritual deprivations far worse than temporal, the deaths of those she dearly loved, the failure of long-cherished plans and hopes – these were her lot and her life” (691). Just as she had done so many years before at Ste. Marie, Rose was always the first to rise and the last to retire and reserved the most difficult tasks for herself (Jeanne Marie). Even when she fell ill, as she did several times, growing ever weaker through the years, she continued her work. Not even the nasty bout of yellow fever she suffered on a return journey from Grand-Coteau kept her from resuming her duties when she finally reached St. Louis (actually, Rose’s survival was almost miraculous because she, even after nursing several sick passengers on the steamboat on which she was traveling, was put ashore when she contracted the disease and essentially left to die; her traveling companion nursed her at the home of a man whose wife had recently died of the same disease, and somehow Rose, always trusting in God, recovered) (Keppel 77-78). Above all her other trials, however, Rose’s greatest burden came from her role as Superior. “For twenty-two years,” explains scholar Marian T. Horvat, Rose “was forced to bear the heavy yoke of directing those who seemed to not want her directorship. Some sisters also resented her formal ways and insistence on the Rule, although they admired her spirit of prayer and sacrifice. At council meetings, she found it difficult to make her opinion prevail, since the common issue of her enterprise was failure, while the New Orleans foundations [like Grand-Coteau] always met with success.” In humility, Rose begged for years to be relieved of her position of authority and given the lowest place, forever considering herself “of no practical use” (Emery 691; Horvat). Mother Barat, however, felt differently and maintained Rose’s authority, knowing that her friend and spiritual daughter had much more to offer than she herself could see. Finally, in 1840, at the age of seventy-one, Rose was allowed to resign as Superior. She retreated into a more hidden life at Florissant, praying, suffering, and serving her community in every way she could (Horvat). It must have seemed to her that, despite the expansion of the American Society of the Sacred Heart, her dreams had not been realized. She had still not brought the Catholic faith to the Indian people. (14)

Finally, a Mission to the Indians…for a Short Time 
          The Potawatomi people’s homeland was in Indiana, but in 1837 and 1838, the United States government, in order to open territory for white settlement, forced them to make a 660 mile journey to their new home in Kansas (Willard). Catholic missionaries traveled with the Potawatomi, many of whom had already embraced the faith, and built St. Mary’s Mission at Sugar Creek, Kansas. Rose knew of the Indians’ “Trail of Death” and was outraged by their mistreatment. Of course, she longed to go to them, to work with them, to help meet their physical and spiritual needs, and to convert those who had not yet accepted Catholicism, but at her age and in her condition (her health by this time was very poor), her ambition seemed impossible. (15)
          In 1841, the missionary priests serving the Potawatomi approached the Society of the Sacred Heart’s new superior, Mother Elizabeth Galitzin, with a request for nuns to help staff the Sugar Creek Mission (Keppel 108). Rose begged to be allowed to go, but Mother Galitzin considered her age and poor heath to be insurmountable obstacles. Finally, Father Verhaegen, one of the priests, knowing Rose’s saintly character, settled the matter, saying, “Even if she can use only one leg, she will come. Why if we have to carry her all the way on our shoulders, she is coming with us. 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 favors on the work” (qtd. in Willard). On June 29, 1841, a little band of four nuns, including Rose, and three priests began their journey to Sugar Creek. Rose’s childhood dream was at last coming true.
          Rose’s days at Sugar Creek were the happiest of her life (Jeanne Marie). She was finally living and working among her beloved Indians. Actually, Rose could do very little work, and the hardships she experienced for most of her life were by no means diminished and, in fact, sometimes intensified in light of her advanced age. She wrote to a priest friend, “Our first shelter was the hut of an Indian in which we lived from July to October, when our house, nineteen feet square, was ready, but without a fireplace and without a stairway up to the loft, which was to be our dormitory. One climbs a ladder to reach it” (qtd. in Willard). Rose could not teach or cook like the other nuns and never managed to learn the Potawatomi language (she never fully mastered English either). She did knit, visit the sick, and work a bit with the Indian girls, but mostly she prayed. She went to Mass each morning, in the winter through the snow and in the midst of the fever she almost always had, and she knelt motionless before the Blessed Sacrament four hours each morning and four hours each afternoon (Willard; Horvat). Even when she could not rise from her bed due to illness, she offered her sufferings for the souls of the Indians (Emery 692). (16)
          With such prayer and sacrifice, the mission was bound to flourish, and it did. The Potawatomi loved and venerated Rose. They called her “Quah-kah-ka-num-ad,” the “Woman Who Prays Always,” and often bent to kiss her shawl or the hem of her habit as she prayed (Willard). They learned quickly from her example, and the Lord granted the mission numerous adult baptisms, an average of a hundred communicants at Sunday Masses, four hundred communicants on Christmas, daily catechism lessons, a deep spirituality that included daily community prayer and Rosary, and a spirit of generosity, morality, and sincere enthusiasm for the Catholic faith. Rose praised the piety of the Potawatomi and the intelligence of the children and adults taught by the nuns, and her deepest desire was to sacrifice herself completely for the success of the mission and die among her beloved Indians. (17)
          This was not to be. In 1842 Mother Galitzin visited Sugar Creek and was appalled by the condition in which she found Rose. Sadly, Mother Galitzin observed, “She is just here to suffer, for she has aged much in this short time and is sometimes like a child. She no longer has the fine mind of other days. She is feeble; her limbs are swollen; her digestion is poor. I fear she will have a stroke….All she can do at present is pray, sometimes lying for a little while on her bed, and knit stockings” (qtd. in Willard). She then ordered Rose to return to St. Louis. Rose was heartbroken, but she obeyed and began preparations for the long journey back to Missouri. She left Sugar Creek on June 19, 1842. “I cannot put out of my mind the thought of the savages,” she wrote later. “I can only adore the designs of God, Who has taken me from the thing I had so long desired” (qtd. in Kun). (18)

14. Have you ever felt useless? How did you cope with that feeling? When have you felt that your dreams had not been fulfilled?
15. What dreams do you have that seem unlikely or even impossible? Have any of those actually come true?
16. Today the elderly of western society are often underappreciated or even scorned. What contributions do they make to our culture? What might you do to help others realize the value of the elderly?
17. What miracles have prayer and sacrifice accomplished in your life or in the lives of those around you?
18. How would you respond if your dearest dream was shattered like Rose’s was?

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