Magdalena Cruz, a Sacred Heart alumna who lives in Spain but hails from Peru, writes about how Philippine has inspired her.
Magdalena Cruz is an alumna of the Sacred Heart School of Jaén, of the Superior Pedagogical School and of the Women's University of the Sacred Heart in Lima. From a very young age, she began internalizing the spirit of the Society, following the examples of Madeleine Sophie, Philippine Duchesne, and so many RSCJ who have left their mark in the service of humanity and in her life. She currently lives in Madrid and is still close to and accompanied by the Sacred Heart family.
I feel fortunate to be able to write a few lines about Philippine, even if they may be insufficient to convey the message she embodied throughout her life. She was a woman who was at the service of others from a very young age, and who knew how to follow her vocation and religious ideals, even if it caused great displeasure to her family. Since I have been in school, I have been impressed by her life, yet it was not until now that I recognized that her example is the one that has inspired me to continue trusting in God's will, despite the circumstances under which I have lived.
I highlight the following:
Her generous dedication, in spite of her circumstances. She knew how to maintain her faith with actions, helping prisoners in the middle of the French Revolution. This way of living in generous dedication to others nourished her. Even if the convent where she initially entered was closed, she did not give up; she remained firm in her vocation of service and continued on her way when God allowed her to meet another woman with similar ideals, our Saint Madeleine Sophie. This was like joining two pillars that would take the Society to the ends of the earth.
In times of crisis, it is sometimes more comfortable to opt for what is easiest or what takes less energy. It takes a lot of courage and determination to continue when everything seems to be pointless; sometimes it is a matter of finding a way and she knew that, recognizing her weaknesses and always looking for a way to strengthen her faith. For example, she visited the Basilica of Saint Régis de Lalouvesc, even though going to it was not the most comfortable thing to do.
Her selflessness, leaving what was comfortable and what gave her the greatest security, without even reflecting on what would be best for others, ruled out the possibility of a good marriage, then with her own financial means and the support of her cousins after she convinced them, she even managed to rent the former convent of Sainte-Marie-d'en-Haut in Grenoble. Her renunciation of a pleasant and comfortable dwelling, because she did not mind moving in with children to educate them, led her to invite even the Visitantine nuns (where she initially entered) to return. Because they were older, they did not accept, but this did not discourage her. In life, this level of selflessness is unusual, because it is easier to stay in one’s comfort zone. Having an attitude of selflessness to benefit others costs more, and if it is imposed by one’s life circumstances, it is easier to give up.
The constancy and fortitude to wait, to have no doubt that the long-awaited day of fulfilling her desire to be a missionary would come. A day when she would be able to share her vocation with a world totally unknown to her and to the congregation; when Monsignor Guillaume-Valentin Dubourg, from Louisiana (USA), passing through Paris, asked the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to take charge of the education of the French girls and the Native Americans there. Sometimes waiting makes us desperate and we enter into a state of anxiety that limits us and does not let us see beyond faith and hope. I emphasize this kind of waiting because in my life I have felt more than once the frustration of having to wait, but I did so with faith, because nothing is impossible for God.
She understood the idea of the frontier and constraints, when she went to attend to the wounded of the French Revolution. When she assumed her missionary vocation, she lived a very austere life, living in a log cabin and enduring extreme cold and hard work, with very few economic resources. When she had to continue with the mission, despite not being able to communicate with the Potawatomi, she was already very old and sick. Yet she did not give up, and her legacy continues to this day. In a world where consumerism and values that devalue life itself prevail, this choice of going to the frontier, of working with the poorest (materially, spiritually, in terms of horizons or aspirations), becomes more difficult and seems to be only for the bold and courageous.
The woman who prayed, food for her mission. She had already built a school for young girls and young women. Although she was unable to learn English, this did not limit her desire to go to the Potawatomi, a dream that was fulfilled when they opened a school for them in Sugar Creek (Kansas), even if she was already 72 years old. I can imagine how she felt at that moment when she heard the news that her destiny had finally been fulfilled, yet at the same time she heard her sisters saying that she was too old and sick for this mission. God had planned this moment for her, when the Jesuit priest who directed that mission said: "You must come: perhaps you will not be able to do much work, but with your prayers you will ensure the success of the mission, and your presence will attract many favors from heaven for our work". One year was enough for her to feel very close to them, despite not being able to communicate, so much so that she was called "Kwah-kah-kum-ad" ("The woman who always prays"). This approach of praying, despite not understanding what is said has always been present in my life; it happens at times that I do not understand something, and there are extreme situations that require one simply to be and to accept the Will of God, as Philippine taught us with her example.
Thank you for your life and mission, dear Philippine Duchesne, please continue to accompany us in our life and mission, which we live as lay people in a world of setbacks and contradictions.
Thank you also to the Society of the Sacred Heart, for continuing the work started by these great women who remind us of our mission as educators in a world full of challenges, not only for RSCJ but all of us who have been influenced by their examples.
Magdalena Cruz Herrera
Peruvian alumna in Madrid