Archive for Sunday, September 22, 1991


September 22, 1991


Sister Rose Philippine Duchesne's canonization by Pope John Paul II on July 3, 1988, didn't quell the interest of a Kansas University English professor in the French nun.

The professor, Beverly Boyd, now has published an autobiographical book that chronicles her efforts on behalf of Philippine's rise to sainthood. She also is documenting developments, especially within Kansas, triggered by that event, and she is continuing to help build KU's Kansas Collection's holdings on the saint.

"Right now, I'm interested in the ripple effect," Boyd explained during a recent interview.

Among those she has discerned, she said, is the opening of a health clinic named for the saint in Kansas City, Kan., and the "blossoming" career of Kansas City artist Kathy Barnard, who created the etched-glass windows that depicts Philippine in the St. Lawrence Catholic Center here.

THE NUN'S shrine church in Mound City, which was closed, has reopened, she added, and its resident priest, the Rev. Pat Fitzgerald, a longtime supporter of Philippine, is back.

The people in Mound City also are trying to build a parish hall to better accommodate the increase in visitors, Boyd said, and a big park has opened there at the wilderness site of the old Jesuit mission where Philippine, then in her 70s, lived and worked with the Potawatomi in 1841 and '42.

Boyd said the canonization also helped remind Kansans of the Potawatomi and the tribulations many Native Americans still endure.

"Things are going on," she said. "It's good for the state because it brings tourists."

There's also Boyd's book, "The Song of Mound City," which was published earlier this year by Vantage Press of New York.

TO WRITE IT, the KU professor and medievalist turned back the pages of her own life about 40 years, to the time when she personally decided to become a Catholic against her Protestant parents' wishes, and to the conclusion of her two-year membership as a novice in Philippine's order the Society of the Sacred Heart.

Boyd opens with a painful personal scene her eviction from the convent in Albany, N.Y.:

`They were glad to be rid of me. What I remember most about that day is the creaking floorboards and the ever-present smell of wax. The portress went by, eyes averted but seeing all. She had seen the deadmarch often enough, the sick-faced novice following the mistress out through the cloister door. . . . '

In the book, Boyd does not explain why she was evicted but, from that starting point, takes her readers on an animated journey. She begins with her search for a new direction, which ultimately led to academia and her arrival in Kansas, via (mostly) New York City, Austin, Tex., and Radford, Va.

Her ups and downs in academic life at various universities are recounted, as is her serendipitous rediscovery of Philippine forgotten from her novice days 15 years after arriving in Kansas.

In part two of "The Song of Mound City," the English professor recalls Philippine's reemergence in her life, at Thanksgiving in 1979. At the KU Medical Center for surgery, Boyd read a article about the nun in a newspaper loaned to her by the Rev. Jerry Spencer, med center chaplain. Spencer shared the paper with Boyd because it featured Bishop Miege and the centennial of the archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan.

`I now discovered that I had been living on her frontier for 15 years without knowing it and without once hearing her name. I was so overcome that I burst into tears. . . . The article had mentioned a church in Linn County, built as a monument to her when she was beatified in 1940. I resolved to go there. That, however, was not to happen soon.'

Boyd's father became ill and died in New York, a bad Kansas winter set in, more personal medical problems cropped up and her mother's decision to come live with her were just some of the events that kept Boyd away from Linn County.

One day, though, she relates in the book, she was looking through the card catalog at KU and learned no copy of Philippine's standard biography was in the university's holdings.

That led her immediately to the Kansas Collection, where she and Sheryl Williams, curator, began a long association centered on building KU's holdings on Philippine.

In the Mound City church, Boyd found the biography she was looking for as well as other documents pertaining to the nun and other people who were interested in Philippine's life.

"I sat in a pew, the priest was expecting me and should be along shortly. I would have fallen on my knees but I did not want to be seen that way. I was not going to tell this priest I had been in Philippine's order. I had stepped into a vision, in which my own past mingled with frontier history, of which I was totally ignorant."

There followed innumerable efforts by Boyd, sometimes without apparent success, to encourage various honors for Philippine and her canonization. The memoir chronicles them all including some dark moments at the canonization.

Much of the writing is based on Boyd's personal diaries, which are now in the Kansas Collection, under seal for her lifetime.

The book actually was written to nix a writer's block that hit after Boyd completed a years-long work on Chaucer, Boyd said, noting her only previous publication on Philippine was a volume of poetry, "Philippine's Windows and other poems."

That book was published in 1987 by the Benedictine College Press in Atchison.

Boyd acknowledged many readers of her book notice parallels between St. Philippine's life and her own, but she protested their validity.

She said, though, they both "had to fight the male establishment.

"It's not done in malice, but you're fighting tradition."

Boyd said she thinks St. Philippine's canonization "is a product of the women's movenent" and added, "The first thing, after long years of nothing, was her nomination and naming as first Pioneer Woman of Kansas."

Boyd made the nomination; KU's Commission on the Status of Women did the naming.

"The Song of Mound City" concludes with Boyd's detailed account of Philippine's 1988 canonization ceremony in Rome, including Vatican slights to Kansans there as well as personal and ceremonial highlights.

She said she hoped her book "helps to make people (more) aware of Kansas history and women's part in Kansas history.

"You never can put into writing what happened. This was an incredible experience."

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