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Aug 11, 2020

Who Was St. Jane Frances de Chantal?

Merridith Frediani

“What if God turned me away when I came back to him again and again?”

This is the question a young Jane Frances de Chantal posed when she was asked why she let people sneak back into the line in front of her house where she was giving bread and soup to the poor.

Yes! What if God turned us away? It’s a terrible thought but one to remember. Our merciful Creator welcomes us over and over and forgives us every time we ask. St. Jane Frances de Chantal (1572-1641) knew this. She was born in Dijon, Burgundy, France and practiced this love in her simple life. She remembered Hebrews 13:2:

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

The Roman Catholic Church celebrates St. Jane’s feast on August 12.

Young Adulthood

Jane married at a young age to Christophe, a man who inherited the title of baron and loads of debt. She was deeply faithful and put the household finances in order and was loved by her household staff. No doubt the hospitality she showed to strangers was showered on her employees, friends, and family.  

Unfortunately, Jane’s husband died in a hunting accident leaving her with four children. After struggling with forgiveness for a long time, she was able to forgive the man who killed her husband and even became the godmother to one of his children. 

Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary

Jane became close friends with St. Francis de Sales and in 1610 the two co-founded a new religious order, the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary. They desired to establish a new type of religious life that welcomed women normally turned away: those who were older or sick. They recognized that the rigors of religious life required in other orders were not possible for all women due to life circumstances but that these women also heard a call from Jesus and had something to offer.

“Instead of chanting the canonical office in the middle of the night, the sisters recited the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin at half-past eight in the evening. There was no perpetual abstinence or prolonged fast.”

Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary, Founders

What the sisters lacked in external austerity, they made up for in interior fortitude. They lived a contemplative lifestyle comprised of over five hours a day in prayer. In fact, prayer is considered their work in addition to spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and sanctifying ordinary household tasks. 

“The special charism of the Visitation Order is an interior discipline expressed primarily through the practice of two virtues: humility and gentleness. The motto of the order is ‘Live Jesus.’”

Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary, Founders

How to Be More Like St. Jane

The sisters live by three priorities: they seek only God and union with him, they cultivate a “spirit of profound humility toward God and of great gentleness toward the neighbor” and they emphasize interior renunciation, simplicity, and joy. 

Whether we seek life in a religious order or, like Jane, answer the call to family life, those three priorities can be incorporated into our daily twenty-first-century living. Seeking union with God is our reason for being. Our life’s goal is to get to heaven where we will experience perfect union with the Father. We can work toward that by acknowledging our own inadequacies. We can go to God again and again. Then, yet again. We can go to him as often as it takes, knowing he will never turn his face away from us. We do this through both Sunday Mass and daily Mass, through Eucharistic Adoration, and frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

We practice gentleness and charity to others especially when it’s hard. We can view the challenging people in our lives as opportunities to grow in love. We can prioritize our interior spiritual life by reading and praying with Scripture, reading spiritual works by the saints, or by pausing in our day to recite the Angelus or Divine Mercy Chaplet. We do these things as ways to keep coming back to God. 

St. Jane’s Prayer

St. Jane de Chantal wrote a Prayer of Abandonment that we can offer to help us gain grace from God to continue seeking unity with him:

O sovereign goodness of the sovereign Providence of my God! 
I abandon myself forever to Thy arms. 
Whether gentle or severe, 
lead me henceforth whither Thou wilt; 
I will not regard the way through which Thou wilt have me pass, 
but keep my eyes fixed upon Thee,
my God, who guidest me. 
My soul finds no rest without the arms 
and the bosom of this heavenly Providence, 
my true Mother, my strength and my rampart. 
Therefore I resolve with Thy Divine assistance, 
0 my Saviour, 
to follow Thy desires and Thy ordinances, 
without regarding or examining why Thou dost this rather than that; 
but I will blindly follow Thee 
according to Thy Divine will, 
without seeking my own inclinations. 
Hence I am determined to leave all to Thee, 
taking no part therein save by keeping myself in peace in Thy arms, 
desiring nothing except as Thou incitest me to desire, 
to will, to wish. 
I offer Thee this desire, 0 my God, 
beseeching Thee to bless it; 
I undertake all it includes, 
relying on Thy goodness, 
liberality, and mercy, 
with entire confidence in Thee, 
distrust of myself, 
and knowledge of my infinite misery and infirmity. 

Her Legacy

Not much more is known about St. Jane. She was sixty-nine years old when she died and was canonized in 1767. The order she founded with St. Francis de Sales is over four hundred years old and still going strong across the world with over 130 contemplative monasteries in Europe, Asia, North America, Central America, South America, Korea, and the Philippines.

In an age where civility is being crowded out of a noisy world, where humility and gentleness are undervalued, and the old and sick are shunned, St. Jane de Chantal’s life reminds us of the value of these things. We may not go on to found religious orders or become saints, but by continually seeking God, loving our neighbor, and enjoying joyful simplicity, we can, each of us, live our own calling beautifully.

You May Also Like:

St. Margaret Mary and the Sacred Heart

No Spiritual Director? No Problem! [Fr. Mike Video]

How to Share the Faith BOLDLY [Every Knee Shall Bow Podcast]

Broken and Blessed: An Invitation to My Generation [Book by Fr. Josh Johnson]

Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three teenagers. She loves leading small faith groups for moms and looking for God in the silly and ordinary. She blogs and writes for her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee.

Featured image (cropped) sourced from Rvalette on Wikimedia Commons {CC Y-SA 3.0}

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