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An Encounter With Jesus in Jamaica View Comments
By Suzanne Rose

THE BISHOP’S VAN let our Pilgrims of Hope group of 11 women and men off at the end of the dusty drive in front of a long, concrete building. With a bit of paint and polish, the Missionaries of Charity had transformed this former warehouse into a nursing home for the elderly, those abandoned in the streets and on the hillsides of Jamaica. Many of these seniors were left behind by adult children, who sought better lives in more prosperous countries.

In a country with a crushing unemployment rate, the desire for better living conditions has left many elderly Jamaicans impoverished, without family to care for them. The sisters of this congregation, founded by Blessed Mother Teresa, minister to the destitute, or “the poorest of the poor.” The Missionaries of Charity do not lack work in this Third World country.

Mary Help of Christians is lettered over the doorway in blue; the entire building in Balaclaza, Jamaica, is painted the blue and white of Our Lady’s colors. The wish for Peace to All Who Enter Here greets visitors and residents who enter through the building’s oversized doors.

A young woman, dressed in the white and blue sari worn by members of this community, welcomes us. Two large German shepherds follow her as she begins a tour of the facility.

Men occupy the first floor of the building. The dogs pad quietly through the corridors, accompanying us into the women’s quarters on the second floor, where we will work alongside the sisters during the day.

Sister reviews the medical stock in the storeroom to evaluate what may be useful to us as we minister to the residents. The few supplies on the shelf take only a moment to count. Rubbing alcohol seems to be the common treatment for ailments.

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Suzanne Rose is the volunteer coordinator with a refugee resettlement agency and also the founder of Pilgrims of Hope. Her article “St. Monica and Me” (August 2010) described how the survival of her son, Jeremiah, now 32, who worked near the World Trade Center, brought her into the Catholic Church in 2003. She and her husband, Tom, have two other children, Bethany, 30, and Emily, 16, and live in Owensboro, Kentucky.

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Rose Philippine Duchesne: Born in Grenoble, France, of a family that was among the new rich, Philippine learned political skills from her father and a love of the poor from her mother. The dominant feature of her temperament was a strong and dauntless will, which became the material—and the battlefield—of her holiness. She entered the convent at 19 and remained despite their opposition. As the French Revolution broke, the convent was closed, and she began taking care of the poor and sick, opened a school for homeless children and risked her life helping priests in the underground. 
<p>When the situation cooled, she personally rented her old convent, now a shambles, and tried to revive its religious life. The spirit was gone, and soon there were only four nuns left. They joined the infant Society of the Sacred Heart, whose young superior, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, would be her lifelong friend. In a short time Philippine was a superior and supervisor of the novitiate and a school. But her ambition, since hearing tales of missionary work in Louisiana as a little girl, was to go to America and work among the Indians. At 49, she thought this would be her work. With four nuns, she spent 11 weeks at sea en route to New Orleans, and seven weeks more on the Mississippi to St. Louis. She then met one of the many disappointments of her life. The bishop had no place for them to live and work among Native Americans. Instead, he sent her to what she sadly called "the remotest village in the U.S.," St. Charles, Missouri. With characteristic drive and courage, she founded the first free school for girls west of the Mississippi. </p><p>It was a mistake. Though she was as hardy as any of the pioneer women in the wagons rolling west, cold and hunger drove them out—to Florissant, Missouri, where she founded the first Catholic Indian school, adding others in the territory. "In her first decade in America, Mother Duchesne suffered practically every hardship the frontier had to offer, except the threat of Indian massacre—poor lodging, shortages of food, drinking water, fuel and money, forest fires and blazing chimneys, the vagaries of the Missouri climate, cramped living quarters and the privation of all privacy, and the crude manners of children reared in rough surroundings and with only the slightest training in courtesy" (Louise Callan, R.S.C.J., <i>Philippine Duchesne</i>). </p><p>Finally at 72, in poor health and retired, she got her lifelong wish. A mission was founded at Sugar Creek, Kansas, among the Potawatomi. She was taken along. Though she could not learn their language, they soon named her "Woman-Who-Prays-Always." While others taught, she prayed. Legend has it that Native American children sneaked behind her as she knelt and sprinkled bits of paper on her habit, and came back hours later to find them undisturbed. She died in 1852 at the age of 83 and was canonized in 1988.</p> American Catholic Blog It was important for some saints to vanish from view, to “decrease” so that God could “increase” in the scheme of things. Many saints actively fought promotions. If obedience required embracing them, they found other ways to remain lowly.

 
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