St. Jane Frances de Chantal, Widow
Jane Frances Freiniot de Chantal was born at Dijon in Burgundy, of noble parents, and from her childhood gave clear signs of her future great sanctity. It was said that when only five years of age, she put to silence a Calvinist nobleman by substantial arguments, far beyond her age, and when he offered her a little present she immediately threw it into the fire, saying: “This is how heretics will burn in hell, because they do not believe Christ when He speaks.” When she lost her mother, she put herself under the care of the Virgin Mother of God, and dismissed a maid servant who was enticing her to love of the world. There was nothing childish in her manners; she shrank from worldly pleasures, and thirsting for martyrdom, she devoted herself entirely to religion and piety. She was given in marriage by her father to the Baron de Chantal, and in this new state of life she strove to cultivate every virtue, and busied herself in instructing in faith and morals her children, her servants and all under her authority. Her liberality in relieving the necessities of the poor was very great, and more than once God miraculously multiplied her stores of provisions; on this account she promised never to refuse any one who begged an alms in Christ’s name.
Her husband having been killed while hunting, she determined to embrace a more perfect life and bound herself by a vow of chastity. She not only bore her husband’s death resignedly, but overcame herself so far as to stand godmother to the child of the man who had killed him, in order to give a public proof that she pardoned him. She contented herself with a few servants and with plain food and dress, devoting her costly garments to pious usages. Whatever time remained from her domestic cares she employed in prayer, pious reading, and work. She could never be induced to accept offers of second marriage, even though honourable and advantageous. In order not to be shaken in her resolution of observing chastity, she renewed her vow, and imprinted the most holy name of Jesus Christ upon her breast with a red-hot iron. Her love grew more ardent day by day. She had the poor, the abandoned, the sick, and those who were afflicted with the most terrible diseases brought to her, and not only sheltered, and comforted, and nursed them, but washed and mended their filthy garments, and did not shrink from putting her lips to their running sores.
Having learnt the will of God from St. Francis de Sales her director, she founded the Institute of the Visitation of our Lady. For this purpose she quitted, with unfaltering courage, her father, her father-in-law, and even her son, over whose body she had to step in order to leave her home, so violently did he oppose her vocation. She observed her Rule with the utmost fidelity, and so great was her love of poverty, that she rejoiced to be in want of even the necessaries of life. She was a perfect model of Christian humility, obedience, and all other virtues. Wishing for still higher ascensions in her heart, she bound herself by a most difficult vow, always to do what she thought most perfect. At length when the Order of the visitation had spread far and wide, chiefly through her endeavours, after encouraging her sisters to piety and charity by words and example, and also by writings full of divine wisdom: laden with merits, she passed to the Lord at Moulins, having duly received the Sacraments of the Church. She died on the 13th December, in the year 1641. St. Vincent de Paul, who was at a great distance, saw her soul being carried to heaven, and St. Francis de Sales coming to meet her. Her body was afterwards translated to Annecy. Miracles having made her illustrious both before and after her death, Benedict XIV. placed her among the Blessed, and Pope Clement XIII. among the Saints. Pope Clement XIV. commanded her feast to be celebrated by the universal Church on the 12th of the Calends of September.
The office of Martha seemed at first to be destined for thee, O great Saint! Thy father, Francis de Sales, forestalling St.Vincent de Paul, thought of making thy companions the first daughters of Charity. Thus was given to thy work the blessed name of Visitation, which was to place under Mary’s protection thy visits to the sick and neglected poor. But the progressive deterioration of strength in modern times had laid open a more pressing want in the institutions of holy Church. Many souls called to share Mary’s part, were prevented from doing so by their inability to endure the austere life of the great contemplative Orders. The Spouse, who deigns to adapt his goodness to all times, made choice of thee, O Jane, to second the love of his Sacred Heart, and come to the rescue of the physical and moral miseries of an old, worn-out, and decrepit world.
Renew us, then, in the love of Him Whose charity consumed thee first; in its ardour, thou didst traverse the most various paths of life, and never didst thou fail of that admirable strength of soul, which the Church presents before God to-day in order to obtain through thee the assistance necessary to our weakness. May the insidious and poisonous spirit of Jansenism never return to freeze our hearts; but at the same time, as we learn from thee, love is only then real, when, with or without austerities, it lives by faith, generosity, and self-renunciation, in humility, simplicity, and gentleness. It is the spirit of thy holy institute, the spirit which became, through thy angelic Father, so amiable and so strong: may it ever reign amidst thy daughters, keeping up among their houses the sweet union which has never ceased to rejoice heaven; may the world be refreshed by the perfumes which ever exhale from the silent retreats of the Visitation of holy Mary!
The Liturgical Year. 1904. Abbot Dom Gueranger, O.S.B. Translated from the French by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B. Imprimatur, 1910.