Aug. 12, 2015 Wednesday: St. Jane Frances de Chantal
Jane Frances Fremiot was born on January 23, 1572, into a prominent and prosperous family of Dijon, in France. Her father was the president of the parliament and a wealthy landowner; her mother, who died in childbirth when Jane was about eighteen months old, was a descendant of St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
By 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.
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 neglected estate to Jane. As result of her diligent efforts, the family lived comfortably. In 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 interests.
About two weeks after the birth of her sixth child, her husband, Christophe, was fatally wounded in a hunting accident. Jane 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 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. 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.It was during this time that she met the Bishop of Geneva, the future St. Francis de Sales, who became her spiritual director. 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.
St. Francis de Sales confirmed her calling to live a consecrated life 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 cousin Elizabeth.
Over 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 Congregation of the Visitation of Holy Mary.
In December of 1641 when Jane 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 died at age 69.At 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.
The body of Saint Jane now reposes in the Church of the Visitation at Annecy, and her heart in the Church of the Visitation at La Charite, on the Loire.
Source: Madame de Chantal – Portrait of a Saint, Elisabeth Stopp, Newman Press, 1963.