Praying for the living and the dead
St. Rose Philippine Duchesne
As a young girl, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne dreamed of traveling to America and evangelizing Native Americans. God, however, had different plans for her.
Born in 1769 to a wealthy French family, Duchesne defied her family’s expectations for a socially advantageous marriage and became a Visitandine nun instead. When the French Revolution came and forced the sisters out of their convent, she returned to her family’s home. There, she quietly lived her order’s rule of prayer and penance until the anti-religious fervor subsided. Once it did, she rented her former convent with her own money and attempted to convince other former Visitandines to rejoin her. Most refused.
After three years of failure, Duchesne met with Mother Sophie Barat, founder of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Barat convinced the Visitandine to join her, and named Duchesne the new novice mistress for her order in 1804.
For 13 years, Duchesne labored alongside Barat, but she never forgot her childhood dream of evangelizing the American Indians. She finally saw the chance to pursue that dream in 1817, when the bishop of the newly acquired Louisiana Territory, William DuBourg, came to her convent, looking for help.
The following year, the 49-year-old sister left for America. Upon her arrival, though, she discovered that the Native Americans had already moved west and the bishop instead wanted her to found a school for American and French girls in St. Charles, Missouri. She obeyed, and eventually founded a half-dozen more.
Finally, in 1841, Duchesne received permission to found a new mission for the Potawatomi Indians in Kansas. Unfortunately, by then, she was too old to learn the language. So, rather than teach, she prayed. Moved by the long hours the sister spent in the chapel, the children nicknamed her Quahkahkanumad, meaning “Woman who prays always.”
After only a year, Duchesne returned to her order’s motherhouse in St. Charles. There, she spent the last decade of her life in a small room near the chapel, offering up her prayers for the work of her order. Pope St. John Paul II canonized her in 1988.
Burying the Dead
St. Catherine of Siena
St. Catherine of Siena did what no other woman of her generation — or most any generation — could do. She negotiated peace between warring nation states, counseled Holy Fathers on matters great and small, and brought the more than 70-year residence of the popes in Avignon, France, to an end.
Born in 1347, the Dominican tertiary received mystical visions and countless human visitors. The former helped her understand the depths of God’s love and the misery of the damned. The latter helped her practice patience, as she offered advice, prayers and spiritual counsel to an endless stream of visitors. From her home in Siena, Italy, she spoke with so many troubled people that the Dominicans eventually designated three priests to do nothing but hear the confessions of the people who came to see Catherine.
Catherine’s influence in 14th-century Italy was almost unparalleled. And yet, for all her great and important work, she never shrunk from the most menial of tasks: caring for the sick, feeding the elderly and burying the dead.
The last task, she did when no one else would. Following a terrible outbreak of the plague in Siena, Catherine moved among the sick unafraid. Those she couldn’t heal, she prepared for death and buried with her own hands, honoring their humanity to the very end.
It was her kindness to the dead and dying that finally stilled doubts about her sanctity and way of life. Touched by her sacrificial kindness, even more visitors came calling at Catherine’s door.
She died not many years later, at age 33, in 1380. Eighty-one years later she was canonized. Just over 600 years later, in 1970, Pope Paul VI declared St. Catherine of Siena a Doctor of the Church.