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St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, 200 Years Crossing Frontiers

Artist: Michael O'Neill McGrath, OSFS

What's the Bicentennial all About?

by Kathleen Hughes, RSCJ

What exactly are we celebrating in the Bicentennial Year 2017-2018? I've been asked that question often. I believe we are celebrating four things:

A woman

A friendship

A journey across many frontiers

And our internationality

First, we honor a woman, Rose Philippine Duchesne. She was a woman of Grenoble, France, 10 years Sophie's senior; a sometimes impetuous and impatient woman, like Peter in the Gospels; a missionary who longed to reveal God's love half a world away; a pioneer facing heroic circumstances and deprivations of frontier life; a woman always drawn to those on the margins of society; an educator, who taught by love, suffering and humility even more than by word; and, above all, a woman of deep prayer, known by her beloved Potawatomi as "the woman who prays always." 

Second, we celebrate a friendship - between Philippine and Sophie. We have come to marvel at their friendship, so intimate for 14 years in France and then maintained at great personal cost, for the next 34 years of their separation. They were different on so many ways - background, social class, temperament, spirituality. They were bound together because they were soul friends, joined by their common passion to glorify the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to make God's love known to the ends of the earth.

Third, the bicentennial celebrates frontiers. When Philippine boarded the Rebecca, she left behind - everything and everyone she held dear - for a New World totally unknown to her. But geography was not her only frontier, nor perhaps the hardest. She crossed a frontier from from the Visitation to the Sacred Heart charism. She negotiated frontiers of race and class and language; of different educational systems and expectations; of civil and ecclesiastical pressures; and, of course, the hundred and one frontiers of the heart - challenges and losses and fears and misunderstandings, frontiers crossed or gotten through by faith and grace and by her extraordinary generosity of spirit.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the bicentennial is a celebration of our internationality, a celebration of our one global Sacred Heart family. In the 19th century many religious orders in Europe were asked to send religious to the New World; nearly all of those orders ended up breaking toes and becoming independent religious communities because of distance, because of the enormous frustrations of slow communication, sometimes because bishops requested works not in their constitutions. The Society of the Sacred Heart is one of very few orders that remained in union with their European motherhouse. Why? Maybe it was the fierce loyalty of Philippine to Sophie. Maybe it was fidelity to our motto: Cor Unum et Anima Una in Corde Jesu (one heart and one soul in the heart of Jesus). Happily, as a result of that loyalty and fidelity, we now find ourselves in 41 countries, all of us preparing for the Bicentennial!

Originally printed in Esprit de Coeur - Winter 2017 issue

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