This holy founder of our American houses will be the blessing of your house, and you will have the consolation of welcoming her to care for her and soften her last moments, which I fear are near, for this mother has suffered so much.—Reverend Mother Madeleine Sophie Barat
While Mother Regis, born Eulalie Hamilton, was in the first class of novitiates of Rose Philippine Duchesne, the two eventually went their own ways, following separate paths while remaining devoted members of the Society of the Sacred Heart.
As Regis continued to take on important roles in the society, Philippine in 1840 stepped down from the position she had never desired. She no longer oversaw Regis, nor did she have frequent direct communication with Revered Mother Barat, who had founded the order in Paris in 1800.
At the age of 71, Philippine was finally able to pursue the dream that had motivated her to leave France for America: She would be able to teach Indian children.
With three other Sacred Heart nuns, Philippine went to Sugar Creek, Kansas, to join some Jesuits who had already begun a mission among the Potawatomi.
“At last we have reached the country of our desires,” she reported.
The nuns opened a school for Indian girls on July 19, 1941, but soon Philippine’s companions and others became concerned about her health and difficulty adjusting to the language and circumstances. A plea went from the nun leading their mission, to the nun who had replaced Philippine as provincial superior, all the way to Reverend Mother Barat in France.
As a result, on April 19, 1842, Reverend Mother Barat wrote to Regis stating her opinion that Philippine would be better off with Regis than staying at Sugar Creek. The quote at the start of this post is from that letter, which continues:
I too will be more assured knowing that she is with you, whom she reveres and loves, according to what her superior tells me.
Since both Mothers Barat and Philippine were eventually canonized, this was truly a saintly correspondence. Nancy Hamilton, my high school classmate who is related to Regis, and I were thrilled when we saw the letter to her relative from one saint about another saint.
Less than a year after her arrival at Sugar Creek, the same priest who had escorted the nuns to Sugar Creek took Philippine to Saint Charles where Regis could look after her.
Philippine was at Saint Charles while Regis was superior from 1842 until 1847, but her letters were less frequent than they had been when she was a superior or missionary to the Indians and few letters contained information about Regis.
In 1847, Regis went on loan to Saint Jacques in Canada, where she was expected to stay a year. But, instead of coming directly back to Saint Charles, Regis was sent to serve as superior at Eden Hall, Philadelphia, and Detroit.
Meanwhile, Philippine’s niece, Amelie Jouve, visited her on September 8, 1847, and asked if there was anything she could do for her. Philippine responded with two requests: She asked that a particular painting of Saint Francis Regis be taken out of storage and she asked for the return of Mother Regis Hamilton as superior at Saint Charles. The painting was put back on display at Saint Charles, where it remains today. Mother Regis also returned, but not until November 1851, just a year before Philippine’s death.
In June 1850, Philippine wrote:
We desire very much Mother Hamilton’s return. She has a special talent for looking after the sodalities. They asked for her for only a year, but she has been gone for three.
Philippine was more insistent in a letter dated April 30, 1851, writing:
… we had hoped to be governed again by Mother Hamilton, who was much loved by all for her virtues. Here, as in Saint Louis, it is necessary to have a superior who speaks English. It is always a superior asked for in the parlor. It is true that Mother Hamilton dreads the parlor and still more the office of superior, as she is very scrupulous …
Comfort Near Death
A December 1851 letter reflected Philippine’s happiness upon Regis’s return and she expressed both joy and gratitude in a letter the following April. She wrote:
God arranged a great consolation for me in the return of Mother Hamilton. Our hearts and arms have been reaching out to her for a long time. The sisters who knew her were tempted to do so, and those who did not know her have also rejoiced in the Lord, and everyone is happy after great trials caused by frustration. The fathers esteem her and are pleased, and the boarders are more attached to her than to her predecessors, and so are our friends on the outside. All this a reason for gratitude to God who lifts our spirits after trials.
The charity of the one who governs us is an example for everyone. She sleeps in my room, which gives her an opportunity to practice her charity.
She voiced similar praise in a May 1852 letter:
… This year at the same time, I am better and am now afraid of being still far from our heavenly country.
I attribute this recovery to that of this whole family. We cannot be too grateful for the gift you have given us in our Mother Hamilton. Everything is peaceful at the house.
Now instead of tears and temptations, everyone is content. The pupils are in agreement with their teachers and the people outside are too.
Philippine’s final letter to Mother Barat before dying on November 18, 1852, stated:
Our Mother [Hamilton] sleeps in my room and looks tenderly after all my needs.
After Philippine’s death, Regis continued to serve as superior or assistant to the superior at various locations, including Saint Charles, Saint Louis, East Pennsylvania, and Chicago. She died in Chicago August 7, 1888.
A future post may look into her life after Philippine’s death, as I haven’t yet explored sources of this information.
My guest editor for this post was Vicky Tangi, who teaches English as a Second Language to adults and whose writing has been appeared in Louisiana Literature, the Journal of College Writing, The Advocate and numerous literary anthologies. She also works as a freelance editor.
If you’d like my help on a writing project, I’d love to hear about it.