St. Jane Frances de Chantal
Born at Dijon, France, 28 January, 1572; died at the Visitation Convent Moulins, 13 December, 1641.
Her father was president of the Parliament of Burgundy, and leader of the
royalist party during the League that brought about the triumph of the cause of
Henry IV. In 1592 she married Baron de Chantal, and lived in the feudal castle
of Bourbilly. She restored order in the household, which was on the brink of
ruin, and brought back prosperity. During her husband's absence at the court, or
with the army, when reproachd for her extremely sober manner of dressing, her
The eyes which I must please are a hundred miles from here. She
found more than once that God blessed with miracles the care she gave the
suffering members of Christ. St. Francis de Sales's eulogy of her characterizes
her life at Bourbilly and everywhere else:
In Madame de Chantal I have found
the perfect woman, whom Solomon had difficulty in finding in Jerusalem. Baron
de Chantal was accidently killed by a harquebus while out shooting in 1601. Left
a widow at twenty-eight, with four children, the broken-hearted baroness took a
vow of chastity. In all her prayers she besought God to send her a guide and God,
in a vision, showed her the spiritual director He held in reserve for her. In
order to safeguard her children's property, she was obliged to go and live at
Monthelon in the home of her father-in-law, who was ruled over by an arrogant
and wicked servant. This was real servitude, which she bore patiently and gently
for seven years. At last her virtue triumphed over the ill will of the old man
and house keeper.
During Lent, 1604, she visited her father at Dijon, where St. Francis de
Sales was preaching at the Sainte Chapelle. She recognized in him the mysterious
director who had been shown her, and placed herself under his guidance. Then
began an admirable correspondence between the two saints. Unfortunately, the
greater number of letters are no longer in existence, as she destroyed them
after the death of the holy bishop. When she had assured the future security of
children, and when she had provided the education of Celse-Bénigne, her fourteen
year old son, whom she left to her father and her brother, the Archbishop of
Bourges, she started for Annecy, where God was calling her to found the
Congregation of the Visitation. She took her two remaining daughters with her,
the elder having recently married the Baron of Thorens, a brother of St. Francis
de Sales. Celse-Bénigne, impetous like those of her race, barred his mother's
way by lying across the threshold. Mme de Chandal stopped, overcome:
tears of a child shake her resolution?
said a holy and learned priest, the
tutor of Celse-Benigne.
Oh! no, replied the saint,
but after all I am a
mother! And she stepped over child's body.
The Congregation of the Visitation was canonically established at Annecy on
Trinity Sunday, 6 June, 1610. Its aim was to receive, with a view to their
spiritual advancement, young girls and even widows who had not the desire or
strength to subject themselves to the austere ascetical practices in force in
all the religious orders at that time. St. Francis de Sales was especially
desirous of seeing the realization of his cherished method of attaining
perfection, which consisted in always keeping one's will united to the Divine
will, in taking so to speak one's soul, heart, and longings into one's hands and
giving them into God's keeping, and in seeking always to do what is pleasing to
I do always the things that please him (John, viii, 29). The two holy
founders saw their undertaking prosper. At the time of the death of St. Francis
de Sales in 1622, the order already counted thirteen houses; there were
eight-six when St. Jane Frances died; and 164 when she was canonized.
The remainder of the saint's life was spent under the protection of the cloister in the practice of the most admirable virtues. If a gentle kindness, vivified and strengthened by a complete spirit of renunciation, predominates in St. Francis de Sales, it is firmness and great vigour which prevails in St. Jane Frances; she did not like to see her daughters giving way to human weakness. Her trials were continuous and borne bravely, and yet she was exceedingly sensitive. Celse-Bénigne was an incorrigible duellist. She prayed so fervently that he was given the grace to die a Christian death on the battle-field, during the campaign against the Isle of Ré (1627). He left a daughter who became the famous Marquise de Sévigné. To family troubles God added interior crosses which, particularly during the last nine years of her life, kept her in agony of soul from which she was not freed until three months before her death.
Her reputation for sanctity was widespread. Queens, princes, and princesses
flocked to the reception-room of the Visitation. Wherever she went to establish
foundations, the people gave her ovations.
These people, she would say
do not know me; they are mistaken. Her body is venerated with that
of St. Francis de Sales in the church of the Visitation at Annecy. She was
beatified in 1751, canonized in 1767, and 21 August was appointed as her feast
The life of the saint was written in the seventeenth century, with inimitable
charm, by her secretary, Mother de Chaugy. Monsignor Bougaud, who died Bishop of
Laval, published in 1863 a
Histoire de Sainte Chantal which had a great and
The words of the saint comprise instructions on the religious life, various
minor works, among which is the admirable
Deposition for the Process of
Beatification of St. Francis de Sales, and a great many letters. The Saint's
qualities are seen in her precise and vigorous style, void of imagery but
betraying a repressed emotion, and bursting forth spontaneously from the heart,
anticipating in its method the beautiful French of the seventeenth century. The
book which may be called her masterpiece,
Réponses sur les Régles,
Constitutions et Coutumes, a truly practical and complete code of the religious
life, is not in circulation.
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