Jane Frances de Chantal, wife, mother, widow, nun and founder of the Visitation order with St. Francis de Sales, experienced great trials of the spirit throughout her life. Despite, or perhaps because of, her mental and emotional struggles, Jane de Chantal achieved holiness. Indeed, St. Vincent de Paul said of St. Jane, “I regard her as one of the holiest souls I have ever met on this earth.” Those of us who suffer from depression, anxiety, compulsions, or other psychological challenges can take comfort and encouragement from her example and her words:
“When you are experiencing some physical pain or a sorrowful heart, try to endure it before God, recalling as much as you can that He is watching you at this time of affliction….Don’t force yourself to pray, for a simple adherence to God’s will, expressed from time to time, is enough. Moreover, suffering borne in the will quietly and patiently is a continual, very powerful prayer before God, regardless of the complaints and anxieties that come from the inferior part of the soul.”
Her feast day is August 12.
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.
Beatified: November 21, 1751 by Pope Benedict XIV
Born: January, 28 1572 at Dijon, Burgundy, France
Canonized: July 16, 1767 by Pope Clement XIII
Died: December 13, 1641 at the Visitationist convent at Moulins, France of natural causes
When shall it be that we shall taste the sweetness of the Divine Will in all that happens to us, considering in everything only His good pleasure, by whom it is certain that adversity is sent with as much love as prosperity, and as much for our good? When shall we cast ourselves undeservedly into the arms of our most loving Father in Heaven, leaving to Him the care of ourselves and of our affairs, and reserving only the desire of pleasing Him, and of serving Him well in all that we can?
Hold your eyes on God and leave the doing to him. That is all the doing you have to worry about.
She was full of faith, and yet all her life long she had been tormented by thoughts against it. Nor did she once relax in the fidelity God asked of her. And so I regard her as one of the holiest souls I have ever met on this earth.
—Saint Vincent de Paul
We should go to prayer with deep humility and an awareness of our nothingness. We must invoke the help of the Holy Spirit and that of our good angel, and then remain still in God’s presence, full of faith that he is more in us than we are in ourselves.
One day Saint Jane spoke the following eloquent words, which listeners took down exactly as spoken: “My dear daughters, many of our holy fathers in the faith, men who were pillars of the Church, did not die martyrs. Why do you think this was? Each one present offered an answer; then their mother continued. “Well, I myself think it was because there is another martyrdom: the martyrdom of love. Here God keeps his servants and handmaids in this present life to that they may labor for him, and he makes of them both martyrs and confessors. I know,” she added, “that the Daughters of the Visitation are meant to be martyrs of this kind and that, by the favor of God, some of them, more fortunate than others in that their desire has been granted, will actually suffer such a martyrdom.” One sister asked what form this martyrdom took. The saint answered: “Yield yourself fully to God, and you will find out! Divine love takes its sword to the hidden recesses of our inmost soul and divides us from ourselves. I know one person whom love cut off from all that was dearest to her, just as completely and effectively as if a tyrant’s blade had severed spirit from body.” We realized that she was speaking of herself. When another sister asked how long the martyrdom would continue, the saint replied: “From the moment when we commit ourselves unreservedly to God, until our last breath. I am speaking, of course, of great-souled individuals who keep nothing back for themselves, but instead are faithful in love. Our Lord does not intend this martyrdom for those who are weak in love and perseverance. Such people he lets continue on their mediocre way, so that they will not be lost to him; he never does violence to our free will.” Finally, the saint was asked whether this martyrdom of love could be put on the same level as martyrdom of the body. She answered: “We should not worry about equality. I do think, however, that they martyrdom of love cannot be relegated to a second place, for ‘love is as strong as death.’ For the martyrs of love suffer infinitely more in remaining in this life so as to serve god, than if they died a thousand times over in testimony to their faith and love and fidelity.”
—Excerpts from the memoirs of the secretary of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal
Fidelity toward God consists in being perfectly resigned to his holy will, in enduring everything that his goodness allows in our lives, and in carrying out all our duties, especially that of prayer, with love and for love. In prayer we must converse very familiarly with our Lord, concerning our little needs, telling him what they are, and remaining submissive to anything he may wish to do with us… We should go to prayer with deep humility and an awareness of our nothingness. We must invoke the help of the Holy Spirit and that of our good angel, and then remain still in God‘s presence, full of faith that he is more in us than we are in ourselves. There is no danger if our prayer is without words or reflection because the good success of prayer depends neither on words nor on study. It depends upon the simple raising of our minds to God, and the more simple and stripped of feeling it is, the surer it is. We must never dwell on our sins during prayer. Regarding our offenses, a simple humbling of our soul before God, without a thought of this offense or that, is enough…such thoughts act as distractions.
—Saint Jeanne de Chantal, from Wings to the Lord