Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Woman Who Prays Always

Today is the Feast of an American saint, Rose Philippine Duchesne. Mother Duchesne came to the United States from France in 1818 and settled in St. Charles, Missouri - just northwest of St. Louis. There, she established the first school for girls west of the Mississippi River.

Later, in 1841, at the age of 72, she traveled to Sugar Creek, Kansas to found a school for Pottawatomie girls. Ultimately, her attempt failed - however, it was there amongst the Native Americans that she earned the title of "The Woman Who Prays Always" - a testament to her unshakable faith, even in the face of failure.

She died on November 18, 1852 in St. Charles. She was beatified in 1940, and later declared a saint in 1988.

I'm often surprised and a little saddened that most American Catholics are unaware of the saints who called our country home. We cannot forget or ignore the sacrifice they made in building up the Church in the United States. While many people flock to
the tombs of European saints, the shrines of our own American saints are relatively empty.

Construction of the Shrine Church of Rose Philippine Duchesne began in 1952 in St. Charles, MO. Funds began to run short, and the church was never completed. The shrine was originally designed to be in the traditional shape of a cross, however, the present, uncompleted structure is in the shape of a stubby "T."

A fair amount of controversy surrounds the 1964 renovation of the shrine church by noted artist William Schickel. However, I feel this renovation has resulted in a much needed sense of permanence in an otherwise unfinished structure.

While many complain that the building is "too plain," it is essential to understand Mr. Schickel's philosophy of design and his intent. This renovation was intended to reflect the austereness of Mother Duchesne's spirituality as well as her experience on the plains. It's truly a building one must enter into, rather than just look at.

The earthly remains of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne are enclosed within a simple marble sarcophagus in a side alcove. The crucifix above her tomb once hung in the convent in France where she attended school as a child.

On display are a chair, which Mother Duchesne repaired herself and a coal burning foot warmer which she once used. Another testament to her austere experience of life on the plains.

"You may dazzle the mind with a thousand brilliant discoveries of natural science; you may open new worlds of knowledge which were never dreamed of before; yet if you have not developed in the soul of the pupil strong habits of virtue which will sustain him in the struggle of life, you have not educated him, but only put in his hand a powerful instrument of self-destruction."

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, pray for us!

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