St. Jane Frances de Chantal & St. Francis de Sales
ST. JANE FRANCES DE CHANTAL
Frances Fremiot was born on January 23, 1572, into a prominent and prosperous family of Dijon, a major city in the province
of Burgundy in France. Her father was the
president of the parliament, a wealthy landowner, a respected jurist,
a man of impeccable integrity, loyal to the Church and the Crown. He was also brave, learned, congenial, and a
devoted father to his three children.
Her mother, who died in childbirth when Jane was about eighteen
months old, was descended from the same ancestral lineage as St.
Bernard of Clairvaux.
and her older sister Marguerite and her younger brother Andre were
educated at home by tutors and, more importantly, by their father
who happily assumed the responsibilities of being both father and
mother to his children. They
were taught everything considered essential for young people of
their time and station, and this basic education was enriched by
lessons in religion, history, and other subjects learned from their
father whose household has, with good reason, been compared to that
of St. Thomas More in England.
the time she was twenty, Jane was a beautiful, lively, charming
young woman, not only rich and clever, but also possessing high
ethical standards of service and a capacity for hard work; all of
this, combined with her strain of nobility, made her a most desirable
match for marriage. In 1592
she was wed to Baron Christophe Rabutin-Chantal, a member of the
aristocracy and a soldier in the king’s service, who did not hesitate
to leave the care of his somewhat neglected estate to the management
of his young wife. She so justified his confidence in her that
before long the growing family was comfortably supported by the
income from her diligent efforts.
spite of the fact that her first two children died in infancy, Jane
was supremely happy in her role as wife and mother and administrator
of a large property which gave her a chance to practice great charity
toward the poor. She set
up soup kitchens and ovens to bake bread to feed the hungry of the
neighborhood, she went to the homes of the sick to serve them as
nurse and housekeeper, she organized a sort of relief work on a
large scale, involving her servants and friends in her charitable
two weeks after the birth of her sixth child, Christophe was fatally
wounded in a hunting accident, leaving his cherished wife distraught
with grief. Jane’s mourning
was deep and thorough; she made a vow of chastity and gave her husband’s
and her own elaborate state clothing and jewelry to neighboring
churches for vestments and revenue; she reduced her household staff
and devoted her spare time to prayer and works of service to the
poor. Within a few months her truculent father-in-law
demanded that she and her children come to live at his estate at
Monthelon, which also needed a capable and firm management.
the interests of her children’s future, Jane submitted to this demand,
and, typically enough, turned this unhappy period of her life into
a means of growth. Not only did she succeed in bringing order out
of the domestic chaos, but did so in spite of the hindrances of
a disagreeable housekeeper who resented her presence and who used
her influence with the old baron to make life as difficult as possible
for Jane. At the same time Jane continued to carry on
her works for the poor and sick, and undertook the care and education
of the housekeeper’s children along with that of her own.
was during this time that she met the Bishop of Geneva, the future St. Francis de Sales, who became her spiritual
director and provided her with invaluable support and encouragement
as she strove to cope with the difficulties of her position. Under his guidance she learned to live a life
of constant prayer in the midst of action, and to profit from the
insults and arrogance she endured by increasing her patience, charity,
forgiveness, and compliance with God’s will.
The alchemy of suffering was beginning to transform a naturally
gifted woman into a supernaturally gifted one.
eight years of this transforming action, the affairs of her children
were fairly well settled and she felt free to follow the call which
had become more intense with the passing of time – that of consecrating
her entire life to God as a religious. St. Francis de Sales, who had grown to know and admire her, confirmed
her desire and invited her to join him in establishing a new type
of religious life, one open to older women and those of delicate
constitution, one that would stress the hidden, inner virtues of
humility, obedience, poverty, even-tempered charity, and patience,
one disciplined enough to be quite ordinary in the eyes of men,
but quite extraordinary in the practice of love for God and others,
one founded on the example of Mary in her journey of mercy to her
the strenuous objections of her family, Jane readily agreed to accept
this challenge, and spent the remainder of her life, another thirty
years, bringing the Bishop’s project to fruition.
She traveled extensively throughout France and into Italy establishing foundations of the new Order, winning over opponents
and securing the acceptance of the sisters. At the same time, she worked to consolidate
the spiritual foundations of the communities by collecting and disseminating
the teachings of their Founder, stressing the need for fidelity
and unity in order to preserve the integrity of the legacy he had
bequeathed to them. The success of her endeavors is attested to
by the existence of eighty-six houses at the time of her death;
the endurance of her labors is witnessed in the continuing devotion
of Visitandines up to our present time.
was no stranger to Jane de Chantal, who had lost not only her mother
and husband, but also her father, sister, brother, five of her children,
her beloved director, and her closest companions in religious life. She felt that she herself must be a piece of
insipid and unripened fruit to remain alone on the tree with nearly
every link with the past broken.
In December of 1641 when she fell ill during a visit to the
monastery in Moulins, she was more than ready to answer the summons
of the Bridegroom. After dictating a circular letter to all the
monasteries and making a firm act of faith, she received Holy Viaticum
with great fervor. Slowly
and distinctly she pronounced the name of Jesus three times and
that moment in Paris, St. Vincent de Paul, her director after St.
Francis de Sales, had a vision of a small globe of fire rising to
join a more luminous globe, and the two rising higher to blend with
an infinitely larger and more splendid sphere, and he knew that
the souls of the two saints that he had known on earth had been
reunited in death and had together returned to God, their first
and last end.
above summary of the life of St. Jane de Chantal was extracted from
Madame de Chantal – Portrait of a Saint, written by
Elisabeth Stopp, and published in 1963 by Newman Press.
It is recommended to anyone who would like to learn more
about this valiant woman who had such an impact on the religious
climate of seventeenth century France and has continued to lead
souls to God for nearly 400 years.