St. Jane Frances de Chantal was a devoted wife and mother and the foundress of a vital women’s religious order. Jane (Jeanne Francoise) was born in 1572 at Dijon, France to Benigne and Marguerite Fremyot. Benigne was the president of the parliament of the Province of Burgundy. Marguerite died when Jane was just eighteen months old. Benigne himself provided for a high quality education for his children. By the time she reached adulthood, Jane was a lovely woman of refined manner. In 1592, Benigne arranged for Jane to marry Baron Christopher de Chantal and they lived in a castle at nearby Bourbilly. There, they enjoyed the social life of nobility. After the death of her sister, which left three young children without a mother, Jane brought them to live at the castle. She and Christopher then had a son and three daughters.
LOSSS AND RENEWAL
Since Christopher was often called away to serve at court, the Baroness became an adept manager of the family estate. She also made time to distribute alms and other assistance to her needy neighbors. Disaster struck in 1601 when Christopher was killed in a hunting accident. Jane Frances was twenty eight years old, heartbroken, and struggling to forgive the man who caused her husband’s death. She took a private vow of chastity. She went to her father-in-law’s castle at his request at Monthelon in France’s Loire Valley. There, she again became a very capable manager of a vast estate. She was beloved by the employees because she sincerely cared about their welfare, and worked tirelessly to see to the proper education for her children and her father-in-law’s other children.At some point, Jane Frances experienced a vivid dream, in which she was shown the image of a man who would be sent to be her spiritual director. In 1604, she was invited to attend a series of Lenten talks in Dijon and she joined her father there. The lessons were being given by the visiting bishop, [St.] Francis de Sales, who was exiled from his see in Geneva. Jane Frances immediately recognized him as the man she was shown in her dream. He, too, had seen her image in a dream as the woman who would be the collaborator in his mission. As her spiritual director, De Sales encouraged her to lovingly perform her domestic obligations, and his advice helped her tremendously to tend to her children, father, and father-in-law. By 1610, Jane’s children had been settled. One daughter had died and another, Marie Aymee had married and moved to Annecy, France. Jane’s son, Benigne, was living with his grandfather in Dijon and had a future serving at court. Francoise was finishing her education, taught by her mother.
A NEW ORDER
Jane seriously considered joining the Carmelite order, but de Sales advised against it, because he had another idea to meet a real need. Living at Annecy, Jane, with her friend and advisor Bishop de Sales, conceived of a new women’s religious order. It was based on the story of the Virgin Mary going to assist her cousin Elizabeth, elderly and with child. This order, The Visitation Of Mary, was to be of assistance to women in need, but it was eventually changed to a cloistered community. What was unique about this order was that it welcomed women for whom the rigors of most religious orders were too harsh. There were many women who were older, in imperfect health, widowed, or otherwise unable to withstand strict physical requirements who wished to give their lives in contemplative prayer, and this new order met that need.
Bishop de Sales bought a house near Annecy and brought in some women to join Jane in establishing this community. Since Jane had bequeathed her wealth to her surviving children, the new order began with little assets.
Due to Mother Jane’s kind manner and leadership ability and De Sales’s reputation for holiness and wisdom, the fledgling order grew quickly. By the time de Sales died in 1622, there were thirteen monasteries. After his death, his friend [St.] Vincent de Paul became the advisor and friend of Jane and her order. Jane’s religious daughters chose her repeatedly to be their mother superior. In addition to that, she dedicated much of her time to establishing new convents. She was doing just that when she died at the Moulins convent December 13, 1641. She was sixty-nine years old.
St. Jane Frances de Chantal was able to turn heartbreak and loss into great fruitfulness. At the time of her death, there were eighty-seven Visitation monasteries. She will always be associated with her mentor, the great Doctor of the Church, St. Francis de Sales. She was very devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary. Thus, it is no surprise that the most notable of her religious “daughters”, [St.] Margaret Mary Alacoque, at her Visitation convent at Paray-le-Monial, was the recipient of a Sacred Heart private revelation from Jesus Himself just decades after St. Jane’s death. St. Jane is buried at Annecy, near her cherished spiritual director, Francis. Her feast day is August 12.