Thursday, December 5, 2019

Saints for Today: Jane Frances de Chantal, Religious (1572-1641)

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Jean M. Lee, M.A., D.Min., is a licensed behavioral health and substance abuse counselor, founding a nonprofit, state-licensed behavior health counseling agency and Christian gift/book store. Volunteer work includes: Jail ministry, Legion of Mary membership, door-to-door evangelization, and writing a weekly newspaper column titled “Faith and Inspiration: Encyclopedia of Saints for Today.” A Catholic revert after 32 years away from the Church, she is devout in the Catholic faith, loves the saints, and lives a deeper spiritual/religious and more joyful life since returning to the Church.

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Jane was born to a rich family of Burgundian parliamentarians at Dijon, France. At twenty, she married the Baron de Chantal and became the chatelaine of his rich but chaotic estates. She had a very happy marriage until he was killed in a hunting accident eight years into their marriage. The loss of Jane’s husband was fraught with difficulties. The interior experiences Jane had at that time were to color her future. Her inordinate, prostrating grief of four month’s duration led her to realize the passing nature of things and to attach herself all the more intensely to the Lord Jesus. She was persuaded to go to live not with her beloved father but instead with her father-in- law, who could provide more advantages in society for her children. Her life there was terrible because her father-in-law’s housekeeper was an insolent, sinful woman who would not allow Jane to take over management of the house. Nonetheless, she spent her free time in loving attention to her children and in wonderful works to the poor, especially in the area of medical help administered by her own hands.

All the while she prayed for a good spiritual director. She was given a vision of the man who could minister to her in this way and found him in the flesh when St. Francis de Sales came to preach in her city. There was an immediate, strong, supernatural bond between the two. St. Francis had also a vision of Jane as the founder of a religious order in the city where he was the bishop. He immediately wrote to her, “It seems to me that God has given me to you. I am assured of this more keenly as each hour passes.” The letters of St. Francis de Sales to St. Jane de Chantal are among the most beautiful expressions of spiritual friendship to be preserved.

Although Jane was yearning to enter religious life, Francis de Sales advised her to wait until her children were older, meanwhile teaching her how to simplify her prayer life, formerly full of particular devotions, so that it might reflect her deepest longings for contemplative union with God. Eventually arrangements were made for the older children, and she was free to found the famous religious order of the Visitation dedicated to contemplative prayer. The Visitation convents accepted widows and others who could not endure the more rigorous life of other convents. Over the next three decades, Jane would go on in founding sixty more convents of the same nature before she died.

Francis de Sales wrote “On the Love of God” for Jane and her companions, and he called Jane “the perfect woman.” She was so much loved as a holy woman that she had to press herself against a wall when visiting convents of her order to prevent relic-seekers from snipping off pieces of her habit behind her back.

Jane Frances de Chantal’s religious order grew beyond the confines of France, and in other countries of the world. She is buried near St. Francis de Sales at Annecy and was canonized a saint in 1767.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Bunson, Matthew, Margaret Bunson, and Stephen Bunson. “Encyclopedia of Saints-Revised.”
Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003.
Chervin, Ronda. “Treasury of Women Saints.” Cincinnati: Servant, an imprint of Franciscan Media, 2015.
Gallick, Sarah. “The Big Book of Women Saints.” New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007.

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