From the Heart, Community Voices

Community Voices

From the Heart

September 14, 2023

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Two hundred and five years ago today, on September 14, 1818, Mother Duchesne opened the first free school for girls west of the Mississippi River. Twenty-two little girls came from the village to be the first children of the Sacred Heart in America. Their families were too poor to pay any tuition, and they were rather grudgingly giving education for girls a try. The children were at first impetuous and undisciplined, and the nuns devoted themselves wholeheartedly to them, delighted to find that many of them spoke French. Gradually the children responded to their efforts, and an atmosphere of affectionate respect was created, which made the schoolroom a homelike place where devotion to the Sacred Heart could develop.

When the weather was pleasant, some children had class on the gallery with Sister Aude, while Mother Duchesne and Sister Berthold taught others in the central room. The children were learning their religion, as well as reading, writing, and arithmetic. One period of the day brought everyone together in the large central room for prayer and the singing of hymns. Mother Duchesne wrote: “Now our day pupils sing at Benediction. They have learned some of Father Barat’s hymns, especially one to the Sacred Heart. They are eager to learn, and they learn easily.”

Thirty-three years later, in 1851, one year before her death, Philippine wrote to St. Madeleine Sophie Barat:

I beg you never to close this house of St. Charles. If you could only see the pretty place we have here, standing beside the church, you would not have the courage to take it from us. I sympathize sincerely with all the crosses you have to carry, but I beg you, take mine away by safeguarding the existence of this, our first dwelling-place in America.”

Later, St. Madeleine Sophie responded to Philippine:

I hold strongly to St. Charles, and I am delighted that we have a house there. It may accomplish more good than any other house.

I am so grateful to Philippine for all she endured to bring the Society of the Sacred Heart and Sacred Heart Education to America, especially to our first school here in St. Charles.

Margaret Munch, RSCJ