Despite Family Troubles, Life of Holiness Was Pursued by St. Jane de Chantal

St. Jane Frances de Chantal

Jane was troubled by many family woes.

Centuries ago, a French noblewoman whose husband had died suddenly was troubled in heart. He had been killed in a hunting accident, and she found it difficult to forgive the one responsible. Besides that, she was nearly forced to live in the estate of her father-in-law, a manipulative man whose servant-mistress treated her and her children with great disrespect.

The woman was Jane de Chantal, a pious mother of four living children. One day she traveled to meet the famous orator, Francis de Sales. The two met and began a strong friendship over the years, mainly through letters that they exchanged. Francis, a bishop, became her spiritual director, and the fruits of the friendship produced a spirituality uniquely appropriate for men and women in ordinary walks of life. Jane, along with Francis, founded the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary in 1610.

“Our riches are the virtues that flow from Christ’s gentleness, humility and simplicity,” says Sr. Susan Marie, president of the Order’s Second Federation in the U.S. “Our hope is to entrust our spiritual inheritance to prayerful men and women today.”
Francis, now recognized among Catholics as a saint and doctor, or official teacher, in the Church, was inspired by Jane’s intense mystical love, especially as he penned the Treatise on the Love of God.

Longed for the Convent

Jane’s life was plagued with difficulties, but she had an intense desire for mystical prayer. She longed for life in the convent, and realized it in the founding of the Visitation. She went on to establish eighty monasteries. In the United States, the Visitation sisters are now present in nine states plus the District of Columbia.

The demands of forming and nurturing her sisters, of overseeing the administration of the burgeoning order, and of settling her children in life often drew her out of silence and solitude. She governed as a tender mother, modeling, in the midst of many demands and problems, fidelity to the community’s rule of life, all while giving compassion toward others.

A Spirituality for Everyone

Over the years, the relationship between Jane and Francis evolved into a nourishing reciprocity, with Jane adding distinct shape to the spirituality called Salesian. She infused community life with tenderness; she faced her inner darkness and temptations, which lasted forty-one years, with courage and loyalty to her own experience, keeping her spiritual life deeply hidden. Her prayer became a simple wordless presence before God.

Through the deaths of her children and early companions, she bore herself with gentleness and equanimity. The death of Francis in 1622 left Jane with responsibility for the Order. Her natural talent for organization, combined with deep trust in God, enabled her to guide the Visitation in the establishment of over eighty monasteries.

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