Celebrating 200 years

Community honors arrival of Philippine Duchesne in North America


Mason Cooney, Copy Editor

Six students from Convent & Stuart Hall junior high and high school flew to St. Louis earlier this month to explore the sites of St. Philippine Duchesne’s life and celebrate the bicentennial of Sacred Heart Education in North America.

“I really enjoyed learning about Philippine and the history of Sacred Heart schools,” junior Cat Webb-Purkis, who went on the trip, said. “Philippine was a really important part of why we’re here today.”

The students first visited the Old St. Ferdinand shrine in Florissant, Missouri and toured the school and chapel where Philippine spent 14 years of her life. The school, founded by Philippine, was relocated from St. Charles as the first Sacred Heart school in America.

The students explored the dormitory, where girls slept on straw mattresses and rolled them up at 4 a.m. to clear the space for studying. Underneath the stairs on the first floor, the visitors peeked into Philippine’s “bedroom,” a cramped space near the chapel that she chose to inhabit so she could slip into bed after late-night prayers, according to Sister Margaret Mary Munch, a Religious of the Sacred Heart and docent at St. Ferdinand’s Shrine.

“My favorite part of the trip was seeing where [Philippine] slept and all the notes left for her in her bedroom,” Webb-Purkis said. “They were prayers and petitions for Philippine that people hoped would reach her, and are burned every Good Friday.”

While walking between St. Ferdinand’s Church and the school, students saw a statue of Philippine with the Potawatomi Native Americans and learned about her time with them in Sugar Creek, Kansas, including the nickname they gave her, “Woman who prays always.”

“She was always drawn to Native American people ever since she was a small child,” Sister Sheila Hammond, RSCJ, Provincial of the United States Canada Province, said. “For me that says we need to continue to be open to the other — to people who are different from us, to ideas that are different from us. [Philippine] was a future-oriented person even though she was deeply steeped in tradition.”

The Academy of the Sacred Heart and Duchesne High School, a diocesan school, held a reenactment of Philippine’s arrival on the St. Charles riverfront on Sept. 7. Originally planned to take place on the shores of the Missouri River, the reenactment was relocated to Duchesne High School due to predicted rain.

“I’ve learned to put myself out there and try [because of Philippine],” Claire, an eighth-grader from the Academy of the Sacred Heart, said. “Philippine was told that she couldn’t come here because she was too old and couldn’t make the journey. I have learned if you put your mind to it, really try your best and ask God for his help, you can definitely do it.”

The students’ last stop was the Academy of the Sacred Heart, the original Sacred Heart school Philippine founded in America that is currently a preschool through junior high school. The school’s chapel, the Shrine of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, holds her sarcophagus and an interactive exhibit installed for the bicentennial.

“Seeing her sarcophagus made me realize she was a real person,” Webb-Purkis said. “I really liked learning about our school in St. Charles and the impact Philippine had on the area around her.”