August 11, 2016

Optional Memorial of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, Foundress of the Sisters of the Visitation

St. Jane Frances de Chantal
The Optional Memorial of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal is August 12th. St. Jane experienced both the vocation of marriage and life as a consecrated religious. Like Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, after her husband's untimely death, she raised a large family before taking vows and founding an order for women. She was born in Dijon, France, on January 28, 1572. Her father was a high ranking official in the Parliament of Burgundy. From him Jane received her love for God. Her mother died when Jane was 18 months old. At the age of 20, she married the Baron de Chantal. Her husband was a godly man, however, the baron's long neglected business concerns were on the brink of collapse. Jane helped supervised the estate. Organizing her husband's finances until they were solvent won her the respect of many.

In 1601, upon the death of her husband in a hunting accident, the heartbroken young widow took a vow of chastity. She initially struggled with the prospect of raising her four surviving children by herself, in addition to her feelings of grief and despair. Through prayer and God's grace, she soon forgave the man who shot her husband. To show her forgiveness was sincere, she became godmother to one of his children. Jane taught her children the ways of virtue and holiness. With great selflessness she aided the poor, never refusing anyone who asked out of need. Even with suffering, she looked to the future with Christ-like composure.

During Lent 1604, Jane met Saint Francis de Sales, the bishop of Geneva who was preaching at the Sainte Chapelle in Dijon. De Sales would become her spiritual director. In time, with the blessing of her father and brother (the archbishop of Bourges), she left for Annecy, to start her new order. (Prior to doing so, every provision was made for the welfare of her children.)

The Sisters of the Visitation was canonically recognized on Trinity Sunday, June 6, 1610. The order accepted women rejected by other orders due to poor health or age. While female orders of the day remained cloistered and observed harsh rules, during its first eight years, the Visitation Sisters were unusually public in their outreach. When objections were raised, Bishop De Sales made it a cloistered community following the Rule of St. Augustine. People criticized Mother Chantal for accepting women of poor health and old age. She responded, "What do you want me to do? I like sick people myself; I'm on their side."

Sr. Jane Frances de Chantal dispensed sage advise throughout her life. Her letters of spiritual direction are numerous and profound. She died at the Visitation Convent in Moulins, France in 1641, at the age of 69. She was beatified in 1751 by Pope Benedict XIV, and canonized on July 16, 1767 by Pope Clement XIII. God, who made Saint Jane Frances de Chantal radiant with outstanding merits in different walks of life, grant us, through her intercession, that walking faithfully in our vocation, we may constantly be examples of shining light.

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