By Virginia Vollmer, OFS
Saint Rose-Philippine Duchesne and Saint Marianne Cope were two American women with different temperaments and lives, but who were similar by hearing the call of God and following in Jesus’ footsteps.
Both women were immigrants to America. Saint Rose was born in Grenoble, France, on August 29, 1769. She arrived in the United States at 48 years of age. Saint Marianne was born in Heppenheim, Germany, on January 23, 1838. Her family immigrated to Utica, New York, when she was two years old.
Both women joined holy orders. Saint Rose was received into the Ladies of the Sacred Heart in 1804. It was a new order created after the French Revolution which saw the disbandment of many orders and the martyrdom of many Catholics. After being taught by the Sisters of Saint Francis, Marianne entered the order in 1862.
The work of both women centered in American territories that would eventually become part of the United States— Saint Rose in the Louisiana Purchase Territory, and Saint Marianne in the Kingdom of Hawaii. How did they get to these “out of the way” places?
Saint Rose was originally a cloistered nun but had the yearning to be a missionary to the Native Americans. The moment arrived when a letter was delivered to the order in 1818 asking for nuns to establish schools and a community in St. Louis, Missouri. The work would prove difficult for Saint Rose and the five sisters who accompanied her. When they arrived, they found no convent, and the people were few and poor. However, the people of St. Charles, Missouri were willing to build a convent and school, and so the nuns moved across the river. In order to teach, they had to learn English. At the age of 48, Saint Rose found this task difficult, leaving the teaching to the other nuns who had learned the language. On top of that, as Mother Superior, Saint Rose had the responsibility of managing resources, but she discovered that she was not a good administrator. What she was good at was caring for and loving the poor, and most importantly, at praying. The Potawatomi Tribe called her “Woman Who Prays Always”. Saint Rose-Philippine died in St. Charles on November 18, 1852, at 83 years of age.
By the age of 14 Saint Marianne was managing the family household and working in a factory to help provide for the family of nine children. It wasn’t until she was 24 that she felt able to leave the family to answer the call to religious life. The Sisters of St. Francis ran nine schools and two hospitals in New York. Saint Marianne’s talent as an able administrator was soon put to use, and by 1877 she was elected superior of the order.
Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) was an incurable disease for centuries. Separate colonies were created around the world to house those contracting the disease. The island of Molokai became one such colony within the Kingdom of Hawaii. Father Damien tended to the men of Molokai after arriving in 1873. Ten years later, nuns were asked to help manage and staff the Kakaako Hospital in Honolulu. The patients there were in various stages of leprosy. Saint Marianne and five other sisters answered the call. In 1887 the Kingdom of Hawaii collapsed. The new government closed the Kakaako Hospital, sending all the patients to Molokai. Saint Marianne and two of the nuns went with them. They ran the Charles R. Bishop Home for Unprotected Leper Girls and Women, teaching domestic arts and planting trees, vegetables, and flowers. Saint Marianne died on Molokai from tuberculosis on August 9, 1918.
Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne and Saint Marianne Cope persevered in their calls and missions. Both exhibited love for the people in their care. Both of their legacies can be seen today: The Sacred Heart Academy in St. Charles still exists. Saint Rose’s body rests there at the Shrine of Saint Philippine Duchesne. The Sisters of St. Francis are still on the island of Molokai, and to date not one has contracted Hansen’s disease. Saint Marianne’s body rests at the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu.