Duchesne's Life in St. Louis and Beyond
Itinerary courtesy of the Society of The Sacred Heart
This is where Mother Duchesne and her travel companions disembarked the steamboat Franklin, after their hot, 40-day journey up the Mississippi River from New Orleans. The five sisters had begun their journey from Paris nearly six months before. In the river port of Bordeaux, France, they boarded the sailing ship Rebecca for their 70-day journey across the Atlantic Ocean to New Orleans.
clearing the area for the arch, old cathedral still remains
Photo courtesy of NextSTL
Downtown St. Louis
During Philippine’s first three weeks in St. Louis, she slept in a house on what is now the grass under the Arch. She and her four companions were guests in a fine two-story, French colonial house on Market and Main streets. General Bernard and Emilie Labadie Pratte, a granddaughter of City of St. Louis founder Pierre Laclede and Marie Therese Chouteau, welcomed the sisters for a three-week visit. The couple diligently worked to find rental property for a new school but without success. Bishop William DuBourg had promised a site in St. Louis but made no arrangements. St. Louis was a boom town, and Philippine wrote that rents were higher than those in Paris.
After three weeks, DuBourg accompanied the five sisters 24 miles west to the frontier village of St. Charles, MO
The Old Cathedral: Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France
209 Walnut St, St. Louis, MO
Visit the oldest cathedral west of the Mississippi
Mass had not been available on the steamboat Franklin. While in St. Louis, Philippine and her companions attended Mass in the Church of St. Louis, the King, located on the site of today’s Old Cathedral. In 1818, it was the second church on this site.
In 1834, Philippine made a sacrificial contribution to the construction of a new yellow limestone cathedral when she was living nearby at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, City House. That building was the third church on this site.
Today, you are visiting the fourth church on the site. The cathedral grounds are the only land in St. Louis that has had the same owner for 254 years (as of 2018).
Photo courtesy of Villa Duchesne
City House, St. Louis
1131 South Broadway at Convent Street, St. Louis, MO
From 1827 to 1834, Philippine lived the Academy of the Sacred Heart, called the City House. It was a tuition-based girls' school, with an additional wing that housed a free school and orphanage. In the 1830s, free African-Americans attended the free school until civil authorities ordered their education to cease.
The school has complete with balconies and had river views. The Mill Creek (now underground) drained into Chouteau’s Pond and formed nearly a moat around the school. A limestone wall surrounded the school.
Today, look at the white stone foundation of the red brick building to the north of the Shamrock Pub. Society of the Sacred Heart historian Sister Marie Louise Martinez believed the stone work was originally part of the well-documented, extensive stone wall around City House.
Philippine loved this school. It was from here, in 1841 at the age of 72, that she finally had the opportunity to travel to Kansas to the Jesuits’ Potawatomi Indian mission of Sugar Creek.
By 1893, Broadway had become industrialized, noisy and polluted. The school’s superior, Reverend Mother Elise Miltenberger, moved City House to the then remote Taylor Avenue between Maryland and Pershing avenues in what is today’s Central West End. She also founded Barat Hall, a boys’ grade school. Both schools flourished until 1968. That year, the Society of the Sacred Heart merged the two schools with Villa Duchesne, which had been founded in 1929 in St. Louis County at Spoede and Conway. The three schools were reorganized as Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School.
Photo courtesy of the Society of Sacred Heart
Academy of the Sacred Heart and St. Philippine Duchesne Shrine
619 North 2nd Street at Clark Street, St. Charles, MO
Just three weeks after the steamboat Franklin delivered the intrepid five sisters to St. Louis and shortly after Philippine’s 49th birthday, Bishop William DuBourg accompanied her carriage and cart to St. Charles. They made the rough, daylong 24-mile journey over rutted dirt roads to LaFreniere Chavin’s ferry and floated across the wide Missouri River. They rented a house high on a bluff in the frontier town.
On September 14, 1818, on these grounds, the saint opened the first free school west of the Mississippi in the house. Later she opened a low-fee school and, finally, an academic boarding school for only two St. Louis families willing to have their daughters on the distant frontier. Plans for boarders to support the free schools dimmed.
Philippine called the St. Charles village, “the remotest village in the U.S.” With scant tuition income, she closed the tiny school in less than a year and moved to Florissant, where, in 1819, they occupied a new purpose-built convent and school.
In St. Charles, a decade after she closed the school, Jesuits built a new church there and entreated some of her Religious of the Sacred Heart to found a new Academy of the Sacred Heart. That school thrives today as a private grade school.
She returned to St. Charles at the age 73 after a year in Kansas serving the Potawatomi tribe. The room where she spent her last decade survives much as it was the day she died at noon on November 18, 1852. A spare, wooden prie-Dieu, her foot warmer and a picture of a favorite saint, St. Regis, remain. Her beloved crucifix later came from the hillside stone Visitation convent in Grenoble, France. Her community’s adjacent parlor is furnished with objects and photos of her time.
Her remains are in a marble sarcophagus in the mid-20th century limestone shrine church on the grounds.
Villa Duchesne, photo courtesy of Villa Duchesne
Places of interest in St. Louis:
Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, 4431 Lindell Boulevard, St. Louis, MO: Mosaic of Duchesne complete in ceiling
St. Louis Walk of Fame, 6241 Delmar Blvd at Eastgate Ave, St. Louis, MO : A star and plaque, dedicated June 23, 2017 to Duchesne, sits in the sidewalk of Delmar blvd among the 140+ famous Missourians
Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School, 801 S. Spoede Road, St. Louis, MO: Philippine's image is carved into a tree trunk by Robinson Carving Company welcome students and visitors
Duchesne High School, 2550 Elm Street, St. Charles, MO: Plaster statue of Philippine is in the foyer of the school. Visitors are welcome during office hours.
Grand Coteau, Louisiana, photo courtesy of the Society of Sacred Heart
Places of interest outside of St. Louis
Sacred Heart Catholic Church & Shrine of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, 729 W. Main St, Mound CIty, KS
Duchesne Memorial Park, 8487 W 1525 Road, Centerville, KS: Former St. Mary's Sugar Creek Mission where the Potawatomi lived for 10 years beginning in 1838 at the end of their Trail of Death.
Hall of Famous Missourians, State Capital, 201 West Capitol Ave, Jefferson City, MO: A sculpture of Philippine by Sabra Tull Meyer is displayed. Capitol building tours available 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekends.
Old Ursuline Convent Museum, 1100 Chartres St. New Orleans, LA: The Old Ursuline Convent is the oldest building in the Mississippi River Valley. Completed in 1752, it is also the oldest surviving example of the French colonial period in the United States. In 1818, Philippine and her companions stayed at this convent when they arrived in New Orleans from France. A sculpture of Philippine is in the courtyard.
Grand Coteau School, 332 Castille St, Sunset, LA: In 1821, a widow donated her home and land for the Sacred Heart nuns to open a girls' tuition-based school and free school