When we look at the friendships Sophie Barat had over a long lifetime, and in particular her friendship with Philippine Duchesne, several patterns emerge:




  

Obviously, any one of these aspects did not exclude another, and there were overlaps in Sophie's friendships and in the friendships of the members of the Society in her day.


Sophie Barat and Philippine Duchesne met in Grenoble in December 1804, and the power of that meeting, on the threshold of Ste Marie d'En Haut, remained with them for the rest of their lives. Philippine retained a deep love, and indeed, a reverence for Sophie, all her life. After years of personal contact in Grenoble and Paris from 1804-1818, they never met again once Philippine Duchesne departed for Louisiana in 1818.

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For her part, Sophie loved and admired Philippine. She respected her noble, loyal spirit, and her fidelity to her missionary call. In 1841 Sophie spoke of the wonder she felt when Philippine finally reached the Indians at Sugar Creek. Sophie knew of the long, almost desperate wait of Philippine, from 1818 until 1841, years when she had been continually absorbed by other demands in Missouri and Louisiana. And yet, Sophie recognised that by 1841 Philippine Duchesne was almost too old to travel the 600 miles up the Missouri river to Sugar Creek.

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In fact, Philippine was quite ill in 1841, but with the help of her friends, especially the intrepid Jesuit, Pierre-Jean de Smet, she reached her long-awaited goal, Sugar Creek.This picture of the valiant Philippine Duchesne, finally realising her destiny, can be a subject of meditation and mystery for our own personal lives and experience as indeed it was for Sophie Barat herself.

Yet while Sophie and Philippine were good friends at the personal and spiritual level, it is clear that they did not share the same vision, or indeed capacity, around the task of government in the Society.This was a source of pain for them both.


We need to place this personal difficulty in the context of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in France. At this time, forms of religious life were gradually evolving from monastic structures, with more public tasks for religious women in society in the sphere of education and health. Sophie and her companions sought to create a new community which would be rooted in these new spaces and places, but each of them came from very different experiences and backgrounds.

 

Philippine Duchesne was formed in the Visitation tradition and this naturally marked her all her life. That formation became a source of difficulty for both friends. This is evident in Sophie's profound frustration with Philippine's understanding of leadership at a very crucial time in Missouri and Louisiana. Sophie had to lead the Society at a time of rapid growth and of urgent need for enduring, effective structures. For her part, Philippine continually reminded Sophie that her gifts did not lie in leadership and asked to be relieved of the responsibility.Yet Sophie valued Philippine's moral, spiritual stature and did not want this sidelined. But in the end Sophie had to place leadership in Louisiana in the hands of others.

 

Their difficulties were compounded when Sophie’s delegate, Elizabeth Galitzine, visited the American communities during the period 1839-1843.The visit proved to be difficult for Philippine personally and she thought that Elizabeth Galitzines’s decisions in her regard were supported by Sophie. This was not so, and the misunderstanding was only cleared up in 1846, when they were able to resolve the issues and resume their correspondence.

 

We may be shocked by the openness and frankness in the letters of Sophie Barat and Philippine Duchesne.They are open about their love and affection, their difficulties and strains, their ups and downs, their misunderstandings and reconciliations. In Sophie and Philippine's day people often spoke the truth more directly to one another than we do, and so the wounds and misunderstandings could be exposed honestly.

 

The friendship of Sophie Barat and Philippine Duchesne endured because it was centred on their love of Christ and their love for each other. These two dimensions of their friendship enabled them to survive some real divergences around how to structure the vision of the Society of the Sacred Heart. They had the core essentials of friendship, which endure time and eternity.

Further Reading

Madeleine Sophie Barat A Life (Cork University Press)
See in particular pages: 40-44; 95-96; 126-130; 222-237; 333-4; 418-420
The best way to study the friendship of Sophie Barat and Philippine Duchesne is to read their letters, (1804-1852), edited by the late Jeanne de Charry. These are superb volumes, and have been translated into English. Jeanne de Charry, Sainte Madeleine-Sophie Barat, Sainte Philippine Duchesne. Correspondance 1804-1852.Texte des manuscrits originauxprtsentt avec une introduction, des notes et un index analytique. 4 volumes (1988-1999) In volume 4, see Letters 321-338, pp 333-371 (1841-1852), and especially Letter 321 and
Letter 329 (English translation text)

Reflection

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