Lights on Philippine Duchesne
Appeal to the Young. Some years ago, two boys aged about twelve came to our house to ask for help with their school project on religious life. We told them a few facts about our Society and gave them some booklets and pictures. A short time later, we were invited to their exhibition. On entering the hall, our attention was drawn immediately to a six-foot high poster of Philippine sitting on the deck of the Rebecca and, in their presentation, the boys made clear by their enthusiasm, that Philippine was just the kind of religious they could understand and admire. Her daring, dedication and her selfless loving had captured their imagination. I learned from children that day a new appreciation for the gift to the Society of Philippine Duchesne.
Social Justice. In 1988, I had the privilege of making a pilgrimage organised by our French sisters. We visited the great house in Grenoble where the Duchesne and Perier families grew up, Philippine’s beloved Ste Marie d’En-Haut, and the Grande Chartreuse high in the majestic Alps. But the place that left the strongest impression on me was the Chateau de Vizille. In 1988, many banners around Vizille proclaimed it “Le Berceau de la Révolution!” (“The Cradle of the Revolution”). On display was the Charter of Human Rights, drawn up there in 1788, a document which triggered the Revolution and was partly the work of Philippine’s Uncle Claude. How much did Philippine hear of the political discussions going on around her? How did this affect her championship of the poor and the oppressed? For me, Vizille opened another window into the mind and heart of Philippine.
The Pioneer. The third memorable moment was my visit to Florissant on a bitterly cold March day. As I shivered in the spacious dormitory, my companion spoke to me about life in the boarding school in Philippine’s time. She assured me that things would have been even more austere then. As she spoke, I imagined Philippine walking around at night, trying to bring comfort and warmth to the pupils, then going to break the ice on the water jugs. Sitting in that comfortless room, I felt over-awed by the sheer heroism of this valiant woman.
Moira Donnelly rscj