Jane Frances was wife, mother, nun and founder of a religious community. Her mother died when Jane was 18 months old, and her father, head of parliament at Dijon, France, became the main influence on her education. She developed into a woman of beauty and refinement, lively and cheerful in temperament. At 21 she married Baron de Chantal, by whom she had six children, three of whom died in infancy. At her castle she restored the custom of daily Mass, and was seriously engaged in various charitable works.
Jane's husband was killed after seven years of marriage, and she sank into deep dejection for four months at her family home. Her father-in-law threatened to disinherit her children if she did not return to his home. He was then 75, vain, fierce and extravagant. Jane Frances managed to remain cheerful in spite of him and his insolent housekeeper.
When she was 32, she met St. Francis de Sales who became her spiritual director, softening some of the severities imposed by her former director. She wanted to become a nun but he persuaded her to defer this decision. She took a vow to remain unmarried and to obey her director.
After three years Francis told her of his plan to found an institute of women which would be a haven for those whose health, age or other considerations barred them from entering the already established communities. There would be no cloister, and they would be free to undertake spiritual and corporal works of mercy. They were primarily intended to exemplify the virtues of Mary at the Visitation (hence their name, the Visitation nuns): humility and meekness.
The usual opposition to women in active ministry arose and Francis de Sales was obliged to make it a cloistered community following the Rule of St. Augustine. Francis wrote his famous Treatise on the Love of God for them. The congregation (three women) began when Jane Frances was 45. She underwent great sufferings: Francis de Sales died; her son was killed; a plague ravaged France; her daughter-in-law and son-in-law died. She encouraged the local authorities to make great efforts for the victims of the plague and she put all her convent’s resources at the disposal of the sick.
During a part of her religious life, she had to undergo great trials of the spirit—interior anguish, darkness and spiritual dryness. She died while on a visitation of convents of the community.
Quotes of St. Jane Frances de Chantal
About the reformation of the soul:
“It is true my dear daughters, it is lack of self knowledge that amazes us when we see ourselves so lacking and with defect, because we presume or boast so much of ourselves, that we always expect something good; we deceive ourselves, and Our Lord himself allows us to fall, many times in a stupid, clumsy way, so we can know ourselves better. This knowledge of self consists in that we should believe, with certitude and faith, that we are nothing, we can do nothing; we are weak, feeble and imperfect. Decide in your will to love your misery and poverty. The reformation of the soul starts in self knowledge and confidence in God; our self knowledge will let us know we have many things to correct and reform and it cannot be done by our own efforts; confidence in God will let us hope in Him, we can do all in Him, and with His grace all things are possible and easy.”
Charity and purity of intention
“Perhaps at some time it will occur that a sister has bothered us, or did something not pleasing to us, or that simply we don’t have a liking for her. Another sister will come to us and speak well of her, and we might answer with half words putting down all the good. This will produce the effect of a drop of oil that falls on fabric, an incurable spot on the heart of the sister we are talking to. All the bad the sister might have done in consequence of this bad impression we have caused will be on our conscience, and we will be guilty of it and punished severely. God said he hates six things, but the seventh he abominates: those who divide hearts and plant discord among brothers.”
About self love and the harm it causes the soul
“When we have conquered ourselves we have done a good action, and feel some satisfaction and pleasure, this ruins everything, making us lose all if we are not careful. What a disgrace after making sacrifices, self denial of attitudes or words or any other thing, we end up satisfying ourselves! Never or rarely, is good done without some satisfaction and this is not bad in itself; what ruins all is to distract ourselves and to seek pleasure in it. What are we to do? We have to chase away and annihilate all thoughts of pleasure and vain satisfaction, humble ourselves and seek contempt, give God the glory for everything and recognize we can do nothing on our own. We are only to seek the Glory of God in everything and to do all to please Him.”