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Catholic Heroes… St. Jane Frances De Chantal

March 7, 2019 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

In the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church was reeling from the Protestant Reformation, which led to the Council of Trent (1545-1563) to renew the Church. In addition, God provided many holy men and women to help usher in a spiritual revival as well. Some of those champions of the Counter Reformation were St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), and St. Jane Frances de Chantal (1572-1641).
Jane came from noble roots. Her father was prominent as the royalist president of the Parliament of Burgundy, France. Jane was born in Dijon on January 23, 1572, an only child. A pious, faithful Catholic, Jane’s father ensured that she received proper formation when her mother died in July 1573. Jane was only 18 months old.
Jane grew into a truly lovely, sophisticated woman much sought after in marriage. She had an ebullient personality and was always cheerful. These qualities continued in her marriage to Baron Christophe de Chantal when she was 21 years old. They lived happily at the Bourbilly castle, but Jane then discovered the heavy debts of the family. Since her husband was frequently away, Jane learned to run the estate and soon the financial position greatly improved under her management.
Christophe and Jane were only married eight years when he was accidently killed in a hunting accident. Already bereft of her mother, stepmother, sister, and two children, this left Jane with four children to raise by herself. Jane could not find it in her heart to forgive the man who had accidentally shot her husband.
Nevertheless, she resolved to manage what her husband had left her and did so very well. Her father-in-law resented her presence after the loss of his son and treated her poorly, but she valiantly tried to treat him with respect.
Perhaps his resentment began when Jane gave away the couple’s jewels and elaborate clothing to local churches to be used for vestments and revenue. She also served the poor by setting up soup kitchens, baking bread, and tending the sick. Even with such generosity, she still had one fault blocking the road to holiness — her seeming inability to forgive.
Jane also suffered from an embittered housekeeper, who undermined her efforts to manage the estates, even though Jane included the woman’s children in education there. She suffered ridicule, insults, and arrogance, all of which only served to increase her virtues, especially patience and charity.
Three years after her husband’s death, Jane still prayed for the grace to forgive. She went to Sainte-Chapelle in 1604 and heard a sermon by the bishop of Geneva, France, St. Francis de Sales. Subsequently, Jane approached St. Francis and he became her spiritual director. She then came to forgive her husband’s killer, and she also sought to become a nun.
St. Francis recommended that she postpone such a great decision. He encouraged her to live a life of holiness as a mother rather than enter a cloister. After eight years as a widow, Jane provided for her children, and with the approval of her father, and her brother, who was the bishop of Bourges, St. Francis gave her permission to enter the religious life.
Jane then left for Annecy, southwest of Dijon near the French Alps. In cooperation with St. Francis de Sales, she established the Order of the Visitation nuns on June 6, 1610, Trinity Sunday. Her hope was to found an order open for women who had been rejected by other orders because of old age or poor health. The order was erected by Pope Paul V in 1618 and solemnly approved by Pope Urban VII in 1626.
Another great difference in this new Congregation of the Visitation — as it was called — was that the women were not cloistered. These religious would engage in active ministry which brought no small amount of controversy. Up until this time in the Church, women religious stayed in cloisters and did not go outside the convents in active ministry. Thus, St. Francis de Sales was forced to make it a cloistered community under the Augustinian model.
The new focus of the women became to reach God by interior mortification and following the movements of the Divine Will with the greatest love as outlined in the Catholic classic, Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales.
Since this congregation included women of poor health and the elderly, some of the austerities of living in a cloister were eased. For example, the practice of raising at midnight and 3 a.m. to say Matins and Lauds was dispensed. Instead they prayed the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Likewise, sleeping on hard surfaces and perpetual abstinence were not required.
These lessened temporal or exterior practices were replaced by mortifying interior ones such as detachment. Obedience was to be practiced “carefully, faithfully, promptly, simply, frankly, and cordially.” In short, the chief rules of the Visitation did nothing to weaken the body, but nothing was spared in mortifying the spirits.
The new congregation won great respect from all walks of life. Jane’s reputation for sanctity and her administrative abilities won many followers and benefactors. Aristocratic women visited frequently and gave generously to the support of the new order.
As a result, Jane traveled around France opening new houses for the Visitation ladies, such as in Lyons, Moulins, Grenoble, Bourges, and Paris. During this time, St. Francis de Sales passed away in 1622. Jane felt a deep loneliness, thinking she must be a bad, worthless fruit left on a tree after Our Lord had taken all the good fruit.
In December 1641, Jane fell ill during a visit to the Moulins monastery. She joyfully anticipated the call of her Bridegroom. She prepared by writing her final circular letter to the Visitation houses. She made a firm act of faith and received Viaticum with great love and devotion.
With her last breaths she carefully and clearly spoke the name of Jesus three times. Jane died at the age of 69 on December 13 in Moulins, France. She was buried in Annecy next to St. Francis de Sales. Jane had outlived her son, who was a soldier. She also outlived two of her daughters and left extensive correspondence.
On November 21, 1751, Pope Benedict XIV beatified Jane Frances de Chantal. Pope Clement XIII canonized her on July 16, 1767. Her feast is celebrated on December 12. At the time of the canonization there were 164 houses of the Visitation. The great apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), belonged to the Visitation Order.
In 2017, there were 160 Visitation monasteries throughout the world.
Dear St. Jane Frances de Chantal, with what fire did your heart burn with the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. You were so blessed to have such a wonderful spiritual director in St. Francis de Sales. Help us, we pray, and ask the Sacred Heart to send us an abundance of holy and faithful spiritual directors for parents and religious both. How desperately we need guidance in following Christ and remaining faithful to His teachings. Help us, we pray. Amen.

+ + +

(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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