Today is the feast day of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal. Ora pro nobis.
St. Jane Frances de Chantal, Widow
from the Liturgical Year, 1909
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. (2)
Her reputation for sanctity was widespread. Queens, princes, and princesses flocked to the reception-room of the Visitation. Wherever she went to establish foundations, the people gave her ovations. “These people”, she would say confused, “do not know me; they are mistaken”. Her body is venerated with that of St. Francis de Sales in the church of the Visitation at Annecy. She was beatified in 1751, canonized in 1767, and 21 August was appointed as her feast day.
The life of the saint was written in the seventeenth century, with inimitable charm, by her secretary, Mother de Chaugy. Monsignor Bougaud, who died Bishop of Laval, published in 1863 a “Histoire de Sainte Chantal” which had a great and well-deserved success.
The words of the saint comprise instructions on the religious life, various minor works, among which is the admirable “Deposition for the Process of Beatification of St. Francis de Sales”, and a great many letters. The Saint's qualities are seen in her precise and vigorous style, void of imagery but betraying a repressed emotion, and bursting forth spontaneously from the heart, anticipating in its method the beautiful French of the seventeenth century. The book which may be called her masterpiece, “Réponses sur les Régles, Constitutions et Coutumes”, a truly practical and complete code of the religious life, is not in circulation.