Although she was no stranger to suffering, St. Jane Frances de Chantal demonstrated great generosity of heart and trust in God. Born in Dijon, France in 1752, Jane lost her mother when she was 18 months old, which left her father to raise Jane on his own. At the age of 21, she married Baron de Chantal. They had six children, only four of whom survived past infancy. Jane took responsibility for running their estate, and was generous to the poor and the sick, never turning away anyone who needed assistance. After only seven years of marriage, her husband was killed in a hunting accident. Jane took a vow of chastity at this point, but also struggled to forgive the man who was responsible for the Baron’s accidental death. She was forced to move in with her father-in-law, an unkind man, but she bore his disdain for her with love and patience.
Three years after the death of her husband, Jane heard the preaching of the Bishop Francis de Sales, and he soon became her spiritual director and friend. He said of her, “In Madame de Chantal, I have found the perfect woman, whom Solomon had difficulty finding in Jerusalem.” With his help and spiritual fatherhood, she was strengthened with deeper faith in God through her trials and finally found the ability to fully forgive the man who was responsible for her husband’s death.
Bishop Francis de Sales shared with Jane his desire to start a community of religious sisters who served the poor in France, and once Jane had made sure that her children were provided for, she established the Congregation of the Visitation of Holy Mary. They wanted to open the community to those who may not have been accepted to other communities due to age or sickness. At the time of her death in 1641, the Congregation had established over 80 convents.
“Suffering borne in the will quietly and patiently is a continual, very powerful prayer before God.”
St. Jane Frances de Chantal was widely known for her wisdom and holiness, and many people came to seek her counsel. She maintained a strong sense of humility saying, “These people do not know me – they are mistaken.” She is invoked as the patroness of widows, mothers separated from their children, and those who are forgotten. A simple statement from her sums up the way that she allowed herself to be united to the Lord throughout her life, while calling others to do the same: “Suffering borne in the will quietly and patiently is a continual, very powerful prayer before God.”
Feast Day: August 12