St. Jane de Chantal
Jane Frances Fremyhot de Chantal was born in 1572 in Dijon, France, the second child of a noble family. Her mother died when she was eighteen months old and she was reared by her father who gave her an extraordinary education for a young girl of her time. She was intelligent, strong-willed and full of faith in God. In 1592, she married the Baron Christophe de Rabutin-Chantal. Jane loved her husband deeply and theirs was a happy marriage, despite Christophe’s occasional infidelities. He was very much involved in court life, loved hunting and had not the slightest interest in managing his household and estates. This task he gave into Jane’s capable hands. She proved to be a skillful administrator, and by establishing certain economic principles, she was able to pay off Christophe’s debts and make the place a profitable venture.
Jane and Christophe had four children: three daughters, Marie-Aimee, Francoise, and Charlotte, and one son, Celse-Benigne. She also reared and educated Christophe’s illegitimate daughter, Claudine de Chantal. In 1601, tragedy struck. Christophe was accidentally shot and killed while hunting with a friend. Jane was devastated; her grief knew no bounds, and it was a long time before she could bring herself to forgive the person responsible for his death.
Following Christophe’s death, Jane’s father-in-law demanded that she make her home with him and take over the supervision of his estate. He threatened to disinherit her children unless she complied with his wishes. Once again, she set to work to bring order out of chaos and she was very successful. Not only did she manage the property, but she reared her father-in-law’s illegitimate children, suffered much from their mother, the titled housekeeper of the home. She also saw to the spiritual and physical needs of the poor of the area, and even set up a soup kitchen which she operated out of the castle.
In 1604, Jane was invited by her brother, the Archbishop of Bourges, to attend a series of Lenten sermons being given by the learned and charismatic new Bishop of Geneva, Francis de Sales. Jane and Francis were introduced to one another and immediately established a bond of friendship that was to produce a Gospel-based spirituality that would be a treasure to the Church for all ages.
Francis confided to Jane his desire to found a religious order that would be welcoming to women seeking a deep relationship with God, but who for one reason or another could not have with the physical rigors of traditional religious life. In 1610, they officially established the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary. Like Francis, Jane was a good spiritual guide She advised the nuns on their prayer life as well as the practicalities of living in community. After Francis’ death in 1622, Jane continued the work, founding eighty-six houses of the Visitation by the time of her death in 1641. She was beatified in 1751 and canonized in 1767. The Church in the United States celebrates her feast on August 12.