Rastislav Hamracek's Blog in 2013
A Saint nun from the Capitol arrived in America 195 years ago
A Saint dwells on the third floor of the Capitol rotunda. Among twenty-five Famous Missourians whose busts are housed there, one belongs to Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne, a Catholic nun and teacher who founded first free school west of Mississippi. Originally from France, she landed near News Orleans 195 years ago, on May 29, 1818.
Later that year, on September 8, the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles was opened. Rose Philippine Duchesne was at the age of 49 and her new religious house was in a log cabin. Born in France in 1769, she witnessed in 1792 the forced closing of her Convent in Grenoble, during the French Revolution, after that she joined the Society of the Sacred Heart in 1804. For many years she longed to serve in the New World.
The Catholic nun and teacher was in her middle age, when the permission of her Superior came, in 1817. So, the next 34 years she spent in what today is Missouri and Kansas. Running the school in St. Charles was very hard. After one year she moved it to Florissant. There, the new religious vocation started to come, too. The City House school in St. Louis was founded by her in 1827. At the age of 72 she went to minister to the Potawatomi Indians in Kansas. Her lifelong dream was fulfilled. Facing serious difficulties with Potawatomi language, she dedicated a lot of time to take care of the sick and to pray, gaining from Indians the name Quahkahkanumad - “Woman Who Prays Always.” She spent her last ten years back in St. Charles, where she died on November 18, 1852, at age 83.
Pope John Paul II proclaimed her saint on July 3, 1988. Her bust was presented at the Missouri State Capitol on November 17, 2006, by Catherine Hanaway, the first woman hold the position of the Missouri Speaker of the House of Representatives.
“I wanted someone who was a first,” Hanaway said. She added that Philippine, who came to Missouri as a missionary at the age of 49, is an inspiration for people who are “getting older and still want to accomplish something. Philippine gave us a very important model for what to do when times are difficult. She often felt alone and isolated and what did she do? She turned to prayer. It is a great example for all of us in the hardest moments,” Hanaway told Heart, a Journal of the Society of the Sacred Heart in 2006.
Churchill and the Berlin Wall in Fulton
I don’t know exactly how many Slovaks live in Mid Missouri but I do know of one married couple. The husband is a professor emeritus at University of Missouri, College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources. Along with his personal story as an immigrant from communist Czechoslovakia, I learned that he loves some special places here, in Mid Missouri. So, one sunny Saturday, we went to Fulton.
For someone from a small country in central Europe it’s pretty exciting to find in Mid Missouri things related to a part of my own history; history which I lived. In Fulton, there is a very interesting former Anglican church, which stood originally in London. It was seriously damaged by Nazi bombardments, and after World War II people from Fulton offered to transport it, stone by stone, and rebuild it here, in Mid Missouri.
However, the church was not what overwhelmed me. The reason why my friend, the Slovak professor, loves that place is the famous speech Winston Churchill gave there in 1946. It was just a few month after the end of the devastating war, when Churchill spoke about Europe being divided by an iron curtain.
“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent...” With these words, on March 5, 1946, Churchill indicated that the countries freed by Soviet communist Red Army were without true freedom. As a very real symbol of this division, some blocks of the Berlin Wall, originally erected between Communist held territory and allied territory in Berlin in 1961, stay today in the park in front of church.
I grew up in communist Czechoslovakia, behind that iron curtain, and I remember very well the year 1989, when that curtain collapsed and the Berlin Wall was no longer a barrier to freedom. To stand in front of some pieces of that Wall is to understand what it meant to people in Berlin, but in a wider sense to everyone behind that iron curtain. My friends took a photo of me, as I stood in a hole of that Wall; a hole artificially made in the form of a human person. Believe it or not, for me, it was an exciting moment. Fortunately, those blocks are just a part of past history now.
My story with the Popes at the Capitol
Pope Benedict had resigned and a new Pope had to come. But why might it be interesting at the Capitol? You know, there are quite a lot of people among the Representatives and Senators at Missouri Capitol, who are Christians. And some of them are Catholics. And the policies any Pope faces, at least in past century, has to do also with social issues. Being a politician with Christian mindset one is confronted with what the Pope teaches. And one can even has some ideas about what are the challenges the new Pope should address. And if the new one would be an American... What are the opinions?\
The task became clear.
I found some background information about politicians’ religion in their biographies on house’s and senate’s web pages. Let me point out for you one curiosity I came across: There are especially the young politicians having no problem to mention in their short bios what church they belong to. Is it only about the lack of professional experience, which the bios of older members have?
I had pretty long list of possible interviews. But the list of the appointments I was able to arrange was short. Person to person way is always the most efficient. In one case I had to send my questions only by email. I received no answers. By representatives and senators with more life experience in their background I found bigger expectations about new Pope. It seemed to me like - the more Popes they have seen in their life, more expectations they have; more tangible.
Together with my first personal contacts with the representatives and senators I have once again got the sense of what could be the combinations of politicians and their faith like: mature, courageous, open-minded, and also humble.
Exploring the natural secularity at the Capitol
The announcement by Pope Benedict XVI that he is resigning on February 28 became automatically the topic of questions I was asked these past days. It didn’t matter if they were Christians, faithful or faithless, everybody was interested. It was a hard news. And if they talked to a Catholic priest, a Student from Rome, obviously they could not avoid this topic.
The strong majority of everyday issues that the politicians are working on – also at the Capitol here in Jeff City – has nothing in common, at least not directly, with the resignation of the Pope and election of a new one. But the topic is present, at least among the Catholics. And the unimaginable connections in the human brain, the thoughts, the feelings, and the deep thinking shape the people working at the Capitol, in the House or Senate. And they also read newspapers and watch TV news. I like to think about it sometimes, because it is also a natural case of the coming together of religion and secularity. Secularity is the part of life not exclusively allied or against any religion (according to en.wikipedia.org).
Since I am presently so far from Rome, I’m more attentive to the articles on this subject in the newspapers. I see, in this case the journalism is not an easy job if you have to cover Catholic Church often as a faithless or non Catholic. To be correct, unbiased, and accurate, is a big challenge. I can imagine how hard it would be for me if I had to cover NFL or NHL, even though I have grown up as the son of an ice hockey player and I feel quite at home on skating rink.
There is also God's lobby
It’s my first time in the United States and I see that I am going to have a lot of new professional experiences, as well as knowledge of this country. The people in Rome, who know Missouri, told me that the state was typical Midwest America. One friend of mine in Rome, who is from Argentina, wrote me in his email a few days ago: “Remember, America is not only U.S.” Although I’m aware about that big true, just being here for six month is for me a “once in a lifetime ” experience.
There was one very uncommon feeling during my first day at Missouri Digital News in Jeff City: a Catholic priest as a reporter for MDN at the State Capitol. That seemed strange to me, but that’s the reality. Some months ago, I read a philosophical essay about the cohabitation of religion and secularity. Now I can see one of the many ways how it works in real life. During our walk around the Capitol Professor Phil Brooks introduced us to two men from – as he called it – God’s lobby: two Catholics professionally lobbying for issues which are core values for not only the Catholic Church, but many people of all faiths.
I can see that during my stay here and working for MDN, that I am going to learn a lot about the coexistence of religion and policies.
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