by Jane Graves
LAWRENCE — Beverly Boyd downplays her contribution to the canonization of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, the only saint known to have ministered here in the archdiocese.
But to members of the Potawatomi tribe the saint served, Boyd’s a hero.
Not only has Boyd faithfully supported the Catholic Campus Center at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence for years, she also did a tremendous amount of the research used to promote the cause of St. Philippine, who is still beloved by the Potawatomi more than 150 years after her death.
“She’s looking out for the little people, and in this case the minority, and the first people of this nation,” said Jerry Tuckwin, a member of the Prairie Band of the Potawatomi Nation and a member of the Haskell Catholic Campus Center.
It was Jerry Tuckwin and his wife Terry who nominated Boyd for this year’s St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Award, given in recognition of a life spent in service of God and exuding the values of Catholic education in the spirit of mission of the saint. Boyd received the award on Nov. 23, the 20th anniversary of St. Rose Philippine’s canonization, in a special ceremony at Sacred Heart Church in Mound City.
“It’s really been her life’s work for the last 25 years,” said Terry Tuckwin. “She did lots and lots and lots of research, lots and lots of tracing down leads and following up, and traveling to do so. And I mean she was very, very devoted.”
Boyd, a permanent member of the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center community, attends Mass at the Haskell Catholic Campus Center. She characterized her assistance in the canonization process of St. Philippine as reviving interest in the saint.
Although she didn’t specifically start work on St. Philippine’s time in Kansas in order to advance the missionary’s cause for canonization, Boyd was aware that, for the longest time, nothing was happening in Kansas in terms of the kind of research canonization would require.
“After I had visited the church in Mound City and had seen those lovely windows . . . I started pushing,” Boyd said with a laugh, employing “the art of persuasion.”
Boyd first became interested in St. Philippine while teaching in two New York schools founded by the saint’s order, the Society of the Sacred Heart. After moving to Kansas, Boyd was recovering from a surgery when she became reacquainted with St. Philippine through an article left by a visiting priest.
Before that, said Boyd, “I didn’t even know that I was living on [St. Rose Philippine’s] frontier.”
Boyd’s letter writing, presentations and research were a key part of the canonization process, said Jerry Tuckwin.
Boyd, a retired University of Kansas professor of English, specializing in Chaucer and medieval studies, is interested in the lives of saints and has written six books, including “The Middle English Miracles of the Virgin.” She used her research skills to study the life of St. Philippine and shared her information with Archbishop John L. May of St. Louis and with Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Archdiocese of Denver, a member of the Prairie Band of the Potawatomi Nation. Both archbishops were working to get the missionary canonized.
When St. Philippine was canonized, Boyd was chosen by the provincial of the Society of the Sacred Heart to attend the canonization Mass in Rome, where she received Communion from Pope John Paul II. She also donated her St. Rose Philippine research to the KU Spencer Research Library.
Boyd said she sees her support of the Haskell Catholic Campus Center as a way of continuing the saint’s work. St. Philippine’s lifelong dream was to educate Native Americans residing in the territory of the Louisiana Purchase. But she was unable to work directly with the native population until she was 72 years old and in ill health. It was then that she came to serve the Potawatomi at a Jesuit mission in Sugar Creek, Kan.
Because of her frail health, St. Philippine’s time at Sugar Creek was not spent teaching as she had hoped. Moreover, even the school she and other Sisters of the Society of the Sacred Heart had established at St. Charles, Mo. — the first free school and the first school for girls west of the Mississippi — was temporarily closed.
For these reasons, many had considered St. Philippine’s efforts to be a failure. Boyd was told, “We can’t get somebody canonized who didn’t succeed.”
Yet Boyd saw St. Philippine’s persistence in the face of adversity and her example of service while aging and in poor health as cause for recognition.
“Spiritually, [her work] was far from a failure,” she said.
“You get canonized not only for what you did — because you can do great things and be a terrible person — but [for] what you are,” Boyd said. “This was a holy woman who was motivated by her faith and fought such obstacles as no health care, no dental care, no food a lot of the time. . . . We don’t adapt unless we’re heroes. She had heroic sanctity, heroic courage.”
St. Philippine reminds her, said Boyd, of the English poet John Milton, who in his sonnet (“On His Blindness”) claims: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
“[Milton] wants to be a poet,” explained Boyd, “and he goes blind and he can’t write. So, he figures, ‘Well, you’re serving, even though you can’t do what you want to do.’ Well, at Sugar Creek, [St. Philippine] couldn’t teach, but she could do things like supervise study time, things like that, and go and sit with sick people, take care of them. She was also serving, only standing and waiting.”
As Boyd deals with her own health issues, she recognizes some of the challenges faced by St. Philippine, and has learned much from the saint.
“I don’t have to keep going, but I do,” she said. “Some people think once you have retired, you sit back on your rocking chair and drink tea all day. Not so.”
“You have to fight your way through adversity,” Boyd continued. “Not necessarily with your dukes. It’s a question of endurance. You have to be able to endure obstacles. You have to hang on.”