St. Jane Frances de Chantal
Religious (1572 - 1641)
Born on 28 January 1572, St Jane was barely 18 months old when she lost her mother, Marguerite de Berbisey. Educated at home by private visiting tutors, she grew up to be a comely woman with a keen sense of judgment and a lively temperament under the influence of her father, Benigne Fremyot. The president of the Burgandy Parliament.
At 21, she married Baron Christophe de Rabutin-Chantal who left her a widow after barely 7 years of marriage, with three young daughters and a son to look after. Pious and excessively austere in her life-style, Jane exercised the twin virtues of patience and humility, working diligently at educating her children. A visit to her father at the age of 32 brought her into contact with that great master of the spiritual life, St Francis de Sales to whose spiritual care she entrusted herself. Vowing never to remarry and to always obey Francis in all things, she deferred her plans for entering religious life in deference to his advice until, in 1607, he disclosed to her his own plans for an institute of women which would be a haven for women who, for reasons of health, age, social status, etc., were denied entry into other established orders He envisaged a group of women who would primarily imitate the virtues exemplified in Mary's Visitation and secondarily engage in spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
Having put her affairs in order and ensured that her children were provided for, Jane, together with two of her companions, assisted at Mass celebrated by Fr. Francis de Sales in his chapel at Annecy on 10 June 1610, and each received their rule from him before retiring to their convent, thus signaling the foundation of the Order of the Visitation of Our Lady. They pronounced their first vows a year later. But a revision of the rule under the Bishop of Lyons, Denis Simon de Marquemont, in 1613, did away with the external works of charity and brought in the "cloister". On 23 April 1618, the institute was raised to the status of religious Order by Pope Paul V.
By the time of her death at Moulins on 13 December 1641, there were already over 80 convents standing testimony to her zeal for perfecting herself and her followers in the spirit of the order. Along the way, this woman whose name is the feminine version of John, which in Hebrew means "God has mercy", and whom Francis de Sales called "the perfect woman", encountered great sufferings. She grieved the death of her mentor, Francis, in 1622 and, in 1627, lost her only son in battle; she suffered the effects of a plague that ravaged France, experienced agonizing spiritual aridity and endured the torments of the dark night of the soul.
Buried close to St. Francis de Sales at the Visitation House at Annecy, Jane Frances de Chantal was beatified by Pope Benedict XIV on 21 August 1751 and canonized by Pope Clement XIII on 16 July 1767.