In 1818, at age 48, Philippine Duchesne set out with four other Sacred Heart nuns on a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean and upriver from New Orleans to the tiny village of St. Charles on the Missouri River, 25 miles from St. Louis. There, in a primitive log cabin, Mother Duchesne opened the Academy of the Sacred Heart—the first free school west of the Mississippi, and the first of many Schools of the Sacred Heart in the United States. To learn more, visit First Sacred Heart School in America.
Following is an excerpt of HEC-TV’s A Mission to Educate, a video about the history of Catholic education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. This excerpt describes the Academy’s founding by Philippine Duchesne in 1818.
IMPORTANT DATES IN ACADEMY HISTORY
Madeleine Sophie Barat founded the Society of the Sacred Heart; the following year its first foundation was made in Amiens, France.
Philippine Duchesne joined the fledgling Society of the Sacred Heart.
At the invitation of Bishop DuBourg, Philippine Duchesne traveled to the New World to establish the first Sacred Heart School in America. The Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles was the first free school west of the Mississippi.
Financial difficulties and the lack of boarding students caused the Academy to relocate to Florissant, Missouri.
St. Charles became the First Capital when Missouri was admitted to the Union.
The Jesuits drew the Society of the Sacred Heart back to its cradle foundation in St. Charles. They had just built the large stone church dedicated to St. Charles Borromeo.
The Society committed to a permanent establishment in St. Charles by erecting the first brick convent and school.
Section of brick building just north of 1835 (original) building was added.
Philippine Duchesne traveled to Sugar Creek, Kansas and spent a year with the Potawatomi Indians, realizing a lifelong dream of working with Native Americans. They called her “the woman who prays always.”
At age 83, Philippine Duchesne died in St. Charles, where she lived the last ten years of her life.
Section of brick building just south of 1835 building (now the Conference Room) was added.
A brick parish school was built on the campus near Second Street; RSCJ taught the town children there. It ceased to function in the 1890s.
Primary Wing was added to west side of building.
During Civil War soldiers were encamped in tents on Academy grounds. Troops drilled and property was protected and thoroughly respected.
Chapel (now Cribbin Hall) was built on north end of campus.
Science Wing was added on south end of building.
A brick building near the Decatur gate was built. Originally planned to be a parish school, it became instead the laundry. Almost 100 years later, it became the home of the Philippine Community.
The “tower” was added to the Primary Wing.
Pope Pius XII beatified Philippine Duchesne.
Under the patronage of Archbishop Ritter, ground was broken for the Shrine of St. Philippine Duchesne; the freestanding building was completed one year later.
Shrine was completed partially, awaiting additional funds for final nave to the south.
The south wing of the school was added, connecting the Academy and the Shrine.
Shrine was finished (without nave) in contemporary liturgical design.
Regis Hall was built to house primary classes and residence for boarders. This building was almost exactly placed on the original Duquette Mansion (log cabin of the school’s 1818 beginning).
The high school was closed. The last class of high school seniors graduated in the spring. In the fall, boys were admitted for the first time in the grade school. Beginning as a co-institutional system, the girls’ school retained the title, Academy of the Sacred Heart. The boys’ school was called Perier Elementary (after the cousins of Philippine Duchesne, with whom she grew up and who were very generous to her in her missionary activities). That first year there were two classes of boys: primary and first grade. Each year another class was added until boys comprised all nine grades.
The north wing was added and the old chapel became Cribbin Hall Library.
Pre-Primary classes for 4-year-olds were begun.
Rauch Memorial (gymnasium) was built and the existing gym became the school cafeteria (White Center).
St. Philippine Duchesne was canonized by Pope John Paul II.
With no clear division between boys’ and girls’ classes, the name Perier Elementary was discontinued.
With educational research pointing the way, the school returned to its single gender roots. The seventh and eighth grades were divided into all-boys’ and all-girls’ classes. Pre-Primary through Sixth Classes remained coeducational.
Single gender classes were extended to the sixth grade.